Friday, November 13, 2009

Paul Holland

by Ed Lowe

I’m a terrible godfather.

That, or, I was so lucky as to be chosen for the honor by parents so terrific that they had scarce need for me, and so I evaded such responsibilities as the role calls for (in which case, then, I would have been a terrible godfather).

Though I was not when they selected me, I am and have long been a non-attending, non-officially contributing church member, and therefore a seriously flawed role-model for prospective new members, as promised, by me, at a liturgy, with witnesses, many of whom obviously would have been a better choice.

So, recently, one of my Godsons calls, Brian Holland, the one who, now that I think of it, most uncannily resembles his father. He identifies himself as my godson, which I deserve, and says he sorry he has to inform me that his father has died.

Frankly, I don’t remember what he said or what I said after that.

There was some mention of kidney failure and bringing him up from Florida and the fact that Charlotte N.C. has undergone sweeping changes in the last forty years. There would be a service in Amitvyille Saturday morning with…and... I don’t know…I guess, will I come, or, “I thought you would like to know.” Something like that, alternately awe-inspirational and awful at the same time.

I think I was the one who said the stupid things about Charlotte, North Carolina. Brian said has lived there, five years, now. It’s been exactly forty years since I’ve been there. Something in common.

“Your father calls me from Florida every month,” I’m tempted to say, but don’t, because I’m thinking something hair brained, like “What are you saying, he’s not going to call, anymore?”

Paul Holland.

Paul Holland. My friend. When I first met him, I think I was little. I mean, really little. His five cousins, the Macombers, had moved into a house next to mine. He lived somewhere else. Cottage Place.

I told Brian I would call him back. I had to think. Or, what people do when they don’t know what to say.

I started to write. First, a sort of curse, that summed up the surprise I felt. And then, more or less to Brian, “I’m looking at it [the curse], staring at it, and I’m saying, ‘You're quite capable of lending more dignity to this...blah, blah, blah...’ but really, I'm not. I'm not.

“What was I, five, or seven, when he first visited the Macombers. I know I was twelve when we really tightened as a unit. I had played ball with him and stuff, but it was 1957 or 1958 when I heard that he was in the brand new hospital, Good Samaritan, which seemed so far away. It was a hernia, or and appendectomy or something.

“It was raining. There was nothing to do in Amitvyille, anyway. I had fifty cents. A quarter each way. I took a Utility Line bus along Merrick Road. I can't remember doing anything like it before. Never alone, anyway.

“The nurse in the room looked at me, and for some reason said, ‘He's not allowed to laugh.’ I thought it was strange to say, but nodded, ‘Okay.’ She said, ‘I mean it. If those stitches pop, I'm going to hold you responsible.’ I said, again, ‘Okay.’

“Paul saw me, and shot up in the bed, holding his side.

‘“I know. I know. No laughing,’ I said. ‘How are you doing...?’

“I really thought I was controlling myself, though the both of us were straining. I mean, we were at an age (twelve and fourteen) where the more serious the situation got, the more tempted we were to fall down laughing about it. Breaking wind in church, I suppose, would have killed him.

“In the next bed was what we thought was an old man,” I wrote in an e-mail. “Probably half our age, now. A male nurse came in (I had never seen one, so I was already on the edge), and he said to the old man, ‘I have to prep you.’

“Paul's eyes widened, and he sat straight up in the bed.

“I shrugged. ‘Prep? What’s Prep?’

“Holding himself tight, Paul said, ‘When they prep you, they shave you from your chest down to your knees.’

“The question came out my mouth before I had chance to trip it, or lasso it, or smother it. And what was worse, it was only one word. I said, ‘Everything?’

“Owww. Even my stitches hurt, and I didn't have any. Paul was red. He was straining so hard not to laugh, I thought maybe I would leave. I wasn’t helping. Then, the male nurse, who had pulled the curtain around his patient, but unfortunately not around his own mouth, shouted at the patient, ‘Look here, you’re going to have to hold that thing steady, or I'll cut it off.’

“We both exploded. Collapsed. The nurse appeared out of nowhere, like a nun. She grabbed me by the ear, and marched me right out of the room, and she wouldn't hear any excuses. ‘I said, ‘No laughing, didn’t I? And look at you; just look at you! When your friend's stomach blows up, are you going to be laughing then? Get out!’

“End of visit. Maybe ten minutes.

“I don't know how, but Paul made it, and he and I became friends for life.

“I'm sorry.” I wrote in the e-mail to Brian. “There’s years of memories, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, the Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary; The Knick Trips, The Chatterbox. Basketball. Harmonizing. Then you four, Paul Michael, James, Lauren, you; and, later, the other kids—I didn’t know them.

“But that hospital is just where my head went.

“Hey, my mother is a freshman there. She died on Oct. 20th. Maybe she'll help him with, you know, the applications and…stuff.”


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