Monday, January 3, 2011

Complete Eulogy for Gary Wells

I’d like you all to do something for me in the next five minutes.
I’d like you to be honest about a couple of things. Completely honest. This is church, okay? No lying. Ready? Here we go.

[RAISING RIGHT HAND] Raise your hand if you ever poked fun at Gary.

Come on, people. It’s like believing a politician; we’ve all done it at least once.

The only person who should not be raising a hand right now is my Aunt Charlotte. Never once have I heard her make fun of Gary. And she always took his phone calls, which makes her some kind of saint in my book, because, y’know? [RAISING RIGHT HAND] Raise your hand if you always let Gary’s phone calls go through to voicemail.

And Gary, as we all know, was not a hard person to poke fun at. He wore his hair long and his moustache thick, like he was trying to impersonate David Crosby from Crosby Stills and Nash. If he had been born in the 1800’s, Br’er Rabbit wouldn’t have said “Don’t throw me in the briar patch!” –- he would have said “Don’t throw me in Gary’s moustache!” And look –- I’m still poking fun at the guy.

That was Gary’s look. It was a look he cultivated; literally. But it wasn’t just his look; it was his armor. Even as a kid, Gary was incredibly sensitive. He was born with one skin too few, and we all knew it. He got teased a lot, because kids don’t tease the ones who could care less, they tease the ones who can feel it. So Gary grew armor. The kind of armor that wouldn’t make you notice that he had the gentlest face and softest eyes you’ve ever seen in your life. The kind of armor that would protect that huge, passionate heart of his. Because he did everything heart first. His heart was what he listened to. His heart was what he followed. And in the end, his heart was the last thing to go.

The obituary in the paper says that Gary’s passions were music, baseball and cooking. They weren’t just his passions. They were his life. When you feel everything a little more than anyone else, your passions are always your life. Always.

Some people poke fun at that, too. But other people, especially Gary’s friends in Cleveland? They not only respected those passions, they shared them. Envied them. Treasured them, the way they treasured Gary. They didn’t care how he lived his life, as long as he shared it with them.

And that brings me to the second thing. Totally honest now, people. [RAISING RIGHT HAND] Raise your hand if you ever felt sorry for Gary.

You’ll notice that, once again, my Aunt Charlotte has her hand down. This is because, of all the family, she’s been the only one who has never once said “Poor Gary,” or “I feel so sorry for him,” or “He’s had such a hard life.” To which I can only say, “What hard life?” It was HIS life. He chose it. And we judged him for it. We said, “It’s not my life,” and we set ourselves up as the standard, and then judged him. Like he failed a test he didn’t even know he was taking. And I’m the worst offender. Why? Because I made the same kind of choice. And I did it for pretty much the same reason, because I was passionate about something.

And I should have felt respect for someone who was out there, plugging away, just like I was. But I didn’t. And now all I can think of is, isn’t it sad? Isn’t it sad that, even when we know we’re all in this together, somehow we always find a way to drive ourselves apart from each other.

Not Gary. Gary always found a way to bring people together. The guy never had two nickels to rub together, but he was a river to his people. And he was always out there plugging away. For every one plan that fell through, he had ten more in the works. Always. He was an engine of “what next.” You know what the Japanese definition of success is? “Fall down six times, get up seven.” That was Gary. He always got up for one more try. I wish I had that kind of strength. I look at all the things he did because he tried to do it all, and I think, y’know? If everybody in this room had one-tenth of Gary’s persistence and self-confidence, we would all be famous right now.

So why wasn’t Gary famous? Well, he was, actually. Not world famous. Local famous. My brother David is going to come up here in a minute and read you some of the e-mails he’s received from people in Cleveland who knew a Gary we never saw. A Gary we don’t even recognize. If we told them stories about the Gary we knew, they would look at us as if we were crazy, because the letters “G W” aren’t just a pair of initials in Cleveland. They’re shorthand for a king, a jester, a go-to guy, a fixer, a booking agent, a story-teller, the life of the party, and Flannery O’Connor of Brant Rock Productions, a walking network of connections in the Cleveland music scene. And if that isn’t famous, I don’t know what is. I hear that and I don’t feel sorry for Gary. I feel sorry for me, because I never really knew that side of my brother. But I am so glad someone did.

There are a ton of Gary stories. But if I was going to tell them -- if I was going to talk about Gary the way he really was -- then I’d have to use a lot of words you can’t say in church.
So I’ll just say this. You know what was great about Gary? He made a virtue out of what other people thought were his faults. He never stopped being nineteen, and he never stopped being a bartender. He always wanted to make sure your glass was full. In Gary’s life, there was no such thing as empty. The way there is in our lives, now that he’s gone.

I’ve been thinking all week of two things. One is a line from Dickens’ “Christmas Carol:” “I see an empty chair by the fireplace.” For us, it’s the first empty chair at the kid’s table. Just like Gary never got over the fact that our mother died on his birthday, we will never be able to celebrate Christmas now without thinking of him. It’s almost like he planned it. Like it was his way of making sure we would never forget him. As if that could ever happen.

The other thing is this. I would give ten years of my life to have Gary call me just one more time and leave three identical word-for-word voicemails, and then when I answer his call, repeat the exact same message word-for-word again, like a verbal typing test. But I’ll never get those messages any more; and I’ll never get over it.

You never DO get over it. Death is a hole in the floor. It never goes away; you just learn to maneuver around it. You take it in stride. And now and then, you get down on your hands and knees beside it, and you stick your head out over the emptiness, and you whisper a name. I’ve been whispering my mother’s name for almost half my life now; I’ll be whispering Gary’s for the rest of it. But not today. Here’s what I’m whispering today:

God above who sees our pain
Send us love like pouring rain
Send us strength to face the blow
Now we let our brother go

Death’s a drink we all must taste
Life the meal that goes to waste
Sound the music, soft and low
Now we let our brother go

God who loves the holy fool
Seat him at your corner stool
Let the taps of heaven flow
Now we let our brother go

Gary’s song on earth is done
All his races have been won
All his ducks are in a row
Now we let our brother go

Repeat after me:

Time may push us all apart
(Time may push us all apart)
But we’ll keep him in our heart
(But we'll keep him in our heart)
And, through happiness and woe,
(And, through happiness and woe,)
Never let our brother go
(Never let our brother go)

[RAISING RIGHT HAND] Raise your hand if you love Gary.


amanda said...


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading again. You wrote it better than anyone else ever could have. Xo--Holly

XE LA said...

i am glad to have read this. gary is a hero of mine. -xe la

Anonymous said...

Hi,The Euligy was perfect. JUst perfect and your absolutely right.G was a Rock Star to us here in Cleveland. Everyone new G. and everyone who knew him loved him!
He made you feel like his best friend. Even if he only knew OF you.
G.W. Was a coworker, a great guy to talk to.He was the first person I told that I was engaged,He bartended at my wedding.He was all the things you said and more.May he rest in Peace.
God bless you and your family!

Patti Horan said...

G'dub became a big part of my daily life in a very short time. There is a void that cannot be filled...but he left a smile on my face and a song my heart.

Tommy Wiggins said...

Thanks for telling the touching and true truth. I raise my hand (with filled glass by GW) to you.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Detailed, lovely, loving, funny, true. Man, were you inspired, Matthew. Thanks for sharing it with his friends, friends who frequently did not return those phone calls as quickly as we should have. My hand is aloft for GW.
I send my sincerest condolences to you and your family.

Patrick C said...

I was the first person that Gary met at JCU in 1977. We were great friends and then not so great as often happens in life. I last saw GW in the mid 80's. I then thought he hadn't changed much. I introduced him to my then wife and my baby girl. Time passes and he looked me up last year after over 20 years and we spoke a few short times since. I regret the missed time and Gary's passing. I miss his optimism and passion. Godspeed to you on your journey, friend and brother Gary.

Anonymous said...

Wow Matthew! That is absolutely beautiful - what a tribute. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Love, Doreen, Sean, Conner, Shannon & Brian

DavidLDurkin said...

See you in Cleveland Saturday.



JohnTDurkin said...

A moving tribute. I was privileged to meet your brother a few times as he was friends with my brother, David. You should know that the first things I remember about Gary are his soft face and his gentle eyes.

Peter Smith said...

Maybe the best 5 minutes I've ever spent. Because we knew GW, every sentence was just perfect. I almost didn't raise my hand because I loved his phone calls but on the home phone machine my kids always wondered what was he saying? Gary usually called me while he was pacing from point A to point B and he always made me feel very special and lucky. I'm originally a flatlander from Indiana, now on the Cape and he always wondered why I got to live out here and he was in Cleveland. But it seemed he was very comfortable there. Maybe for the same reason I moved to the Cape (I'll keep that private). But Gary is truely one of a kind, He loved cooking for people. We were planning on making a seafood cookbook Gary style. I would call him for cooking tips and he never went wrong. My life with Gary turned into Phone calls and dreams of him visiting. That seemed enough but I miss him very much. Peace to Gary and all who knew and miss him.