I Had A Paul, For A While
A bit of my personal life, if you're interested...
I woke up to some sad news this morning, of an old friend who passed away yesterday. I ended up with a longer note than I expected, on Paul Hill.
I met Paul while in Junior High. I was glad to have him for a friend, for a while at least. I was saddened that he had lost his parents and had to live in the basement at his sister’s house. But he never dwelled on that or used it as some excuse; he just moved forward. Paul did have love, the love of a boy for his dog. But now in retrospect, it makes an incident we shared even more poignant for me.
It was on one of those Iowa winter days, flat and gray. On top of 8 inches of snow, was a glassy layer of clear ice. Paul and I were walking along a busy street, not on the sidewalk, but to the side of the street, near the curb. I was walking in front, when I saw something in the ice and snow. It was a dog, covered in about ¼” of ice as clear as glass. It was surreal. “Hey Paul, look at this.” I don’t recall how long he stood there, but it hit me when he said, “That’s my dog.”
It has deeper meaning now, decades later, with the benefit/burden of retrospect as I write this. It was HIS dog. It was another loss handed to him. It was another raw deal for him to ‘suck it up and deal with.’
High School brought more people and other friends into my life. We didn't drift apart, but there were other friends in my circle now. After graduation, I was off chasing my career around the country, and the next thing I knew, decades had gone by and my old school friends were in my rear view mirror. Not forgotten, but in the past. I appreciated the times that I had with various classmates, and what I had gained from the good people of my home town, and my good old ‘Midwestern values’ environment to nurture me. But, I was pretty much in the present and future.
And then came our 40th high school reunion. Evening one (pictured), at the park on Friday night, Paul was one of the 1st people I ran into. He had a hug and a ready smile and with blue jeans, T-shirt and work shirt, he looked like the guy I had last seen 40 years before, except for a little gray in that thinner hair. He was warm and congenial. He was light and fun, with a ready sense of humor and he was a man comfortable in his own skin. He also made me comfortable, but more importantly, he made my wife feel welcome. He had a charm and humor that proved immediately ingratiating. Of all my class mates, Paul made the biggest impression on her. When I mentioned his passing this morning, she immediately knew who I was talking about.
She didn't know that Paul, over time, would drop the occasional private message across Facebook to me or thoughtfully post something that he thought relevant to me, to my timeline. He never mentioned a wife or girlfriend. We had talked of his place in Oregon. We had talked of his truck driving adventures. We had talked of “maybe he could drop by if he were ever on a long haul and was in the area.” I saw his pictures posted. Paul with his camper. Paul with his motorcycle. Paul with a black dog as his cover photo. He seemed to be doing fine and was a man comfortable with who he was. Paul being Paul, and that, was a good place for him to be.
I hope he’s in an even better place now, but he will be missed here.
Thank you for your friendship Paul. it enriched my life, and I strongly suspect, others as well.
Pictured: old mutual friend Dave, me, my brother and Paul seated at right.