Movin’ On Down The Highway

So you can see that there’s a bit of a resemblance between these two guys. My son, the long-haired young guy to the left, has never NOT known JF, the long-haired, older guy on the left.

This photo was taken in August of 2009, at Hinckley Reservoir, on the deck behind the cottage where we always spend the first week every August.

It wasn’t the first time JF had come up to the Adirondacks to visit us.  We were lucky that he came up this past summer (2011) because that would be the last time that we would see him.

JF and my husband went to Garden City High School. Back in the day. My husband was a few years older than JF and they didn’t really become buds until my husband’s senior year or one or two years after that.

There’s this one story that they both loved to tell me. It had a couple of different beginnings but the gist of it was that JF rode into the high school cafeteria … on his motor cycle.

And, then he rode out.

By that time, my husband had graduated, so he’s not real clear as to what prompted JF to do this. But, if you knew JF, you know why.

Because he could. Because someone told him not to.

When my husband and I got married at mt sister’s home in Swarthmore, PA, JF drove down from Connecticut for the ceremony.  That’s when he became my friend.

Over the years, he came to see us a lot.  My friends wanted JF to come up and visit them because JF felt compelled to clean my house.  I would be outside in the yard talking with a neighbor when JF would amble out the back door and join us.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he’d say, “but, I washed your basement floor even getting underneath the washing machine, and I alphabetized all of the food cans in the fruit closet. And, before that, I took out the window screens in your kitchen windows and washed them.”

While JF was ticking off all of the chores he’d taken it upon himself to do, my neighbor’s eyes would bulge and her jaw would drop.

“Can I have him come stay with me?” she’d whisper as JF would extend his hand to offer me one of the cold beers he’d grabbed from the refrigerator.

For years, I’d refer to him as my “man servant” and at one time, my husband and I actually wondered if we could build a wing onto the house so that JF could come and live with us.

And not because he was a compulsive cleaner.

He and my husband would entertain each other for hours.  After they’d relive all of the road trips they’d taken together, they’d get on a conversational riff that would go on far into the wee hours of the night.

JF could take any topic and spin it into an intellectual rant or an awed appreciation for or a curiously reflective think-out-loud musing. He was the consummate story teller.

And, he was one of the most well-read individuals I knew. We were always trading titles and opinions of books we’d read.  JF gave the best books as presents.

He loved dogs and going on rambles with his friends and their dogs.

Labrador Retrievers.  JF Really Liked Labs.

He loved road trips designed around visiting his friends and museums that he’d researched. That boy was always up for a road trip. Many of his friends rode shot gun with him over the years. And might have argued about which of them was going to have that pride of place.

If you knew JF, you also knew that he didn’t suffer fools gladly.  If he was your friend, you could always count on him to be a good friend. I think that might have been his greatest gift to all of us.  JF held his friends fiercely in his heart.

My son,  Alex, couldn’t wait to grow up so that he could be one of JF’s guy friends too.  That friendship transitioned into a friendship between two adults about the time Alex turned 16.  Two years later, there was no doubt.

There’s so much more to fix in my memory.  Before I forget.

When A. was reluctant to teach me how to drive a stick shift, JF took me out on the road. At least once or twice.  He was more impressed that I could drive a straight line in reverse than he was about my pitiful efforts to master driving forwards.

I can still hear the timbre of his voice.  His, “Wow, Andy!” or his, “All’s you need is…”.  And his laugh. I’ll really miss hearing that.

When he came up to Hinckley this last time, he had lots of stories to tell about the radio station where he volunteered as a DJ.  He had a couple of recorded sessions on CD that we’d listen to as we drove around the Adirondacks.

I made him promise to send me a few of them. Later that month, when we were back in Rochester and JF was back in Bridgeport, CT, I brought the mail in one day and there were two of them, carefully packed into a medium-sized manilla envelope.

So, I haven’t lost his voice.  Any time I want, JF can ride shot gun with me.

There’s a wonderful poem called In Blackwater Woods, by Mary Oliver, that says so much better than I can, how it’s important to hold onto what you love for as long as you can, until it’s time to let it go.

For all of JF’s family and lifetime friends because he didn’t have casual friends, may this give you heart’s ease in the days ahead.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this:  the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Sweet dreams, JF.









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