Thursday, December 14, 2006

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Louis

LouisLouis was my best friend through a few years of high school. His mother was a hairdresser and did my grandmother's hair, and that's how we met. We sat together on the bus to school every day, and did silly things and amused each other.

Louis and I would rewrite the words to popular songs, a pastime that kept us laughing for hours. In the style of Allan Sherman, our songs would usually have a Yiddish slant to them, despite that Louis was, in fact, Catholic. He had an amazing wit and we shared a sense of humour. Several things he used to say are part of my vocabulary still, after more than 30 years.

Louis guided me through my first funeral. When my mother died I was considered too young, at age 9, to go to her funeral. It wasn't until the mother of a high school classmate died that I had that experience. She was a teachers' aide in the science department, and Louis and I used to hang out there and talk with her often. When she died unexpectedly, we went to her funeral, a Catholic affair. Louis knew what to expect, and warned me; still, it was jarring to see the open casket.

I have a million stories I could tell of things we enjoyed together. It's so odd how people who are so close manage to drift apart with time. He was a year ahead of me in school, and went to college when I was a high school senior. Louis came from Providence, and missed New England, so he decided to go to college in Maine — Ricker College, a small liberal-arts college in Houlton, Maine, that closed just after he left.

Louis was a devout Roman Catholic. He served as an altar boy when we were in school, and, while he had no plans to become a priest, it wasn't completely surprising when he decided to join a monastery after college. He went to upstate New York and became Brother Anselm, and, as we had through college, we continued to write letters to each other. He told me about life at the monastery — up early for prayers, working in the apple orchards, baking bread, that sort of thing. His health wasn't the best, and the schedule and diet didn't agree with him. He left the monastery after a few years, and we lost touch.

He contacted me again in 1983, when I lived in the DC area and he was coming to DC. Did I want to get together? I most certainly did, and we had a wonderful time reconnecting! He'd gone to San Bernardino County in California, where he was teaching Catholic school. He was happy. But, for whatever reason, or no reason at all, we didn't stay in touch.

When my 25th year high school reunion came around, in 1999, the organizers decided to make it a double reunion, for the combined classes of 1973 and 1974. I wondered whether I'd see Louis there, but he didn't attend. We got a "memory book" that contained stuff we wrote — answers to the questionnaire they sent out, about what we were all doing now, how many kids we had, and whatnot. That was great, because many who didn't attend responded to the questionnaire. One of Louis's classmates had seven children. No one was yet a grandparent. Lots of our classmates were still living in the area, more than I would have expected. One had climbed a Himalayan mountain.

Louis's story wasn't in the memory book. He hadn't answered a questionnaire. But there was a page there that listed his name.

It was the page that listed deceased classmates.

I tried to contact his parents, but couldn't find them. The school didn't know anything, just that he had died. It was a college friend of mine, who never knew Louis, who thought to call the monastery and ask them. Louis died of cancer in 1988, still in his early 30s.

I think about him often, as I always have. I wish we'd stayed in touch — it wouldn't have changed anything in the end, but I'd have enjoyed his company, by mail or telephone, for longer.

I have no idea when his birthday was, nor what time of year he died. But I remember how he loved Christmas, so this is a fitting time of year for me to say a few words about him. And so I have.

Louis was my best friend through a few years of high school. I miss him.

2 comments:

headbang8 said...

A fine and fitting post. A tributed to a man of obvious fine character. I'm glad you can celebrate what he added to your life. Merry Christmas to him, wherever he may be.

Janeen said...

What a lovely tribute.