Wednesday, January 11, 2012

(because of circumstances you might understand, I never wrote a blog about my friend Seth Williamson. I'm still not over it, I try, but I don't think any of us who loved him will be over it. I hope this does you some justice, my buddy.)

I'm Still Bereft

The first week of October, I lost a friend.

And the way I lost him, well, I just can't fathom.

I had to go pick Granny up from her eye appointment. It was a Friday, I didn't mind, I got a few minutes out of work, I'd pick Granny up, deposit her home, then head back to work with the weekend ahead of me.

I went out to the parking lot and got in my car. I revved it up. My radio, as always,
was tuned to the NPR station out of R'noke, the only one I listen to. It was pledge week. A downer to be sure, more talk and less music, but that was OK by me. My buddy Steve B from the Community Band (the afternoon guy) was talking away, trying to get people to give to the cause.

But as I was backing out of my parking spot, something happened. He said something I wasn't sure about.

"I know he would have wanted us to carry on and reach our goal."

My blood ran cold.

See, I knew, from Facebook that my SKB buddy and dear friend Seth - the normal 'morning guy' on the NPR station - was in the hospital. His daughter reported that he had to be taken to the local hospital to have gall bladder surgery. Gall bladder surgery? It's relatively simple. Hell, I had it some 18 years ago, and I came out just fine.

But something just didn't feel right.

I continued backing out of my spot and heading out to meet Granny. Then it came.

Steve Brown announced that Sethie had suddenly died the night before, after his surgery.

I can't explain it. Suddenly, in a way, my world ended that morning. Still trying to go through the parking lot to head out to meet Granny, tears making it nigh-on impossible to drive.

In my life I've lost a grandfather, two grandmothers I loved dearly, an uncle and an aunt. Thank God I still have both parents with me, and all my immediate family.

I swear to God, nothing has hit me as hard as this.

Seth Williamson was my friend. But he was so much more.

I first knew him from Community Band, a euphonium player who seemed larger than life, with a big booming voice, always ready with a hilarious quip to throw out to the band. He did the narration for every July 4th concert the band played, and I swear, some of the rehearsals with his narration were so great (with outtakes and asides), I kind of fell in love with him.

Then about 8 years ago, I got my dream. To join the Sauerkraut Band. I'd wanted to for some 10 years, and (thanks, Mr M) I was asked to come along for the ride. Seth played euphonium in the Sauerkraut Band.

And that's when I realized that falling in love with Seth was, well, par for the course.

He was wonderful. So kind. So funny. So talented. The kind of person who made a girl coming into a new group feel welcome, like she was "one of the gang."

I sat right behind him all those years up the mountain at Oktoberfest. And I have to tell you, when things got rough, or boring, or beyond tolerating, he could always turn around and say something to me that would crack me up and keep me going.

Mr M and Sethie became great friends. They charged emails back and forth between them, arguing over politics and religion, the two things people should never talk about. But they were so close, they had to.

I can remember many a time when it came intermission at Oktoberfest, when Seth would go outside on the patio and grab a chair to sit. Mr M and I, and always other SKB members, would go over to where he was to talk and laugh.

Besides being a fine musician and singer, Seth was the king of the one-liners. He'd often shout something out during Ed's repeated schtick that would crack up the entire band, and half the audience.

In the early days of SKB, Seth always called me "Elizabetta," which I loved, and treasure to this day.

And so time passed, and we were all now ensconced as friends. But over the past two years, Sethie found Susan. A new SKB member. She's a lovely person, and they seemed to be a perfect match. They were so happy together.

So now - I didn't have to wait till Oktoberfest to see Seth (or Susan)! They came over to Mr M's for dinner, or movies, or just to hang out. It was fantastic, and oh, the stories I heard from Seth.

The summer before he died, they came over and we watched the movie "The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia." Oh, my Lord, the comments that came from him. I'd seen the movie before, and had laughed, but he made me laugh even more.

Seth, from the beginning, accepted me so willingly, with whatever horrible character and physical flaws I have, or may have thought I had. He welcomed me into his fold and called me his friend.

He was larger than life to me. And that's (whether it's grammatically correct) literally and figuratively. He was a large man. Tall and big, with a huge booming voice (perfect for radio). He was just a large presence.

But he was also bigger than life because he was so knowledgeable. He knew every bird in the sky. He would hike up mountains to see hawks fly above the Virginia sky. He'd read thousands of books. He knew all music, from classical to lowly band music, to bluegrass, to old-time mountain music. Every time I went up the mountain to Oktoberfest I'd see him sitting on the back of his Forester, reading at least one book.

And he had stories. Like the time he used to sing jingles for money in Charlotte, NC. One of my favorites.

And another thing I'll always treasure. The time I brought Granny and Paw up to the mountain for Oktoberfest, Seth sat and talked to my dad forever about bluegrass music, and artists, and who was the best at this instrument or that. My dad remembers it to this day, and grieved over his passing, too.

So - here it is in the New Year, 2012.

When I went to Seth's memorial, it was beautiful, with lots of pictures of his life, but there were no pictures of birds.

That's how I think of Sethie now. As a hawk flying over the mountains, over us all, looking down on us and telling us to get on with our lives.

I'm trying, Seth. But I swear, I miss you.