This past July, my wife and I were in Dallas for a convention having to do with her business. It was a hell of a hot time to be going down to Texas. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
More than two weeks earlier I’d gotten a call from a buddy of mine that I hadn’t heard from in nearly seven years. We go back nearly 27 years together, Barry and I. He’s one of those friends where even when you lose touch for years, it’s like it has only been days once you see each other again.
He tells me that he’s living in Dallas and has been there a couple of years. Said the reason he hadn’t called was because he’d lost my phone number, but then found it again when he was cleaning out some drawers. If you’ve ever been a bachelor, you know how those things go. Barry also told me that his mother, Velma Spiller, had passed late last year. That hit me hard. Without Barry’s mother I don’t quite know how I would have survived the four years I lived on Chicago’s South Side during the early ‘80s trying to make it as a writer and musician.
I still remember how much her knees would be hurting after she returned home from working a long night downtown cleaning buildings, but she was never so tired that she didn’t take time to make sure I was just as well cared for as her own son. I can’t remember if she ever spoke with my mother over the phone, although I’m sure she did, but the fact that I was Barry’s friend was more than enough reason in her mind for her to take me in. She knew what it meant for a mother — mine — to know that her only son has somewhere safe and nearby to go in case of trouble. And there was plenty of trouble in Chicago in those days, believe me. Ms. Spiller always told me that if she had a dime, I could be sure I had a nickel coming. She meant it. I’m sorry I missed the funeral, but far more than that, I’m sorry that I didn’t manage to stay in better touch with her after I left the city.
Barry and I talked for a while about his mother, about how her life had been in her final years, and about what had been going on with the two of us. There was a lot to catch up on, which was why I was glad to tell him that I’d be in Dallas within a couple of weeks. We arranged to get together, and two weeks later on a Saturday we were sitting in a downtown restaurant doing serious damage to some ribs. Once we were through, and the bones were scattered about, the conversation eventually got around to the fact that my buddy was tired of living the single life. Me being the kind of guy I am, I figured maybe I could, you know, help out.
“You interested in meeting somebody?” I asked.
I’d barely gotten the question out before he said, “yes.” After talking the idea over with my wife, we arranged for him to meet a mutual friend the following night. They met. They talked for more than an hour. They met again on Monday night at another function. On Tuesday, he proposed. She accepted.
Not quite a month later, on Aug. 23, a very good friend of mine and Barry’s, who goes back that same 27 years of friendship with us both, arrived at Detroit Metro airport for a totally unrelated family matter. I had called and told him Barry was getting married that weekend, and since he hadn’t seen Barry since we were all in high school together at an East Coast prep school in the mid-’70s, he knew he had to arrange to be there. I picked him and three of his four children up at the airport.
On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 26, Salim wasn’t sure he would be able to make the wedding, but he at least wanted for the three of us to have breakfast together. We met at a diner, had breakfast, and Barry and I convinced Salim that he absolutely had to be there. Actually, Salim had made sure to bring his laptop computer to the breakfast, so I think he knew in advance that he was walking into a losing argument against the two of us. It’s been 27 years since you’ve seen the man, Salim, and you really think you’re gonna miss the wedding? Try again, my brother.
Later that afternoon, barely a month after the two of them first met, Barry and Kym were married right here in Detroit. I was best man.
The next day, after a nice family gathering at the home of the bride’s parents, the bride and groom hopped into their big pink Cadillac and drove 18 hours or so to Dallas. Barry had to get back to work at his job as a supervisor at a food distribution company. As for Salim, who grew up right over there on the east side near Concord Avenue and East Jefferson, he had to hop on another plane Sunday morning and head to New York, where he’s scheduled to begin his new job this fall as a college professor.
Me? I just thought I’d tell you about it as a reminder of how important friends are. Even old ones you haven’t seen in years.Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org