Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Best Buddy Contract

I first learned of this Best Buddy Contract I signed with Gumpy around the age of 10.  There must have been some conversation I had with him where I was trying to get out of doing something and he told me I was contractually obligated to help him.  Whatever circumstances that surrounded the conversation have been long forgotten, but I will never forget the amount of consternation this caused for me at such a young age.

Our initial conversation, and several others afterward, always went something like this:

"Well, where is the contract," I would say.
"It's in a safety deposit box up town," Gumpy would reply.
"Let's go get it," I would retort.
"It's Saturday.  The bank's closed."
"Fine, when did I sign it?"
"When you were six months old."
"You put your X on it!"

At this point in the conversation, I had usually gone off the deep end while Gumpy would be howling with laughter.  He was the consumate bullshitter and I had only begun to build my bull shit detection skills.   They were primative and I was prone to being easily manipulated by a persistant story.

While there never was a physical document, in time we were able to joke about the alleged contract.  In fact, our pact turned out to be deeper than any piece of paper could ever capture.  There were the countless hours on the golf course he would spend with me when I know he would have rather hit the links with his friends.  When we moved to Traverse City, there were a few trips to talk with me for just a few hours before making the four hour trek home.  There were trips to Idaho to visit family and trips to Washington, DC.  All of these things were done at a time in my life where I was very angry with the world.  Gumpy had a hair trigger temper too and only lost his with me once that entire time.

In college, I was fortunate enough to be able to go back to the farm at least once a week when Ema and Gumpy were in Vermontville.  We did a ton of chores together, breaking concrete in the barn or sawing down a tree.  We were always fixing something together then driving to Nashville to play a little cow pasture pool at Mulberry Fore.

Since we spent a lot of time togther during those days, I heard many stories about years as a young adult as he tried to relate to me.  There was a culvert on the drive to Bird Lake where he and his two best friends would hide their beer to keep it cold.  There was the bar fight in Toledo.  There were tons of baseball stories and stories of his brother Vernal.  I learned about how much he loved his sister and how my grandparents struggled to help her raise her kids when her husband refused to try.  I learned about my grandfather as a friend and as a man.  The Best Buddy Contract turned from a noose around my neck to the best gift I could have ever recieved.

He stood next to me at my first wedding as my best man and he stood by me when I went through my divorce.  While it seemed that almost everyone in my life was busy condeming me, he told me he loved me and that I would get through this.  He loved me as a grandfather loves a grandson, as a father loves a son and as a best friend loves his best friend.

After his cancer diagnosis, I realized that it was my turn in the Best Buddy Contract to start doing things for him.  There were the few times I helped him shower.  There were several trips to hospitals.  In time, I learned his medical history well enough to give Ema a break when the hospital staff started with the questions.  There were trips to resturants for pie when Ema was not around because he just wanted something that tasted good.  There was the trip home from Florida the year after his diagnosis.  There were a few times I would hug him and let him know his fight was not in vein.  I had been given a chance to show Gumpy just how much I appreciated everything he had ever done for me and I tried not to waste an opportunity.

May 29, 2009 was the last time I was able to talk with Gumpy.  I reiterated my pledge to take care of Ema, my mom and my sister.  I was able spend a few hours with him telling him all of my favorite stories of our time together.  He would squeeze my hand at certain parts of stories, so I know that he heard me despite being in a pain medication induced haze.  Before Gladys and I left that night, I told him I was glad he made me sign that Best Buddy Contract and I was proud to have the opportunity to help him just as he had helped me.  I will always be his best buddy.