56 years. I'd known Nick for 56 years. 56 years, 10 days, to be more precise. We met on my first birthday, which would have been May 21, 1954. I've known him longer than I've known anyone else, and longer than even his brothers and sisters. And, this morning, he died. At his desk, at work, but alone on a holiday. He'd come in to meet with a client, and only expected to be at work for a little time.
It's impossible to explain the impact Nick had on my life. He was "Uncle Nick" to my daughter, friend and confidant to my wife. He was the big brother I never had, as an only child. I often reminded him that he was older than I, by a rollicking six months. He got me through some of the toughest times I had in college, introduced me to a lot of obscure music, and, through conversations late at night and early in the morning, helped form my thoughts. Without him, I don't know who I'd be.
Too, we helped him through some, but not nearly all, of the tough times in his life. I talked him into coming back to California after a stint on the East Coast. He slept on our couch, babysat our daughter, changed her diapers in the wee hours of the morning, so we could get some much needed sleep.
Nick had the ability to make all around him comfortable, feeling like they'd known him for years. I have a photo of him and another friend, Jay Wiestling, sitting on recliners on the tailgate of a moving truck, beers in hand, laughing at some long forgotten joke. He and Jay had just met, but got along as if they'd grown up together. Nick was like that. All of my closest friends who met him remember him vividly, and all have at least one story to tell about being around him.
He hated to disappoint. If anything, I think this led to him disappearing from time to time. He would commit to being someplace, or promise to call, or some such thing. When he was prevented from doing so, he'd drop from sight, only to reappear sometime later. Sometimes in an entirely different place. He "had the bear in him," as my wife says. The need to wander, to explore, to not repeat an experience. I sometimes think he was born in the wrong era. He needed to be in a time where men lived closer to the earth, when having a "job" wasn't necessary to earn a living. He'd have been an itinerate handyman, or wandering peddlar or something that would bring him into contact with a wide variety of people and experiences. Staying in one place was foreign to him for many years.
Recently, he'd married, for the second time, and had his first child, a daughter he called his "little miracle." He seemed to have found the place and time in which he wanted to be. We just wish he'd stayed a little longer...
He will be missed. This gives Memorial day a whole new meaning to me and mine.