It was the first day of classes in Grade Four and Mrs. Korb asked John Hazel and me to stand up. She wanted us to be “buddies” with the new kid, George Snider. I turned and looked over to the red-faced kid with the bowl hair cut and big teeth. To be fair, he looked at me, seeing a pasty-faced, sleepy-eyed kid with chronic bed head. And that was that. We were buddies.
The year was 1972 and we were close friends for the next 20 years or so. But going through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood with someone ties you to them forever regardless of how often you see or speak to them. When you are friends with someone that long, time passage is relative. So is absence.
Last weekend, Patrick O’Neill (another friend since childhood) and I were at the Memorial Mass and Celebration of Life for George. George passed away on February 8, 2018 from bladder cancer.
George was from the United States. He was living in Montreal from 1972 to 1985 or so, because his father taught at McGill. George was the “exotic” American to us Canadians. We marveled at some of the food he brought back from the States like Marshmallow Fluff and breakfast cereals that we didn’t have up here.
The qualities that I think of when I think of George are: funny, caring, loyal, supportive, and smart. He was also sarcastic and caustic. But always hilarious. He was like our own Don Rickles and would come up with zingers effortlessly. One of the things that would drive me crazy is that when I was mad at him, he would imitate my angry expression, so that I couldn’t keep a straight face. I couldn’t stay angry at him for long.
We were altar boys together at Annunciation Parish. One morning at weekday mass (7am), we were serving together and an older priest was saying the mass. We’d never seen him before, but he was ancient. Methuselah old. As the mass was proceeding, George and I were at opposite sides of the altar, facing each other. Father “Methuselah” got up to go to the altar and farted. It was like machine gun fire. Rat-a-tat-tat Rat-a-tat-tat.
George jumped. My eyes widened in disbelief. George cocked his head and gave me look. Rat-a-tat-tat Rat-a-tat-tat. More farting from Father Methuselah. We both started giggling and shaking in efforts to stifle our laughter. There were about ten parishioners scattered in the pews and they probably couldn’t hear anything. Father Methuselah turned and glared at us. Rat-a-tat-tat Rat-a-tat-tat. It was as if every time he moved, he released gas. George and I spent the rest of the mass trying not to look at each other because we’d burst out into laughter if we did.
His full name was George Louis Snider the Third, but his family called him Butch. We called him George, for the most part. Although some nicknames we came up for him over the years were: Caustic George, Sado Snider, Crazy Legs, Legs, Kermit, The Body Marvelous, and Stuart Redman.
I spent many afternoons after school at his place. George’s father was a jogger and had run the Boston Marathon twice. He subscribed to Runner’s World and George and I would glance through the magazine after his dad was finished with it. The seed for me to run a marathon was planted at George’s apartment. It took me almost thirty years, but I ran my first marathon after I turned forty.
One of the things that drove me crazy about George was that communicating with him was like sending messages in a bottle. The message was sent, but you could never be sure if he received it… And forget hearing back. He rarely responded to letters, phone calls or emails. Fortunately, he was like that with most people, so I didn’t take it personally.
Last year, I reached out to him on Facebook and I was pleasantly surprised that he responded. And then, unfortunately, found out that he had bladder cancer. I never did get a chance to see him in person again.
He still managed to touch people with his humour and caring. After speaking to some of his current friends, it sounds like the core of his personality didn’t change much over the years. Caustic, funny, caring, and loyal.
Because I hadn’t seen him in so long, it’s difficult to process that George is actually gone. Nothing has changed for me and it’s easy to think that George is still in Cape Cod living his life.
Our friend, John Emblem died in 1984. I was away at school, but came home for the funeral. I still remember standing on the steps of the church with George, watching the hearse pull away after the mass. George looked at me and said, “Man, I’m going to miss that guy.” It was simple, but there was pain and sorrow in those words.
On the night he passed away, George told his parents that he would be seeing John Emblem soon. It’s the thought of George looking forward to seeing John again that chokes me up.
We get old and we die, but our friendships live on. Even though we didn’t see George for years, he invariably came up in discussion whenever the rest of our group of friends got together. And I’m sure he’ll continue to come up as the remaining people in our group get together in the years to come.
Until I see you again, George…
© 2018 Peter Gruner