The closest people in that social circle were E.B. and his family. He was my father's best friend. His wife was -- and is still -- a member of my mother's tight, inner circle of ladies who speak most every day, travel and shop together, and support each other in endeavors large and small. They had kids around my age. We went to the same church. Our families took several vacations together, and we spent countless weekends camping together, or at their cabin on the lake, or hanging by the pool. I was well past grown before I realized that it is not typical for two families of unrelated people to be this close.
E.B. was more like an uncle than a family friend. He and my father had an ever-escalating competition over who would pick up the check at dinner. He taught me how to pitch a tent, build a campfire, and how to tell a good ghost story.* With almost infinite patience, he taught me to waterski, refusing to surrender to my almost total lack of balance and grace. He pulled me around Lake Hamilton countless times, two skis or one, boogie board or barefoot, always bringing me in at just the right angle and speed to glide in to knee-deep water and step to the shore. He grilled a million hamburgers, and as many hot dogs for countless kids.
In recent years, his wife had not been well, and he spent increasing amounts of time and attention caring for her. He started a business with his son, and I think it took more of his time than he probably anticipated. He was working harder than an eighty-something year old man should, but he never complained. In fact, E.B. was the anti-complainer. It seemed the more lemons life tried to give him, the more cheerful he was determined to be. At a certain age we start to recognize this artifice in this approach, but it was as natural to him as breathing, and it worked for him. As Kurt Vonnegut said, we become who we pretend to be, and E.B. was quite simply the nicest and most beneficent man I have ever known. He was notoriously generous with his money, his time and his love.
Yesterday E.B. suffered a major stroke, and he is right now lying in the hospital on life support, waiting for the last of his children to arrive and say goodbye. Not surprisingly, he never let anyone know if he was feeling unwell, and this all happened without warning.
There is no way to describe how I feel right now. Hell, I don't even know how I feel right now. All I know is that the world is a poorer place tonight. My wife said, "I only met him a couple of times, and I love him." I am trying not to think of how hard this is, and is going to be, for his widow, and his children, and my mother and all of the other people who maybe never really knew how much he enriched their lives.
So long, old friend. I miss you already.______________________________________________
* His signature story was, "I want my tail." I heard him tell about a dozen versions of the stupid thing, probably fifty times or more, and he still managed to scare the piss out of me every single time.