Laddie was my father’s best friend. In many ways, he was my father’s only friend. At least he was the only adult male I thought of as caring about my father.
Laddie was my father’s opposite. He was shy, reserved, and gentle. My father was loud, a bit of a bragger, and always sought the limelight. Since my neighborhood offered no such limelight, it was good for Dad to have Laddie’s friendship.
They watched their favorite shows on a twelve inch black and white Zenith. In the cold months they set up their clubhouse in our basement, next to the coalbin. Big cushy chairs and footstools, as well a giant ash trays and tiny TV tables.
During the warm months they moved Jackie Gleason and Art Carney and Ed Sullivan and Red Skeleton and Jack Benny, out to the garage – doors wide open and the space encased in mosquito netting. The two of them looked like they were on safari.
They exchanged cigars twice a week, shared tidbits of conversation, screamed and yelled during the Friday night fights or when Art Carney tossed tinsel on the world’s ugliest Christmas tree on an episode of “the Honeymooners.” They laughed so loud it woke up my mother, who loved catching a nap while “the boys played”. This was their ritual for most of my childhood.
When my father painted our basement steps an institutional grey, and started at the top, leaving himself stranded in a corner by the fruit cellar, Laddie laughed and applauded my selling tickets to see him sitting there waiting for the floor to dry. He brought my Dad a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich with extra mayo, a Chicago Tribune, and a Coke, and reminded my father he would never live this one down.
When my Dad’s brother was murdered in England, Laddie still showed up for their TV shows. They never spoke of Uncle Bill’s murder or my father’s swarming sadness, they simply allowed the ritual to do its slow sure healing.
When my father died in 2000, Laddie came to the funeral. He looked the same, only his age made him appear to sag all over. He did not stay for the service, but simply paid his respects. I thanked him for being there.
I wish I had thanked him for showing me the importance of friendship, and how vital it is to have someone with whom to share a good laugh.
I've had a few friends like Laddie over the years, but nobody with whom I shared a weekly ritual. I suspect it would have made a difference, having a buddy, counting on a presence, sharing the day’s big and small events, and swapping cigars. I'm not sure what kind of difference, just that it would have made life a little easier.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.