& My old friend Carl Miller left us a week ago.
If he were still here among us, he would dispute, with vigor, that adjective. “You’re old,” he would say to me. “You’re months older than me.”
“Couldn’t be,” I would say, “you’ve lost far more hair than I have.”
“You were born before me,” he would say with a big smile under his walrus mustache.
“How could that be?” I would say, “you were born in May. I was born in July.”
“I was born in May in the year after you were born in July,” he would say.
“Well, I’m not good with math,” I would say. He’d huff and change the subject.
It went on like that, back and forth for years — more than 40 of them, by my reckoning. He’d win some, I’d win others. Whoever lost the last counter-punch would carry the “You’re Older” stigma until the next time the subject was broached twice a year, on birthdays. Or, for a number of years, it might have been a subject at Thanksgiving, when Bonnie and Carl would cook a massive dinner for an eclectic mob of hungry friends — waifs, and storytellers, the out-of-work and the newly divorced, those on eternal searches for something. Year after year, we were all welcome.
As each year’s dinner was served, and served and served, course after course, and as brandy was poured and poured and poured, snifter after snifter, Carl, at the head of the table, was his normal busy-busy-busy self, involved in every facet of every discussion on any topic at every section of the long groaning board until a little too much brandy had been poured. At which point, Carl’s forehead would descend to the soft, folded napkin beside his plate and he would take a nap.
I would then gleefully take the opportunity to remind everyone that Carl was old and needed to go to bed. He would arise from his slumber and, too tired to protest, would close his eyes and smile. We would drift away for another year, I happily leaving the virtual “You’re Older” trophy tied around Carl’s neck.
Eventually, I came to the desert and he turned his attention toward the ocean. We hadn’t seen each other for more than a decade. But, thanks to the wonders of electronic chatter, we continued our friendly dispute. Last Thanksgiving, I sent a note wondering if Carl was slumbering in the cranberries, and in May, I congratulated him for his having gained another year and wondered how it felt up there in the geriatric stratosphere. Last month, on Facebook, Carl counter-punched:
“Happy birthday old man. Did you ever get my message about the September Press Club event?
It would be terrific if you were in town then. Best to you from your young friend.”
He had previously invited me to attend his induction into the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame on Sept. 9, and, being Facebook-challenged – as most older people are – hadn’t seen my message that I would be honored to attend, although I didn’t know which fame they were honoring him for. He’d done a lot of things – a correspondent for United Press International (that’s how old he really was), reporter and editor for a long-gone Colorado Springs daily, a press secretary for Gov. Dick Lamm, who in those days was saying that old people have a duty to die. (I suppose Dick has changed his mind about that.) Then Carl was an opinion page and city desk editor at the Denver Post, then became a lobbyist and general bigwig for an insurance company, and finally, after his senses came to him, Carl was a scuba diver. And everything he did, from the city desk to the coral reef, he did with great vitality and good cheer.
I had been intending to attend the Press Club event to remind him of his age, and to pass our well-traveled trophy back to him. On Saturday, August 13, I called to tell him I’d be there on Sept. 9. Carl and Bonnie’s daughter Ali was on the other end. She was crying. It was a heart attack, she said. Yesterday.
So, for the past week, I’ve been thinking about my old friend Carl Miller. And now that he’s won the battle and left the “You’re Older” trophy permanently in my care, I have to tell the truth. I was just fibbin’. Carl was never old. He was always young. He was always interested. He was always involved. He was always pleasant, ever the dutiful dad to Ali and Brittany and devoted husband to Bonnie, always a smiling friend to all. “How’re things?” you would ask him. His invariable answer: “Fine fine fine.”
Our mutual dear friend Carol Green summed him up in one word. Carl, she wrote, was “sunny.”
Above all, he was that.
& Remembering the day we smuggled spirits into a hospital room to celebrate Bonnie’s brand-new baby, the sand-surfing of great dunes with the kids, the wassailing and skiing at Steamboat and hours upon hours upon hours of happiness with an old, slightly younger, and fine fine fine friend, I’m outta here.