Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Parting Glass

It's sad to reach an age where something once so large in one's life starts, through a series of sad goodbyes, to implode like a bright star and shrink to a compressed memory, shared now by a few scattered friends.

Fred Foster Davis, F.F. or Filthy Fred as he was universally known; not for lack of hygiene, but for his abiding love for ribald folk song, has died and left a big gap in the circle around the warm fire of friendship. As we slide down the metaphoric pew to fill his now cold seat it seems that each shadow takes on the face of someone too dear to lose.

And how dear was Fred? In '83 and Fred showed up needing to borrow a car to drive to Fernandina in aid of some sort of vehicle exchange over on Cumberland Island. I gave him my yellow Wagoneer, an old veteran but drivable. Fred was back in two days to recruit me to help him tow a Volvo back. I said OK, fine and the day was set. The next morning as we were ready to leave, Fred mentioned that I might find the brakes a bit "tight." He was right, of course, as he had replaced some major components while he had the car. He just did that kind of thing. You borrow a clunker from a friend, find the fluid reservoir a tad low, so you put some fluid in and watch it. Not Fred; he rebuilt the whole system. You know, as a favor for the loan. That was just the kind of guy he was, plus he liked order in machinery . As a life long sailor, he had the ability to make or fix anything. Looking back, I find it hard to think of a time a whirlwind visit from Fred did not result in some repair to the lights, plumbing or car. I'm half certain if he house sat for a month a remodel of some sort would be effected. Really.

Fred died down island in Nevis. He had property there and after losing his wonderful 53' steel hulled ketch,"Curlew" to a hurricane, he had given up life as a charter captain to split his time between the Eastern Shore of VA and the Caribbean.

Our history goes back 35 years and the adventures abound.
In fact the last time I saw Fred, maybe 5 years now, our paths crossed in Beaufort, NC. during a Pirate Festival. It went from a quiet visit with other friends to a highly questionable activity involving reefer, rum and a functional canon. Did not see him again though I figured it was just a matter of time. Now this. Fred leaves a new wife and an ex-wife, Mary. Mary is a story herself and a good friend. The new wife? I did not know about, but I'll wager she has spirit.

So Fred, about to seek treatment for Cancer in Brazil, I'm told, fell to that terrorist of disease while being given oxygen and morphine at the Alexandra Hospital in Nevis and lies buried so far away.

Fred Davis, dead at 65. Too soon for a man so full of work to do and robbed of his days as a elder, sitting some dock yard with stories to amaze the children and a tot of rum near by. But, that is only the future as I saw it. Perhaps he did not look ahead and just lived point to point, like a good navigator.

My friend Dave, another good one, held a pledge with Fred. It was the kind of thing people say, when they really do not consider the truth or consequences of the bargain. The bond was, whomever died first, the survivor would sing "The Parting Glass" at his funeral. It didn't turn out because Dave did not get the news, none of us got it, until yesterday and that was too late. David went home and sang it by himself.

Now if you don't know The Parting Glass, it's a sad Irish tune sung at closing time, and the last part goes: "And if it falls unto my lot, that I should rise and you should not. I'll softly go and gently call, good luck and joy be with you all."

The song is actually about drinking, not dying, but it doesn't take much for it to become an allegory to everything I have been saying here. On that point, I'll shove off in hopes that you will find the "Parting Glass" and hear it for Fred. From there on you will have it to sing to yourself when you are lonely or sad and you might find it of use.


Anonymous said...

Spent several years with Filthy Fred many many years ago--a fellow who burns an indelible imprint on your psyche and can never be forgotten. The fond memories remain strong no matter how many years. I just hope they will let him sing his songs now that he has crossed the river into a better place.

GrannyPam said...

That friends leave us with greater frequency as each year passes is a sad fact. I'm sorry your friend is gone, and I'm sorry you heard so late. One never leaves our existence as long as his name is mentioned and remembered.

texino said...

As a sad postscript, it seems a few folks in Onancock, VA (where Fred had a B&B and a furniture and art restoration shop) were in the process of gentrifying the old port. A wealthy and respected relation (and former sweetheart of Freds) happened to stop by. Fred's name came up, and the young folks asked if she meant the old bum who wove around town on a bicycle? (Fred with a brain tumor) Friendships cooled.