Tomorrow would have been the 47th birthday of my friend Eric. He passed away this year, just a few months ago, doing something he loved. He was training for a triathlon and pumping himself to compete, achieving goal after goal after personal best. Unfortunately, his heart pumped too hard and we lost one of the happiest people I’ve ever known.
Eric loved pushing himself. He loved sailing. He knew the words to every song ever written. He loved hugging. He loved his friends and his family. He loved life.
One of our summer gang (my brother, my sister, Eric’s brothers and all of our summer neighborhood friends), Eric was the youngest, but, by far, the ringleader. We would sail and swim and beach it all day, then run home for dinner, and meet up again for the evening entertainment.
When we were younger, that entertainment would be running around playing kick the can, or walking to the local ice cream stand for dessert (the gooier the better), or running around the beach catching fireflys or shooting rocks at the sunset. Before the bugs drove us away, it was idyllic. As we grew older, we’d get together at The Wood Shed, a local bar and sing along with the house band.
Eric and I shared August birthdays. We celebrated at home (clambakes for him and steak dinners for me) and then we’d rendezvous at the Wood Shed. It was your cliche spot, just above a dive. But we loved it. Dirty wooden floors, sticky tables and mismatched chairs. The place would get so crowded you couldn’t move. And forget using the rest room. It was so small you couldn’t turn around. Speaking of the rest room, ever single time my sister decided it was time to brave the crowd and squeeze in there, the band would play Aimee by Pure Prairie League, our band’s signature cover. This, of course, was the song we waited for all night.
On August 30, 1985, the night before my birthday, we didn’t want the night to end. It had been a good session but we just weren’t done. So we returned to the neighborhood, picked up some beer, blankets and gum drops, and drove down to the beach.
We scouted out some driftwood by the moonlight and made a fire. Then we sat around the fire and sang every song we had heard that night. Eric led us from Jimmy Buffet to Pure Prairie League, the Beatles, the Monkees. We had so much fun that night just being together.
In the past 27 years, whenever I have a bad day or just need some peace, I take this night out of my mental pocket and remember the camaraderie, the tunes and the laughter. The gum drops were pretty good too. But most of all I remember Eric, our ringleader, our friend, whom I miss every day.
Happy birthday, my friend. I hope you are kicking back on a beach in Heaven or sailing through the Milky Way and plucking Aimee on a 12-string.