A Few People I Admire…

Life is full of people who earn our admiration.

Sometimes their impact on our life is immeasurable; they show up, in the right place at the right time, shifting the direction of our othoughts in ways that are so radical as to bring about complete paradigm shift.

Sometimes their impact is a little more subtle. They just happen to possess a quality or two that we admire, that we try to mimic in order to become the best possible version of ourselves.

Sometimes we don’t even know the person who’s earned our admiration. They may be just be someone that we relate to, someone with whom we feel a sort of kinship by virtue of shared (or envied) characteristics.

Everyone has a list of people that they admire, both small and great, and for a host of different reasons. They might be the people who made you what you are, or they might just be someone who crosses your mind once in a while – but either way, they stick with you.

Everyone has a list of such people…

Mine’s pretty long – but here’s the beginning.

Bob Westfall (1928-2005)

Bob Westfall was my around-the-corner neighbor when I was growing up.

Exactly fifty years my senior, he was about as crotchety as they came. He could b**** about anything and everything for hours on end, and – like most his age – he had a pretty dim view of anyone under the age of, oh, say about sixty or so.

I struck up a friendship with him when I was about twelve years old. We were sort of an odd pair; he was lonely, and had all the time in the world to shoot the breeze. I was wise beyond my tender years, seldom connecting with those of my own age. He could talk for hours about what life was like in the thirties, or what it was like to be in World War II. He could tell you all about China and Italy and Spain and France, because he’d been to all of those places. We used to hang out in his garage and just yap about nothing at all, for no reason whatsoever.

I missed him terribly when I lived in New York. I missed, I think, having the constant guidance of an older man’s perspective. The young man, by virtue of his total inexperience, tends to catastrophize everything. The old man, however, knows how to truly ignore that which doesn’t matter. I think one of the tragedies of our age is that we don’t value the wisdom of the elderly anymore, and seldom make time to be guided by them. We grow impatient with their crankiness and antiquated tastes, and completely miss the underlying importance of their presence.

Bob passed away in 2005. A memory that will stick with me for the rest of my life was how large and varied the crowd at his funeral was. There was everyone there from the mailman to the store clerk to the kid around the corner, now grown into a man – me. The kid who so loved the generous old fart that so willingly made time for him.

Bob never did anything even remotely epic. He worked in a paint store, and raised a few kids and lived a life that was quite ordinary. But what he will always be loved and admired for was his love for people. He always had time for anyone who wanted to chat… and that quality is so utterly absent in the modern man, driven, pell-mell creatures that we are.

I wonder if Bob knew how profoundly he affected me, helping to shape me during those very formative years into the man I am now. I hope he did.

And I hope that when I am old, I will remember to pass on my hodgepodge ideas and thoughts to the generation that will succeed my own.

Ed –

Ed was my artistic mentor growing up.

I could peg him as ‘a drawing/painting instructor’, but that would trivialize his role in my life. Ed was/is a brilliant artist, with the keenest eye for detail, and the greatest gift for explaining things that I have ever seen.

I first met Ed when I was fifteen. He was teaching a class for the department of Parks and Recreation, and I signed up for one of his classes. I was a decent childhood doodler, with a fair amount of potential, but little polish and no knowledge at all of theory or principle.

It was Ed Stubblefield who molded me into a professional-caliber artist, and I have never let my skills grow rusty. “Them as can, do,” he used to say “and them as can’t, teach.” He was being unusually harsh on himself when he said that, for Ed could both do and teach.

One of my flaws is that I like to be mysterious. Three people – Ed, my mother, and guitarist Jerry Lavene – helped me unlock the mystical secrets behind art, literature and music. Yet rather than pass on what was so unselfishly given to me, I like to keep my own secrets close to my chest, choosing instead to simply amaze others with what I can do without ever telling them how.

Thank God that others in my life were less selfish than I.

Wendy –

Wendy was a childhood friend of mine, a wispy, willowy blonde who was decidedly girl-next-door, and prettily tomboyish even as an adolescent.

Wendy shared my interest in art and literature, as well as my intellect – although I suspect that her nature is less abstract, and far more practical than mine. As boys and girls generally do, we grew apart as teenagers, each one of us fleeing whatever demons teen-dom thrust our way.

I could never have predicted, then, what direction Wendy’s life would take. I saw in her great potential, but that was about all I could’ve told you. I couldn’t even have told you what sort of potential.

She’s now a wife, and a mother.

There was a time when I would have told you that such a life was a waste of potential, a failure to meet one’s self-imposed challenges.

I was a boy when I thought that…

I am a man now, and I know better. I know that there is no higher calling than raising one’s own family, patiently molding and shaping the lives that one has created.

The modern woman, generally speaking, is so saturated with the 1960’s ‘liberated woman’ bull-hockey that she isn’t much use as a wife or mother. ‘Have the kids and chuck ’em in day care’; that seems the child-rearing method of the day. And throwing them into sports somehow counts as ‘family time’ these days, as though that amounts to any kind of meaningful interaction. There is a subtle attitude to the modern woman, one that says domestic life is beneath her, something to be avoided. The ones who suffer, of course, are our children.

(There. I said it. I don’t care how many bra-burning lesbians take offense, either. Right is right, and wrong is wrong!)

But Wendy has chosen to focus all of her intelligence, patience and empathy on the seven children that she’s brought into the world (yep, seven). I am sure that she – as did my mother – suffers persecution from those ‘liberated women’, too. I bet they sneer at her and say things like ‘so, when are you going to work?’, as though she doesn’t run herself ragged now. I don’t know how she handles their presumptuous derision, but I bet well. Seven children do have a way of making one quite patient, after all.

If a person intends to live a selfish life, they don’t deserve children.

But Wendy deserves them. If only more women possessed such character, strength, and wisdom.

Mr. Lee –

Mr. Lee is probably the most colorful character in my circle of acquaintances. He owns and operates This Old House, a sushi restaurant in Virginia Beach.

Mr. Lee is from Taiwan; he’s a little midget of an oriental man, with a pot belly and an accent. He’s as friendly as he can be, and an absolute avatar of a chef. His restaurant is probably the best eating establishment around.

What I admire most, though, is the passion with which he runs his business. You can visit his place just once, and then go back a month later. And he will remember exactly what you ate the first time, and suggest something new based on what he thinks you might like. (Yes, he pays that much attention.)

About half of his menu is traditional sushi entrees, and about half of it is unique to him, painstakingly created from customer input. He spends as much time catering to his customers as his waitresses do, if not more.

I remember going in there on evening around 8:30, only to find his door locked. He usually closes at ten, but it was stone dead that night, and he was gonna leave early.

I gave the door a tug, and then turned to leave.

But Mr. Lee let me in, locked the door behind me and hooked me right up – playing chef, waiter and cashier all at once because he’d let his staff leave for the night. I protested, but he insisted – I was ‘good customer’, he said.

I have always believed that a man should do whatever he is passionate about. As a white cracker with relatives in West Virginia, I find the idea of making fish rolls an odd choice for one’s life work.

But Mr. Lee doesn’t… and that’s why he makes the best food one can buy, and the dining experience in his establishment is always second to none.

I wish I had that sort of dedication.

I could go on for hours. I could write a whole book on who I admire, and why. But I won’t. I won’t because you’d get bored, and stop reading. I won’t because I can’t always remember them all at once. I won’t because my hands hurt from having typed all night.

What I will do, however, is live a life worthy of the effort that others have put into me. Some have put forth that effort directly, willfully influencing my thoughts and behavior. Some have simply served as examples to me, and they probably don’t even know it.

Which is my cue, I guess, for living day-to-day with the greatest care…

Because you never know who’s paying attention to what you do and say.

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