Paul and I got better acquainted later in life. Good conversation makes good friends. Not about weather or politics, although there was plenty of that. But more important things like the pond’s ecology or how to build a bird feeder so the squirrels couldn’t get to it. Our conversations never stalled. Paul knew something about everything — and a lot about a lot of things: sports, politics, septic systems, companion dogs, The Pond Association. And lots of scientific stuff.
We did agree on most things. The best way to spend a day was at a Red Sox game, even if it meant muscling his walker down Yawkey Way – a small price to pay for an afternoon at Fenway. Paul was an example of how deep the Red Sox mystique can go even for someone who’d spent so much time in New York. He bled Red Sox. And Patriots.
But we didn’t agree on everything. I couldn’t convince him the shortstop needs a stronger arm than the third baseman. At third, the ball arrives quickly, but at short it takes longer which gives the runner more time to get to first. And throwing from what’s considered deep short requires the best arm on the team. By contrast, the third baseman just needs to stop the ball with lots of time to get the ball over. Every baseball player knows that. But Paul couldn’t be convinced, countering my expertise with his frigg’in geometry of the baseball diamond.
Above all, Paul was a great listener, genuinely interested in what I had to say. That’s what made him a real friend. He gave me an unsolicited man-compliment once too when he remarked, “I don’t know what you’re using on your deck. But it’s working It looks great!”
Mary, Paul, Linda and I enjoyed our last dinner together at The Sole Proprietor in Worcester, crowded into a small space with six or eight tightly packed tables and not much bigger than our home dining room. Paul’s hearing wasn’t so good, so when we talked and told our stories, they were extra loud, and the others in the room had to listen right along. I don’t know about the rest, but Paul seemed to enjoy the conversation.
During Paul’s last stay at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Linda, Mary, Paul and I picked up the conversation right where we had left it at the restaurant. When it was time to leave, Paul and I shared a long handshake. This goodbye was a little different, and we held on to each other a little longer.
When I saw Paul soon afterward, he was surrounded by loving caregivers in his home. When my turn came to sit near his bed, he recognized me and reached his hand. That was a gift.
The following afternoon, while reading at home, I had a random thought. I should go back to the camp to talk with Paul one last time. But then I realized, with that sudden thought, we just did –just said goodbye.
Paul died that day. And there could be nothing more genuine and complete than his goodbye, communicated over space and time in our last conversation.