Sometimes, you meet a person that makes an impression that lasts a very long time. Sometimes, that impression lasts a lifetime. It would be too easy for me to say that I don’t do impressions; I do humor writing. The problem is, I know the former part of the preceding statement to be false. Others might argue that the latter part is also false.
1991 was a rough year for me. I had just endured the end of my first marriage and was living with a couple I knew from church. The wife of the couple was the church receptionist. On Wednesday nights, I would hang out at the church a couple of hours before service since the couple’s home was about an hour away. We’d hang out, attend the service, and go home afterward. In the hours prior to the service, I would often sit and play my guitar to pass the time. After the service was over, a young, bearded man approached me. He extended his hand and said “I’m Richard. I rather enjoyed your playing earlier”. I thanked him for his generous compliment and introduced myself. He mentioned that he owned a 6 string acoustic as well as a 12 string. He offered to bring his 12 string to church at the following service. I told him I looked forward to it and we both went home for the night.
Richard and I would meet rather often over the next year with our guitars. We played everything from Johnny Cash to John Prine to John Michael Talbot. When we got tired of songs by people named John. We’d gravitate toward the silly side. We always include an old Ray Stevens favorite named “Fred”. “Fred” was a song about a dog that was typically hard to finish because the lyrics made us laugh so hard. As we got to know one another. We discovered that we both had a love for puns. Richard and I would trade puns back and forth every time we saw one another. Sometimes, it was done in a manner of two blues musicians riffing in a call-and-response pattern. Other times, we were clearly trying to top one another. We usually wouldn’t stop until the other began laughing so hard he couldn’t continue.
I would also come to find Richard to be a model of chivalry and generosity. I didn’t have a car when I first met Richard. He gave me many rides. He offered me many meals as he loved to cook. Whenever anyone thanked Richard, the response was always the same – “You’re always welcome”. If you did Richard a favor, the response was also always the same – “Thanks a lot. Yer cool. You really are.”
Over the years that followed, Richard and I would go through some changes. We both got married. Richard even drove my wife and me to the hospital when she was in labor with our youngest child. One night, my wife got an email with some devastating news. Richard was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with leukemia. We visited with Richard and his wife while he was in the hospital. We, of course, traded puns as we enjoyed one another’s company. As my wife and I were leaving, I shook Richard’s hand. We made tentative plans to go out for a bite after he got out of the hospital.
Richard passed away a few short days after our visit. My wife and I went to his memorial service. There was a lovely display table of many mementos. What caught my attention the most was his guitar that was displayed on the table. My mind went back to when we played together many years before. Richard and I, unfortunately had the same aggressive attack on our instruments. As a result, we broke strings often. It was always the same string. Richard and I were constantly replacing the G string for each others guitars. After the memorial service was over, I went back to the display table and gazed at the guitar. As I stared and remembered, I noticed something about the guitar. The G string was missing. You could even see the windings in the tuning machine where the string broke. I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute for my friend. Thanks for all you’ve done, Richard. YER COOL!