Published 8:07 am Thursday, September 29, 2016

Thoughts on “Patrick” direct me to tackle, maybe define, an elusive subject: human friendship. True friendship is valuable and vulnerable at the same time.

To comprehend, or define human connection, this writer is drawn to the gorgeous prose of Eudora Welty. In literary richness, Welty gave “home” a soft description in “Some Notes on River County,” — her travelogue about the Natchez Trace. My substituting “friendship” for “home” works nicely; both can be described as a little fire that rarely goes out.

Occasionally, It flares up — to smolder for a time; it is fanned or smothered by circumstances … but has been intact forever by the fluttering within it … the result of some ignition. Sometimes it gives out glory, sometimes its little light must be sought out to be seen, small and tender as candle flame, but always as certain. All of this became friendship for me … with “Patrick” — better known as Hugh Kirkpatrick (Pat) Leary.

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And then this came on the computer screen: “Raymond. Not certain of the exact next steps, but if something can be worked out, I would love to see you for a few minutes. Pat… (08/14/16).” Patrick was now in hospice … and totally comfortable at home, thank God.

There it was in all its simplicity … no fear, totally resolute, and a soft, but complete acceptance — a quality in Patrick I had not necessarily noted earlier. This would be our final meeting and the lesson he’d bequeathed to me, and all of his many friends, would be absorbed.

It was probably at Cleiland Donnan’s Richmond Junior Assembly Cotillion where Patrick and I first tripped over each other. He was much better in the cotillion culture than I. Even though he attended Thomas Jefferson High School, he spent his social life in the midst of Collegiate School ladies. My younger sister went to Collegiate in the 7th grade, opening that door for me.

In the Fan District (West Avenue), Patrick always insisted he lived “in town” — not downtown. Whether it was 1130 West Ave. or later to 1518, he was kinda old Richmond, West Ave — constantly socializing at the Hub (Stuart Circle Pharmacy). Like my mother, he always said: To-Ma-Toe and My-O-Nayse instead of To-May-Toe or Mayonnaise.

Truthfully, our friendship grew in the booths of El Patio where under-age beer drinking blossomed. The “Patio” was out on Midlothian Pike, and held in high esteem by youthful imbibers as a drinking oasis. Later, this exercise took on a larger tradition at the exotic Taxi Stand in Farmville.

After a start ‘n’ stop at VMI (Pat always credited Ned Addison as being there for him); he — a month older, matriculated a year behind me — at Hampden-Sydney College. On fraternity pledge day, he led the march to the Kappa Sigma house with Ed Bryant, Jack Osterman, Jack Hamilton, Jim Repass and Cary Mayo — all Virginians. Beginning later as college roommates, our friendship grew in fundamental ways, leading us to shared social lives for years to come.

Our friendship included vacation jobs together; we were employed at the Hub Fashion Shop, owned by Mosey Greenberg, located on North Broad Street — both at Christmas and Easter times. Catching the bus line to and from work, Pat would head to West Ave. while I went to Crestwood Ave. in Henrico County. We became less naive about Richmond’s minority culture, learning to fit sport coats both for “The Rabbit” and Kirby Carmichael of WANT-AM, Richmond’s minority radio personalities.

Then there were the days of the Odd Couple. By 1962, we decided to share an apartment after college. Landing at the brand new York Court Apartments, our roles were predictable. Pat was Felix (Jack Lemmon) while, alas, Wallace became Oscar (Walter Matthau). Leary was a tyrant about keeping the place clean … always planning the menus for the two of us, keeping liquor in the place and admonishing me about my messy habits. It was a delightful interlude until Nancy Robertson intervened. Marriage came to Patrick, and I was off to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in Charlottesville.

Decades passed — we were neighbors on Kingcrest Parkway … sadly, Patrick would become a widower twice — two devastating journeys. Nancy, classmate friend of my sister, viewed as a generous person, a lovely mother of two daughters. LeAnn, his second wife, brought him new resilience but died of cancer in five years. It wiped all of us out for Patrick.

His 75th birthday (February 19, 2013) was celebratory; Patrick gave himself a birthday dinner party at his favorite Pegasus Restaurant … with his friend, Margaret Johnson, assisting in the plans. Those of us still around, drank and broke bread after many years of separation. It was his final social conquest. Patrick loved parties, bringing people together, and presiding over them — especially the presiding part.

I will not forget “Patrick” in my final years. Those days of The Weavers, Joan Baez and Edith Piaf are branded forever. Carol Burnett sang it best: I’m so glad we had this time together; Just to have a laugh, or sing a song. Seems we just got started and before you know it, Comes the time we have to say, ‘So long.’

Raymond B. Wallace Jr. is a retired public classroom teacher and a Hampden-Sydney College graduate. His email address is rbwallace01@verizon.net.