Opinion | Biff America: Old days and new struggles

Jeffrey "Biff" Bergeron, Summit Daily News
Jeffrey “Biff” Bergeron/Summit Daily News

“Hey Berger, I’m standing under that big pine tree behind the old Eastondale School. You remember that tree? When we were little, I was climbing up it and you dropped a rock on my head.”

It could have been one of a few old friends phoning. As I recall, I played that old “drop a rock on your friend’s head” trick a few times while growing up, but only my old pal Joey has been unable to forgive and forget. In truth it wasn’t a rock, but more of a cantaloupe-size pine cone.

“You know what your problem is Joey? You’ve always focused on the negative. I’m sorry I dropped that object on your head. In retrospect, it wasn’t nearly as funny as I thought. But that was years ago, you need to move on.” In a more conciliatory tone, I added, “It’s good to hear your voice. What are you doing back there, didn’t you just open up another restaurant in Seattle?”

My old friend knew I was correct in terms of his half-empty-glass attitude.  

But rather than apologize for his negativity, he said, “I’m visiting my sister, but I needed some time alone. I don’t know what to do with myself here. You are the only one I stayed in touch with. I’m sitting under the big pine. I bought a couple of nips at the packie. Since you weren’t here, I poured a little on the roots in your honor.”

As he has since we were kids Joey needed my cheery perspective to balance his inclination towards maudlin self-pity. “Yeah,” I said. “We had some good times in that tree. Remember when you were sitting underneath reading a comic book and I peed on your lunch box from above?”

Joey obviously was not in the mood for reminiscing.

“My sister is sick,” he said.

“Oh no! How bad?” I asked.

Though Joey was one of my good friends while growing up, I never really knew his older sister. Joey and his family moved out of state just as his sister Mary left for college. We completely lost touch until Facebook reconnected us over a decade ago. Since then, we’ve stayed in contact with occasional calls and emails. But you don’t have to be in constant touch with someone to imagine their pain when a family member is sick.

Modern medicine has increased our life expectancy. The bad news is that sometimes those gained years are not good years. I bet I have over 10 friends who have parents, spouses or family members whose health is of great concern and, worse, their quality of life is terrible. It is difficult enough when those you love are close, but there is an increased sense of fear and impotence when thousands of miles separate you and those you love.

Joey once mentioned that his sister had a good job as a researcher, according to him, she was brilliant, though a little peculiar. “I’m all she has,” he said.

Until we reconnected several years ago, I did not know that Joey’s family kept their house after they moved, and I certainly wasn’t aware that his sister moved back there. Years ago, Joey once joked the only love affair his sister ever had been with the Boston Red Sox. (Not literally, of course.)

“How bad?” I asked again.

“She insists on remaining in her home I’ve been flying back as often as I can, and I have a nurse checking in several times a week but I hate the fact that she’s all alone.” I could hear my friend taking a sip. “The doctor told me she might have one more summer watching the Sox on TV.” Then my friend added, “Though since they are 16 games behind in a AL East, I can’t imagine her or them making it through the playoffs — not with their pitching.”

I had some experience with what my friend was going though. I knew nothing could say would even dent his grief. So I settled for, “Remember, Mary is scared, I’m guessing doped-up, and in pain. Don’t look for closure or revelations, just tell her you love her and reminisce about happier days.”

“I’ve been doing just that,” Joey said with a sob. “This afternoon, I told her about that time you shot me in the neck with a BB gun and made me tell my mother that I got stung by a bee. She got a real kick out of that.”

I told my friend, “That’s the ticket. Focus on the good times.”

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