One night, I realized I would soon be going to a lot of funerals.
For eight years I was lucky enough to be a bartender in a small-town tourist community, four at a dive bar, four at a supper club. Many of the nights were soul-crushingly slow, but I was lucky because I got to know so many people and hear so many life stories.
The great thing about small towns is you can’t seek out a niche of friends just like you - there simply aren’t enough to fill the void. You end up going to bars with guys or couples 10, 20, 40 years older than you. In a small town the bars can’t cater to one age group, can’t have a jukebox full of only punk rock or only old classics. They can’t be all about sports or all about craft cocktails.
I would spend hours talking to retirees who had perspective enough to make any complaint or setback of mine into nothing but a bit of dust in the eye. I came to know them, to know how they liked their martinis, Manhattan’s, whiskey cocktails, and their beer. I listened to their stories and tried to learn from their mistakes and successes. I told them my experiences and they tried to give me guidance and encouragement.
And as I got to know so many, I realized that they were coming into my life as they were nearing the end of theirs. I’d be saying a lot of good-byes in the years to come. Those bar-stools would be full of ghosts, those voices fading in my memory.
So it will be on Thursday when I attend the funeral for Dick Daubner, an incomparably nice man who died at the relatively young age of 65 last Friday. As a writer I have been tasked with summing up many lives in my hometown, but Dick’s was one of the hardest.