Dick and I were close friends for 65 years. As the years passed and our lives ran their separate ways we spoke on occasion and had lunch or dinner. We both had busy lives. Time would slip by but when we got together it was like we were together the day before.
Dick had a degree in engineering and worked most of his life at Beth Israel Hospital as its primary building engineer. He’d marry Chris, move to Arlington on the other side of the Charles River and eventually end up living in Winchester. He took up tennis after a while. He spent considerable time playing it continuing doing it just about up until weeks before he died. Even when his feet surrendered he pushed on. He’d tell me, “I can run pretty well but I can’t stop.” In later years he could hardly walk having beat up his feet so badly but he played on. He never complained although when we got together he would lament about the grim reaper diminishing the number of his tennis buddies.
Dick and Chris had three lovely daughters. He cared for deeply for them and always spoke highly of them when I’d ask. They gave him grandchildren whom he also loved. Every summer for over forty years they would go off together for a week to a camp on an island on Lake Winnipesaukee. Dick picked up the tab even as the numbers seemed to grow by leaps and bounds.
I first met Dick in my mid-teens. He lived on the other side of the bridge, the beach side, in Savin Hill in a six-decker. He went to Technical High School and then on to Wentworth Institute of Technology. If I had to guess how we met it was through something relating to our church, St. William’s. It would not have been in school, nor hanging around the corners, nor in the pick-up sports games. Maybe it was at Savin Hill beach in the summer up at the shelter.
Dick was a left brain engineer. Everything had to be in order. I’m sort of a left brain/right brain person depending on the weather. That we melded together so well was something I never gave a thought to. We just did.
He was smarter than I, better read. He was full of information. He amazed me with what he knew. Without intending it he always making me feel so uninformed which, of course, I never admitted.
Beyond all that, he was wiser than I. He had broken the curse of neighborhood parochialism. He made me recognize my prejudices, confront them, and overcome them. He and my time in the Marines opened my eyes to the true meaning of equality of all. Dick, if memory is correct he served in the Air Force as did Al Desmarais (in photo) who loved Glen Miller music but died before he was out of his twenties, much too young .
Thinking back we never had a fight or disagreement between us; we were always happy to see each other. Our conversations were friendly and cheerful. We seemed to agree with each other over most things. We respected women never using off colored language in front of them. We never engaged in so called “locker room” talk when they weren’t present. We were capable of handling ourselves. We never spoke of being tough guys.
Looking back he always seemed to be looking out for me. One summer the house he had rented in Dennis with other guys had shut off the number who could stay there. He came up with a plan to convince them to let me use the large closet in his bedroom to sleep. He told them how I was working five and a half days a week. I only got down there Saturday afternoon. He made it so I only had to pay half the fee.
That turned out to be very fortuitous for me. Our house would have Saturday dinner with another house full of nurses. That’s where I met my wife Maria who I’ve been with since.
We did much together from having coffee across from St. Willilam’s, Sunday night movies at the Strand Theater in Uphams Corner, bowling, and joining the Knights of Columbus so we could use their bowling alley (along with Timmy O) We were together through our weddings. We proudly put our first born, Matthew and Caron, next to each other on a bed. We had many lunches, dinners, hockey games, and reunions with his observation “the guys still look the same, the women are changing,” We went on fishing trips out of Maine and Rock Harbor. We journeyed through life knowing the other was there for support and always ready to pick up where we left off.
Over the many years when we met we spoke happily but kept our emotions to ourselves. We never mentioned our long term friendship. We took it for granted that it was what it was. There was be no need to speak to it.
A months or so ago I called him when I had not heard from him which was unusual. He told me he had a headache in the back of his head for about six weeks. He he couldn’t seem to shake it. He was in lots of pain and trying to control it with ibuprofen. Timmy O always remarked at his ability to ignore pain.
He spoke clearly about it. He had gone to some medical appointments at Beth Israel and had others scheduled. Dick was always proud he could sleep eight hours straight at night, now he could only do two at a time. I did my best to encourage him but worried that it was very serious.
A little while later I called again. His speech seemed a little labored. He said he was having trouble speaking and swallowing. He told the doctors wanted to do some more tests. He assured me he was in good hands medically. I urged him to move quickly to get things done. It didn’t sound good.
The next two weeks he was in and out of the hospital for tests. I was kept appraised of his process by Timmy O another old friend. He had inside access to the information. Dick had an inoperable brain cancer that was spreading rapidly.
I wrote him a short note which went out on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. Later on that day I called him. His daughter told me he wanted to speak to me. That afternoon Timmy O went to see him. He told me Dick didn’t talk too much and nodded off at times. Just before he left Dick asked him to shake hands. They did. He remarked on Dick’s strong handshake. I reminded him he always had one remembering the times he would crush my hand when we shook. Timmy wondered if Dick would be able to call me.
Later that day my phone told me Dick was calling. We talked. He did most of it. I had difficulty understanding him. His speech had been affected by the disease. I did my best to respond appropriately. I don’t think I did it well.
Then as if he summonsed up all his strength and fought back against the enemy encroaching on his brain, in a strong clear voice he said: “I just wanted to call you to say goodbye. I Iove you Matt. I wanted to say goodbye.”
It hit me like a brick penetrating to my soul. I could not respond right away. I’ve known him since our early days as teenagers. We never expressed emotions. I choked up, tears came flowing, despite my determination not to be moved, I blurted out a “I love you too, goodbye Dick.”
I don’t know if he heard me. It all became confused at the moment for me. What I do remember is he said in a firmer voice: “Goodbye Matt” and the phone went dead. He was gone.
Dick died overnight Thursday into Friday. His daughter Caron notified me of his death. She sent a text, It read:
“Dear Matt, I am incredibly heartbroken to let you know my dad passed last night. He passed at his home surrounded by his daughters, our mom and his beautiful paintings. We held him, loved him and told him we were blessed to have such an incredible dad and friend. He was so thankful that he got to speak to you. It meant so much to him that you told him that you loved him and he could tell you the same. I read your beautiful letter to him and he had such joy in his face. You are an incredible life long friend who helped make his final days so meaningful. Thank you with all my heart. Warmest Regards, Caron”