He took me away from the village and into the world.

He stood beside me, his arm around me, on a cliff at Big Sur and said “there’s the Pacific Ocean, baby”. A year later, he stood beside, his arm around me, and said “there’s the Atlantic Ocean, baby”.

He sang to me “Oh baby, baby it’s a wild world….it’s hard to get by just upon a smile” (he was right).

He taught me how to skin a catfish and run trout lines (yeah just like the Hank Williams Jr. song), how to cook, how to clean window screens, and how to make soup out of chicken feet.

He taught me that tea was never meant to be anything but sweet, grits (with cheese) or rice are served at most meals, and the Chattahoochee River is a thing of power and beauty.

He taught me how to ski, how to canoe (hate it!), how to drive a speed-boat so that he could ski….and that there’s no vehicle more fun than a dune buggy.

He taught me that tomorrow is not promised. In fact, we can’t even pretend that it is. Every day is a gift.

I’ve never known anyone who dove into life as he did. He lived every day as if it were his last. It’s like he knew that he had to live with this urgency because he didn’t have much time. He worked hard and he played hard.

He wasn’t perfect. His faults were too numerous and I will never canonize him. He hurt me as much as he loved me. But as is always the case when someone owns a chunk of our lives in the way that he owned mine, for better or worse, I am who I am because I belonged to him. Only the two of us in our world understood that. No one else needed to.

I heard him tell someone once “I got her when she was just a mixed up kid and I made her strong”. He gave me walls, boundaries….he instilled certain convictions in me that I’ve never wavered from. He filled in the missing pieces.

He knew. My heart, my mind….what I needed. All that was, and all that would be.

Today is his birthday. Time does heal…sometimes. Most days are ok. But then, there are days, like today, when it’s as fresh as it was that day I got the call and fell to my knees in a restaurant.

Not a good day. I think because next year will be “20 years” since he left me.

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