George Is Gone

During my last year in Minot – the 1988-89 academic year – and for a few years after I’d left North Dakota, my buddy George was a constant in my life.

We’d met at a faculty workshop during the summer of 1989, and in a few weeks, we were having dinner once a week, set on finding ourselves a favorite restaurant in Minot, a task simplified by the limited offerings of the city of about 35,000. Soon enough, we were joined in our quest by Helen, one of George’s colleagues from the College of Education.

We never did find a favorite, but we had some decent meals and some good conversations. The three of us were all cat people – Helen and I of long-standing and George of recent vintage – and we took turns taking care of each other’s cats during absences from Minot during quarter and holiday breaks.

And George and I settled into a routine of having late-evening coffee either at his house or mine, talking about serious life issues or about frivolous nothings as we watched the evening news and then re-runs of Cheers.

During the summer of 1989, he and his brother Ed visited me in Minnesota, and the three of us –joined by my ladyfriend of the time – saw Bob Dylan in concert in downtown St. Paul. Then, after my ladyfriend had headed home, George and Ed and I talked over coffee until early morning in my apartment in the suburban town of Anoka.

I wandered off to Kansas and Missouri and then back to Minnesota, but phone conversations with George were a constant, and by the time I got back to Minnesota in the late summer of 1991, George was there, too, teaching at a private college in St. Paul. We had the occasional dinner but George was more occupied with his teaching and with his new lady, who was still in North Dakota but who was working to get to Minnesota. I understood, I’d been there.

And, as friends sometimes do, we began to drift apart. Some of that was George’s new commitment. He and his lady married and began to raise a late-in-life family, something he thought he’d never have the chance to do. Some of that drift – maybe most – was mine, as I spent the mid-1990s in a devastating depression, barely able to do more than go to work, go to the record store and go home and listen to music.

The last time I saw George was at the Minnesota State Fair sometime around 1995, when we took in a blues festival featuring B.B. King and Etta James. I knew he and his family were headed to California and teaching gigs at Cal-Berkeley, but I wasn’t sure when. And when I came out of my depression around 2001, George and his family were living in Oakland and I wasn’t in their lives.

I got in touch with him, and emails went back and forth for a brief time, but – just like in Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” – whatever we’d had once was gone. My fault? Maybe. George’s fault? Perhaps.

Just the way life sometimes is? Most likely.

I found him on Facebook a couple of years ago and left a message. I got no answer, which is what I expected. And he crossed my mind again this past weekend, so I searched again, and saw a listing for him in a small town in Maine. I searched further and found his obituary. He died about a year ago.

I know. We come into each other’s lives and leave each other’s lives for reasons, those reasons rarely discernible. George had been gone from my life for more than twenty years and I regret that, although I’m not sure I could have done anything to change it. I guess that at times I hoped I could reconnect with him and if things needed repairing, repair them. That chance, if it ever existed, is gone.

But I remember our late-night coffees, our late-night phone calls between Missouri and North Dakota, our bafflement at the odd behaviors of his two cats, Ginseng and Cinnamon, our love of football and good food and music, and all the things that go into a friendship, however brief it turned out to be.

Here’s a tune we tried to play together once. It didn’t work well, as he was using the words to the Byrds’s version, and I was singing the words Bob Dylan recorded with Artie Traum. (Dylan and Traum, we weren’t.) Here’s their 1971 recording of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” released in 1972 on Dylan’s second greatest hits collection.

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One Response to “George Is Gone”

  1. Amy Erickson says:

    Nice thought! I’m sure George remembers also.

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