7.19.2020

my friend woody

In the ten years since his wife's death, I've been looking in on my neighbor and friend Woody an average of a couple-few times on most days. Today would have been his 88th birthday.

Woody did all the things a dear friend does. He listened to me rage about Calvin and rant about politics. He endured my endless questions about everything under the sun, including his experiences in the Korean war. He made me laugh, wiped tears from my face on several occasions, and hugged me when it counted most, which was at first seldom, then often, before it became daily. He told me about his late wife, Syd, who regrettably I knew only a little, though I remember leaving her funeral—during which friends described what a remarkable, loving, kind and generous person she was—determined to be a better person.

Once we got to know each other better, Woody and I cried together when he told me about his son, Scott, a talented artist who died in his thirties. We cried together again, at times, when I shared my struggles with Calvin—the loss, the frustration, the worry, the chronic grief of raising a child who barely develops. I never had to hide my feelings from Woody and he always validated them.

Weather and Calvin permitting, I would walk my boy down the sidewalk to visit Woody. We went so often that Calvin knew early on which driveway to turn into. He'd go up the steps of the side porch and I'd help him to ring the doorbell. Sometimes, just to razz Woody, we'd ring it several times, even when we saw him coming, rolling his eyes at my foolery. Woody always let us in, regardless of how drooly or handsy or crazy Calvin was being. I'd sit my son down in Woody's kitchen rocker, snatch a Hershey's mini out of the candy jar and feed it to Calvin. Often, I'd help myself to the various snacks— pistachios, cashews, home-roasted walnuts and hazelnuts, sesame sticks or Chex mix—that Woody kept on the shelf as if for me. We'd stay until Calvin became too antsy, which was usually only a handful of minutes.

On afternoons when Calvin was being cared for by Michael or a nurse, I'd visit Woody by myself with Smellie in tow. In the winter, we'd sit in a room just off of the kitchen, a rolling fire warming our bones. His timid cats, Trixie and Norton, both got used to us, even letting Smellie lick their ears. In the other months, Woody and I sat on his front porch watching the world go by while sipping our toddies. He preferred Canadian blended whiskey with diet ginger ale. My go-to was bourbon on the rocks. Though Woody didn't drink bourbon, he kept a bottle for me in the cupboard with a backup bottle stashed behind it. I called it his magical cabinet. Though I offered, he never let me buy my own drink.

"You're the best thing to happen to Longfellow Avenue," he'd say to me, and I'd return the compliment. Sometimes, we'd hold hands.

Like good friends do, Woody let me be myself. He accepted me, flaws and all. He got used to my frequent cussing, even swearing himself a few times, which made us both chuckle. I got used to his sometimes curmudgeonliness. Endearingly, he called me a twerp. I made fun of his Maine accent by always asking him what a "twupp" was. We laughed about forgetting things like the names of actors or crooners we heard on the radio. Despite fleeting forgetfulness, Woody was damn sharp, even as his body slowly gave up.

Regrettably, after what had been a somewhat hard winter for him, because of Covid-19 we were not able to embrace for months, our visits reduced to talking to each other on the phone from opposite sides of his first-floor windows. Interestingly, he seemed more talkative on the phone than in person, even when glass was the only thing dividing us.

In true form, and not unlike my own father, my dear friend Woody was active until his last days; despite having pancreatic cancer, he mowed the lawn and weed-whacked the week before he died. Last month, he died peacefully in his sleep in the comfort of his home having been surrounded by family in the days before. I was able to visit him, holding his hand while sitting on the edge of his bed in my N95 mask. I was able to tell him how the weather was on his front porch, what kinds of birds I had seen, how the squirrels were taking over the neighborhood and what shrubs were blooming in my garden. I was able to see him smile at me with those watery blues, saw him lovingly watch me leave the room.

"Ciao," I said to Woody one last time, his eyes closed. "I love you very much. You're the best thing to happen to Longfellow."

Alden A. Woodbury, July 19, 1932 - June 16, 2020

5 comments:

  1. So sorry for your loss of a dear friend.

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  2. I will miss hearing about Woody and your wonderful friendship. Sending condolences for your loss.

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  3. Everyone should have a Woody in their life at least once, and I am sure that I can say that your lives brought him much needed sunshine. May he rest in perfect peace. My sincere condolences to you, Mike, Calvin and Smellie. JP and I send our love.

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  4. That was so dear and touching to read.

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  5. I loved your stories about Woody and am so sorry that he's gone. You were beautiful friends to one another.

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