Monday, February 6, 2012

in memory

I know that with the continuation of time, and the inevitability of mortality, that more and more people who have been in my life will have shuffled off the mortal coil, and so I grieve, but sometimes distance blunts the rough edges just a little bit.

My great-uncle passed on this weekend thanks to cancer that made him almost blind near the end of his life. He'd slowed down a lot from what he was when I was a kid, before his wife passed away, when he had a house on the other side of Catawba Island that had a real beach, not just rocks like our side and would take all of us kids out in his rowboat with a motor, prompting comments from our parents about how we looked like a bunch of Cuban refugees packed into the back. He always had jellybeans in a dish in the living room and at least five different kinds of Faygo in the fridge and would build us driftwood bonfires on the beach doused in paint thinner that we'd roast marshmallows over as we watched the sunset.

One summer, the winds were such that there was all this rich loam Nile delta kind of soil deposited and he planted a cornfield on the beach like the fields of his native Indiana, and the incongruity of the setting sun and the nuclear power plant and the beach and the husks standing up in the water made me smile. He was one of the most warm and welcoming people I've ever met, and I can't remember ever having a bad time at his house, which he left to his son and moved into assisted living, but he would always come by and visit when we were up there.

And then this morning, I learned of someone else, and if I was superstitious beyond the 'organized religion' thing I'd be wondering who the third would be, but Robert was a recoccurring figure in my Kent State days. It was a long time before I made the connection of "F.U. Bob" as he was derided by people on campus who saw him on days when his Tourette's or whatever it was acted up, and the quiet man who sat at a table at my church with a collection of multicolored sharpie markers and a sketchbook with the big beard who sat and drank coffee and occasionally delved into deep philosophical questions with my pastor at the time. At the old church building, before I started going there, he had his own couch, where he'd sketch the congregants and musicians and paint with watercolors until the couch was covered in as many shades as a technicolor dreamcoat.

He described himself as a "skeptic" but enjoyed our company nonetheless week after week, sharing coffee and conversation, and would show me the sketches he did of me playing bass next to Scott or drinking tea at a nearby table. When people on campus would make fun of him, I'd talk about who he was as a person and that he wasn't just some crazy guy, that he was a really wonderful person that just didn't fit with the expectations of others. It seemed like anyone who actually took the time to talk to him instead of mocking him from afar learned that quickly, and unlike most outsider artists, to some degree his work was recognized in his lifetime, if the continual help of the community down there and the outpouring of emotions I've seen is any indication. I really can't imagine that little town without him.


  1. So, how do paint thinner marshmallows taste?

    Death's the ultimate mofo, but sounds like these blokes didn't forget to live a little.

  2. sorry for yer losses