The news was not unexpected, but still it has left me thinking about the past. He was the father of my best friend, a tall Viking of a guy, a photographer, a free spirit. When I met him the first time it was at his apartment of the moment, a little nest of a place, seemingly stuck onto a larger building. My friend, his only child, a wild spirited soul who would grow up to range the world, to march with Chavez, to hitchhike through the south during Civil Rights madness--she presented me to her father as though we were both treasures. I was an bookish girl, my shyness covering an increasingly critical and searching soul. Ralph was a revelation. As my friend put on music on the little turntable--strange and amazing music to my untutored ears--Ralph stirred up his ongoing pot-of-soup and then took out his photographs. We stayed up talking about the world, his adventures, his vision. What did I talk of? Don't recall--what I do recall was the sense of an adult who had, obviously, taken a different path. Sea shells hung from the ceiling, on fishing line. Beautiful colors washed corners of the tiny place. You could just glimpse the sea beyond.
Yes, I think I was a bit in love with the guy.
We'd meet from time to time over the years, the last time in another coastal town. We sat together, looking out over the ocean, speaking of life and death while his daughter kindly dashed off to get coffee. Dolphins surfaced in the bay. He was frailer, and had to rest as we walked together. Later I would visit him in his little room, where his cat guarded him carefully and the walls were covered with photographs. There, that beautiful woman--oh, she was dead now, but such an interesting dancer. That--oh that was on the journey to Mexico. They were visions of a life well lived.
He would have been close to 90 this month, but the email from my friend came, and told me of his passing. Buddhist monks chanted through his last day. She says his face was peaceful. And yes, the days of grief are on her, but she says she is doing well.
I thanked him, a few years ago, for being the first adult to take me seriously; to believe that awkward little girl was indeed the poet she intended to be--and for fathering my lovely adventuring friend, who now has silver hair and spends her time writing and teaching.
This was the summer I realized I have more treasured friends among the dead than among the living. It is a sobering thought; a peculiar sort of wealth.