Funeral for a friend

How do you present a man’s entire life in 15 or 20 minutes? You can’t.

I have known Jeff since we were 16 year old. Jeff started about two weeks before I did at Bi-Lo and for some reason after we meet we became fast friends. I think it is because we were both into Volkswagen Beetles. Back then “bag boys” carried everyone’s groceries to their car and we used to get tips from some people, dollar here, fifty cents there, sometimes people trying to be flashy would give us five bucks, rare, but it happened. That was our spending money; our gas money. We eventually moved from “baggers” to stock clerks on third shift. On pay day mornings after work, we would go to the Mall’s arcade until lunch time and then go to Ryan’s Steakhouse.

We have a misspent youth with some stories I can’t tell without incriminating Jeff or I or both of us. But some I can. One night Jeff and I were both sitting around shooting the breeze and I said, “hey, let’s go to Myrtle Beach”. Jeff said, “sure”. So we got into my car and off we drove. By the time we got to Saluda, Jeff says, “go head, turn around. I know you are going to say April Fools”. I didn't realize it was April first. We actually drove all the way and arrived about 2 am. We checked into a hotel, slept about four or five hours and then hung out at the beach all day.

Another time around midnight we decided to go to Charlotte to see what was going on, turns out back then, nothing except IHOP. So we ate pancakes and then headed back home. I had borrowed my cousin’s truck to drive up there and we got the truck back just in time for him to go to work.

As a teenager, I was very shy and introverted. And Jeff, well, those who know Jeff know if he thought it he said it. I told Jeff I liked a girl and next thing you know we see her in the drugstore so Jeff yells in the store to the girl telling her I want to go out with her. I thought I was going to crawl under a rack somewhere.

Since Jeff was the type to say what ever he thought, some people took him wrong or avoided him all together.

One weekend my mom and dad went to the beach and well, I had to work so I stayed home. Jeff and my cousin Steven stayed at the house with me and we got a wild hair to paint my Volkswagen. So we went out and bought sandpaper and black primer and well painted the Bug. We had planned to get the actual paint the next payday. My folks were so mad when they got home. Anyway, a week turned into weeks and one day Jeff got spray paint and painted a smiley face on the back fender of my Beetle. People kept asking me about it. I was so embarrassed and mad at the time. I made Jeff go and paint over it. Over the years we have laughed about it many times.

During the Hair Band days Jeff got his left ear piece. I thought it was pretty cool as well, lots of guys during the hair band days did. So I got my pieced too. Thankfully that phase didn't last long.

We used to go play golf at Cedar Spring Golf course. We liked it there because it didn't require golf shoes and usually so few people played there we could put a boom box in the front of the golf cart and jam out to music while we were playing golf. By the time we got to the Fourth hole, we would go into the woods and find all the golf balls people had knocked into the woods but didn't bother to go get. That meant we never had to buy golf balls. Jeff was a better golfer than I. But one time he swung too hard and let go of his club and it went into the pond. Jeff was going to leave it but it was his dad’s clubs so I thought that might not go over well so I took off my shoes, pulled up my pants legs and went and got it. Luckily the pond wasn't very deep.

There is a story Jeff never liked to tell. It was strange years later I found out I was the one who always told the story and Jeff never did. One time Jeff and I were invited to go on the Ricki Lake Show. I won’t bore you with the topic as it will make it into a book one day. The show flew us to New York to be on the show. They paid each of us $100 to be on the show. I had already spent the money before I got it because I borrowed from Jeff to buy souvenirs. They picked us up from the airport in a large sedan. We arrived at a hotel called The Dalton. I didn't know much about New York at the time being young and wet behind the ears, but it was $175 a night. I thought for that price it must have been a fancy hotel. That was just New York prices. The next morning they picked us up and we arrived at the set. They filmed three shows a day and we were to be on the middle show. So our episode’s filming starts and Jeff is sitting on stage between two other guys. Ricki talks to the first guy and he responds, then she speaks to Jeff. Jeff looks at her and goes, huh? She repeats the question and then suddenly Jeff is having a seizure. He falls from his chair. The entire audience is laughing as they think this is part of the show. No one does anything so I run out to the stage to check on him. He is still shaking and his eyes are rolled up in his head. Finally he stops. The staff people on the show ask me if he is on drugs or epileptic, I say no to both. He drinks I tell them but not drugs, never. The guy who was in the chair beside him helps me pick Jeff up and put him in the chair. He is out. So the guy and I pick up the chair with Jeff in it and take it to an office backstage. Jeff kind of “wakes up” and I ask him if he knows where he is, “No”. Taken aback, I then ask, “do you know who I am?” “No.” “Do you know who the President is?” “George Bush?” He starts snapping out of whatever the fog was. The show asks if we should go to the hospital, “yes,” I reply. “NO!” Jeff says, “I can’t afford to go to no hospital.” “Jeff, we have to go. There is something wrong here. We need to know what it is. You had a seizure on stage.” “I did?”

Finally the ambulance arrives and the EMS people come in with a stretcher. He is loaded on to the stretcher and carried out with me following. The EMS tech tells me I can’t go, family only. “I am his brother.” They let me get in. The Ricki Lake Show people give me a business card and tell me to call once we know something at the hospital. By this time after we are in the ambulance, Jeff is fully awake. He tells the EMS people he does not want to go to the hospital because he can’t afford it. The tech asks him, “are you from New York?” “No.” “Then don’t worry about it, the state will pick up the tab. You will never see a bill.” So off we went. The nearest hospital was Bellevue. I had heard of Bellevue on TV but always thought it was a mental hospital. But it is a normal hospital with a mental ward as part of it. Jeff is taken into the ER and I was told to wait in the lobby as there wasn't anything I could do. After about three hours Jeff walks out from behind the curtains. “What did they say?” “They said see a neurologist when I get home,” Jeff replied. “That’s it? What did they say was wrong?” “They don’t know,” he replied.

So I called the number on the card. With in 30 minutes a vehicle arrived for us. It was a stretch limo. The kind with the champagne ice bin in the middle between the seats and the sun roof you can stand up and look out of. It was the fanciest car I had ever been in at the time. We asked the driver to take some extra time getting us back to the hotel just so we could look around and stand up through the roof. We arrived at the hotel and then up the elevator to the room. The phone rang as soon as we walked in the door. The folks at the Ricki Lake Show kept asking questions about Jeff and if he was on drugs. No. No. No. The next morning an old Toyota Camry came and took us to the airport. We flew home with stories to tell.

Jeff has been like my brother since we first met. Like brothers we have had our arguments and falling outs, but then we would forgive and forget. Jeff was one of the smartest people I knew. He had learned to fix just about anything. If I could get Jeff to help so I would not have to always call my dad who does know how to fix everything, I was brave enough to try and fix things. I just needed his moral support to try. My wife would call Jeff to get me to fix things.

Jeff was generous. He would help anyone anyway he could. If Jeff only had the shirt on his back and you needed it, he would give it to you. And Jeff should have been the modern day historian of our town because Jeff could remember where about near any place was. If a business had been in three different places over the years, Jeff remembered them all. He could tell you. A few weeks ago we talked about the old Community Cash Grocery store and where it used to be. Do you remember the A&P that is where the Health Department is now?

Jeff was so good with his nieces and nephews, and with my kids. He called Zander, my youngest son, Dawg and he had Zander call him Old Dawg. What’s happening Old Dawg?

I looked forward to picking Jeff up on Sunday mornings because usually things were too hectic and we just didn't see much or hear much from each other through the week. I would bring Jeff a cup of coffee so we drank our coffees while we were heading to the house to get the rest of the house going toward Church. Jeff liked a little coffee with his sugar. I would literally turn up the sugar bowl into his cup until it was nearly half full of sugar and then pour coffee on top. Then hope there was enough room to add a little milk. On those Sunday mornings on the way to church Jeff would tell me funny stories or we would talk about the News of the week. You could count on Jeff for a funny joke or a funny story or funny news. Sometimes the story or joke probably wasn't one you should tell on the way to church.

If I was out of town I could count on Jeff to call my house to make sure Donna and the kids were okay. Jeff would call at random times during the week with a funny story, or guess what happened type tale.

Jeff had a heart of gold. If you were his friend, you were blessed. I was very blessed to know him. Jeff seemed to think I was a better person than I am.

Have you ever had people in your life that seemed to have made up their mind about who you are and you wanted with all your might to be that person? I still hope to become the person Jeff seemed to think I was.

Jeff and I said our goodbyes a couple of weeks ago when he was last in the hospital. After his mom left out to get something from the house, Jeff told me, “Roy, forgive me for anything I ever did to you”. I told him, if he ever did anything to me, it was forgiven and long forgotten and I asked the same of him. He said, “call on my momma”. He said, “I don’t mean date her, but call and check on her”. I told him I would. I knew it wouldn't be long. I didn't face it well. It is a very hard thing to accept that your best friend will not be just around the corner for you to see, ask advice from, listen to the things you just can’t seem to tell anyone else. A best friend knows everything there is to know about you and loves you in spite of it. Jeff was the best. I am gonna miss you buddy. Rest in Peace.

Editor’s Note: Across the room from me as I was giving this eulogy, a poster had been set up with many pictures of Jeff. Someone told me later while I was telling the Ricki Lake story, some of the pictures fell off the poster as if Jeff was trying to get my attention. I am sorry Jeff. Your family loves that story so I had to tell it.

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