Today my late husband Rich will celebrate a birthday in the Afterlife. I don’t know how birthday anniversaries are celebrated in that world, but down here I will be celebrating the occasion in a unique and personal way by participating in my first art event since I can’t even recall. Thinking June of 2019.
As I recounted in last Saturday’s post, Rich and I met through our involvement in the local art community when we lived in New Jersey. He was assisting another artist, Frank Hulick when we met. Frank always went out of his way to introduce Rich to me whenever possible. “Have you met Rich?” he’d ask with a mischievous smile. “Yes, you’ve introduced him to me a few times,” I’d answer laughing. As I’d mentioned last week, Frank was an Audubon Society calibre illustrator and a prolific artist. He and Rich were great friends and had a lot of fun together. Frank was an amazing talent and Rich knew how to sell.
Rich always seemed to be wherever I was and as I’d find out later, that was intentional. He always seemed to be there when I needed help carrying my artwork and display panels; but he was a happy friendly guy who helped everyone. No big deal. But, when he found out how I liked my coffee and brought some to me at the beginning of any event he attended I noted that he didn’t do that for everyone. He even brought me snacks!
I recall wandering from my art booth at an event held in a church hall in Wayne, NJ where Rich was manning Frank’s exhibit. When I stopped to talk to Rich, he informed me that he was in the process of completing his divorce and that he was looking forward to traveling to so many places alone. I remember telling him that it sounded lonely.
I also recall a big art gala at the Jersey Shore in which I’d participated for years. On that February 4th, as the artists drank and ate post show, Rich came to say good night to all. He told me it was going out to celebrate his birthday. I knew he was seeing someone at the time and wished him a good evening. Later he’d tell me that he wished he was having dinner with me that night.
He was a boisterous sort, always at the center of attention with his joke telling and colorful commentary. Most who met him never forgot him and many still have funny stories to share with me. As someone once pointed out, he was genuine and for me that is the best quality of any person and often the most elusive.
Rich was a talented wood crafter and decoy carver in his own right. He also had a knack for adding to his selective decoy collection often making interesting finds at flea markets and tag sales. “Got a hundred bucks on you. I want to buy that bird,” he’d ask. We had so many of those birds on display that a few months after he’d passed I packed half of them up although many are still gracing this home. I also have his carving blanks and tools boxed up and will consider donating them to a local art center of woodworking club. I just can’t seem to do that yet. Perhaps it would make things too final. It takes a lot of energy to make those decisions.
So tonight, I will make a toast to Rich and recall all of the art events he and I attended and all the memories made. I’ll thank him for all the times he was there to help and encourage me through good and tough times in the art world and beyond. Happy Birthday, Rich. You are still so loved by many.