Ben, my son's first friend, died this morning. When we lived in town, Ben was our neighbor. When K was five he started wandering over to sit on Mr. Ben's porch while he read the paper. They talked, watched people drive up and down the road, and just sat. As time went by Ben, who was retired, taught K how to shoot a BB gun (since I wouldn't let him have one). K then went to Ben's almost every day to shoot magnolia pods from the fifty foot tree in Ben's front yard. When we moved to the country, Ben gave K his brother's ancient BB gun.
K continued to visit Ben whenever I was in town working. They sat on the porch and talked about guns, patterns of different ammo, and hunting. They listened to Paul Harvey. They sat. Ben restored an old 410 and gave it to K (after asking me) when the time came to advance beyond BB guns.
Ben took time with my son, taught him (some things for which I wasn't excited), told him about the old ways, and let my son be himself.
I'm sad. Sad for K, who has been upset for weeks, and sad because I, too, have lost a friend even though I, honestly, don't know that much about his true self. He was good to my children and that is all I needed to know. Though Ben was in his upper 70's, he seemed vigorous until right before Thanksgiving. Soon after, he had a few problems and was admitted to the VA hospital. He was released, then readmitted a few days before Christmas. Even though he had purchased a brand new truck the day before he first went to the hospital indicating he had no idea he was really sick, he had advanced stages of cancer with a maximum of six weeks to live.
We took him a small fake Christmas tree on Christmas day where he was housed in a room with three other veterans. Last week they moved him to a hospice, which is even more depressing than the VA hospital even though everything is decorated and they have a little courtyard - so much loneliness and waiting.
I'm glad he didn't last longer. I would rather K remember him on the porch, rather than lying on a hospital bed, disoriented by sedatives and cancer, though I was proud of my son during our visits. He showed a maturity beyond his age. He stood by his friend. He didn't want him to be lonely.