You should've seen it. When I looked up to eulogize my friend Gary, there was a sea of faces. Folding chairs all the way to the back. Standing room only on the stairs.
Instantly recognizable faces, faces that had changed too much to decipher. New faces. Missing faces. His sister's face. His son's face. Logan's 20. He lost his mom a while back, too. We're his family now. Seated behind me at the pulpit was the minister, Gary's nephew.
The task, impossible. Bring him back to us. Tell the stories. The ones that make us laugh and then weep at the end because his giggle is missing, because his particular brand of mischief is now folklore. Resurrect him through memories in 10 minutes. In 500 words. Make some sense of it. Roll away the stone.
If Will Rogers had met him he'd have said, “Gary Schlosser never met a man who didn't like him.” But even if you never met him, you'd recognize him. The obituary documented his love of nature. He was a city councilman, a firefighter. But that's just a resume.
It won't tell you about the first time he met my brother's wife and impishly fawned over her like an ex-lover. It went something like this:
“Good to see you again, Pam. You look fantastic. Where've you been? I've missed you...”
“Uh, do I know you!?”
“Baby, how could you forget all those steamy nights we spent together,” he said, as my brother's face reddened with stifled laughter. “Oh, how I've missed your red-hot monkey love...”
Or the day he drove around with an inflatable doll in the passenger seat. Now, Frederick, S.D., doesn't have a car pool lane; he just wanted to cruise past his buddies and drive them crazy wondering how a rascal like Gary could get a girl like that.
Once, he showed up for a shift at the bar and wondered why his coworkers kept snickering. One side of his face was cleanly shaven. The other half? Still covered in Barbasol. “Well, I didn't want to be late!” he exclaimed.
Maybe you never met him, but you know him. Someone like him. Small towns grow big characters. They're part of the firmament. Cornerstones. Our soul. We don't erect statues to them, though; we share memories. We remind ourselves how rich life is, how good people can be.
One of the funeral directors told me that last summer after she emerged from the hospital where Gary worked as a groundskeeper, visibly shaken by her husband's heart attack, Gary was there with that big shoulder of his.
Afterward, some of us commandeered my mother's kitchen to toast Gare Bare. Mom even produced some Jägermeister. Growing up, we spent so much time in each-other's homes, he became her son, too.
We vowed, and I think it's a vow we'll keep, not to let a funeral — another unexpected heart attack — bring us together the next time. Maybe a picnic next summer.
We're getting better at saying “I love you.” I tried it on Whitey during our goodbye, but he just sort of grunted. Translation: “Me, too.”
Do I really have to spell out some sort of moral to all of this? To provide instructions, to say, “Go forth, and do this...” Of course not. You know what to do. You've known all along. We all have.
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service.