Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
A face that I'll remember all my life
I believe it's true that you never forget a face.
Details -- the color of eyes, the angle of a jaw, the shape of a mouth -- might get lost with the passage of time. There might be some blurring that goes on as reality turns to memory, but the years can't rob the mind of a face's essence.
The physical imprint of a person -- a person of importance in your life -- never gets erased from the mind's eye, no matter how many years intervene.
After moving from the Midwest to Philadelphia shortly upon graduation from college, I went to work for the Germantown Courier, a weekly newspaper in the northwestern part of the city.
The first friend I made in Philadelphia was a guy named Greg, who already worked for the paper, where I was hired as a sports editor/reporter for $25 a week and 20 cents an inch for the stories I wrote.
There were five of us on the staff. We all were in our early 20s, and we were packed together in a cramped room on the eighth floor of an office building.
Early in my tenure there, I talked the editor -- who was no older than I was -- into letting me review a show by a raw rocker named Patti Smith. Smith, who'd recently released "Horses," her debut album, had tenuous ties to Germantown, which helped me sell the story.
I wrote a rave review, and the day after it ran I showed up for work at my usual time. As I squeezed through the path between the desks, Greg was in his usual position -- shoulders hunched, eyes intent on his typewriter, seemingly oblivious to all around him.
As I inched my way past him, he peered up at me, nodded and said, "Patti Smith, huh?" I nodded right back and said, "Yeah, Patti Smith."
We went out for a beer after work that day, the start of our friendship. Patti Smith brought us together, and she helped cement our bond as we began to learn about each other.
Much of our time together was spent traveling to her concerts, where we reveled in her abandon and marveled at the ferocity of her art.
We also spent time talking about newspapers, wrangling about writing and touching upon our aspirations and ambitions. And there was a lot of foolish behavior as we spent many a night haunting various clubs and bars in Philadelphia.
Our nocturnal outings frequently included other members of the newspaper staff, and we sometimes were joined by Greg's sister, who attended college in the city.
It was a time of tremendous freedom and not much responsibility, a combination that fuels good times.
Greg abruptly left the paper and Philadelphia to care for his ailing mother, who lived alone in the Wilkes-Barre area, where Greg and his sister grew up.
I saw Greg, who had caught on with a paper in Wilkes-Barre, exactly once after he left. By that time I, too, had departed Philadelphia for a job here.
Not long after that visit, Greg and his mother died in a house fire. That was more than 30 years ago.
In December I received an email from Greg's sister, whom I haven't seen since she buried her mother and brother.
Her brief but touching note included an attachment. I clicked on it, opened it, and there was Greg gazing at me, a touch of sadness -- as there always was --around his eyes.
His sister had rescued the negative from the ashes of the fire, and she had recently made copies of the photo to give to her children, who'd never gotten the chance to meet their uncle.
I had talked about Greg to my wife and children, and I couldn't wait to show them the picture of my long-lost friend -- exactly as I remembered him.