Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Their Stories Leave With Them, Unless

As I turned into the parking lot of the church today, an ending felt at hand: this funeral would be the final gathering for my friend Norm, the last of the official celebrations, and though we'd still speak of him at the Y, still honor his favorite chair, in time other people and activity would fill the space that he once took up on this earth.

But of course he occupied a large part of many hearts, and I'm sure that others find, as I do, that memories flow easily this week. Norm sneaking out of his chair to unplug the vacuum cleaner while I was using it. Pulling me off to the side (while I was vacuuming) to tell me I was made for bigger things. The story of sponsoring a girl's tuition to art college, just because he noticed her talent.

That these memories live in me and in others is reassuring, because Norm and I had held several conversations around the idea of collaborating on a book of his stories. A war vet and successful businessman, he had some tales to tell.

"People will like these stories," he'd say to me, and then, "What up, yo?" a non-sequitur of slang that I could never quite answer with anything but a laugh.

I never doubted his appeal. Seemingly mild-mannered, the man could surprise you. He'd carefully park his Astor Martin in the handicapped space at the Y, but rev that thing up on the highway. He'd pull out his saxophone and play a tune when a business deal closed with success. When I directed him to the best corned beef in town and the store later stopped carrying it, he talked to the owner, leveraging his power in the food industry.

"You notice it's back on the shelf now," he'd say with a wicked grin.

It wasn't but a month or two ago that Norm approached me again about the book. He really wanted to get his stories down and I was willing, but he didn't call. A couple of weeks ago he took a fall; this past Saturday, he suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Norm's stories, some, went with him. Those that didn't should be shared. It's a reminder to get stories while you can, write them down, even, and when the time comes for the final chapter, turn back to page one and start reading again.


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