In celebration of a friendJuly 15, 2008 at 8:11 pm | Posted in country life, dogs, faith, family, love, marriage, summer | 31 Comments
Tags: family, friends, Life, love, personal, photography, spirituality, thoughts
I have not known him very long; he and his wife are our closest neighbors east of our place about a half mile down the road. Their place is right on the river, with a beautiful wide flat spot providing access directly to the river. Of course, having lived here for just a little over two years I could not have known him very long.
Not long after I moved to the farm I heard of this man, our neighbor. I heard he was a good man, but that some people found him seemingly gruff and a little too boisterous, I got the idea some people might have misunderstood him a little because of that. I think my first contact with him was when he showed up as the first emergency responder when an ambulance was called to our place one evening. He was one of the volunteers in the area who would show up to secure an area, flag down the ambulance, control traffic and tell a person to hang on because someone would be along soon to help.
What struck me most when I met him was the incredible tenderness and concern with which he treated someone very dear to me who was hurting, scared, and trembling. He was gentle, his voice reassuring, the care and compassion in his demeanor was unmistakable, his presence was soothing. I met him when his tender underbelly was exposed; I met him when he was at his best.
That was my first impression of him, and the only one that ever mattered to me. That, and his name: Dave.
Last summer after my art show, “Beginning at Barnum”, after I brought the unsold portion of my paintings home, he and his wife came down for dessert and a sort of private show of their own. He loved those paintings and wondered if someday I might come down to his place and sit on the bank of the river and paint the view. I had not been down to that part of their property, so I was not aware what a beautiful space he had right on the river.
He told me the most beautiful time is in the autumn, when the trees are at their richest turning of colors on a clear day when the water is still. I told him I would enjoy painting his view someday, and I this past autumn I went over a couple of times to start photographing the area and getting to know it so I would have an idea of what I would want to communicate about it as a painter.
This has been a busy year, so I only as far as making some photographs. It is a beautiful spot they have there, and down off to the west of their river access area there is a path along the bank of the river that goes a pretty good distance. My husband and I walked along there, and up stream a ways we found some swans and ducks enjoying a beautiful autumn day on the river. It was gently breathtaking.
As I got to know Dave more, I realized he loved his place much as we love ours. I got a sense that he yearned to share the beauty of the place with others, for others to know just how precious and gorgeous, peaceful it is. Once I was telling him of a dream I have to host a retreat at our place for artists sometime here in Western New York and how I wanted the artists and I to go around to various locations painting outdoors. His eyes sparkled at the mention and he said, “And one day you would have them over here at my place to paint the river, right?”
Yes, Dave. Definitely, yes.
Over the winter we didn’t hear from Dave or his wife, and I wondered if I had let him down by not having gotten started on a painting of his beautiful little piece of Earth yet. I wasn’t sure if he understood how long it takes for me to plan new paintings and work them into the schedule.
As the winter wore on and spring came around, I had a strange inkling that something was not right with Dave. Sometimes I have clear intuition about things before they have been spoken, and I got a strong feeling Dave had been diagnosed with cancer.
Then, in early May he stopped by and told my husband that he had lung cancer; my suspicion was confirmed. I wish I had been wrong.
He was undergoing treatment that was supposed to give him another year or two, but a few weeks ago the doctors ceased his treatment because it was not working and it was clear his time had come. His wife cared for him at home with the help of hospice, her sons, their wives, and children. His wife asked that I stop in for daily visits to help her cope, which I was glad to do.
It is a strange thing to witness someone passing away gradually, much as what happened with my oldest brother three years ago. It hurts, it is tragic, and yet it is also poignant, intimate, and beautiful if you have an opportunity to help create an atmosphere of peace and love for that person.
Dave spent his last days in a hospital bed in his living room, with the windows open, breezes gently blowing, birds singing and chirping, and the sounds of his family outside doing yard work, inside chatting quietly, sharing stories, even laughter from time to time.
If he had to go, this was the most merciful way for that to happen — surrounded by the familiar sounds, smells, touch, sights of the gracious little piece of Earth he called his own. A subtly elegant piece of land along a quiet little river during the warm days of summer when windows can be open and clean air can flow.
Yesterday I stopped in to see his wife again, but this time she had been told there were only hours left. We sat together with him, quietly at times, chatting a bit at others, finding things to softly laugh at in spite of sadness of the situation.
After about an hour I left, and as I stepped outside his young rottweiler, Bandit, about the age of our sweet Blu, approached me on the porch. That great big dog looked up at me with clear, sad eyes. I touched his head and he pressed his face against me very hard. I could tell that he knew, and he needed comfort as much as any human did. I sat down with him, stroked his head and said whatever soothing things came to me. He continued to press the side of his face against me hard, seeming to ask me to please stay with him just a bit longer.
Dave raised that rottweiler, trained him, and took him all over the place with him. They were best buddies. As I stroked the gentle giant and looked into his sweet brown eyes, I was thinking about this neighbor who some people may have thought was gruff or a bit too boisterous. What a teddy bear Dave was and Bandit gives a clear glimpse into the heart of the man who was his master.
Last evening at 6:15 p.m. our neighbor Dave passed away. He lived a private life on a quiet country road out in the middle of … well, it isn’t the middle of no where, but it is the middle of not very much. Dave did nothing spectacular to draw attention to himself. He served his community well as a volunteer of the local fire and rescue squad. He was a father of three fine sons, and husband to one of the kindest and gentlest ladies I have ever met, and grandfather to four beautiful and treasured grandchildren. For some number of years he took care of one of the bridges on the Erie Canal, he had a great old tractor that he loved and used whenever he had a chance.
He loved telling a good joke and always went into an Irish brogue when doing so. I actually thought he was Irish because of his tendency to do this. The last time we were able to have a conversation with him, Dave admitted he didn’t have any actual Irish in him. My husband said, “Or, the only Irish you have in you is the kind you get out of a bottle,” (meaning a Guiness, of course). That was a good one, and it gave Dave a good chuckle.
I don’t personally know enough about his life to pay him proper tribute, afterall–I have not known him very long. All I can do is say that I saw him, I noticed some of the things that were most special about him and appreciated the fact that I could, for a little while, count him among my friends.
He touched our lives, my life, although he hardly had time to do so. He was a man worth knowing, and I think he would love knowing that you, whoever you are, got a chance to see just how pretty his place by the river was.
Cheers, Dave. See you down the road.