Potato Chips and a Potholder

This morning I read the obituary for my friend, Steve's, dad, Bob Amick. Steve and I met when I was a freshman and he was a sophomore at St. Lawrence. I have always described him as "the only guy in a sea of madras and loafers who was wearing a black leather jacket and combat boots." He and his friends were in a band called The Angry Neighbors and they all lived together in a house on the edge of campus: The Creative Expression Theme House. St. Lawrence had this great deal whereby a group of kids could come up with an idea, petition the school and potentially get to have a house together where they were supposed to sort of live out the idea, so there were theme houses all over the place. There was always something going on at the CETH house, as we called it, and a fair amount of it was actually old-school fun. One time we put on some plays in the barn beside the house. Steve taught me to waltz there, to the Clash's Rebel Waltz. I don't think kids today have the kind of fun we had in college in the early 80s, before the world went nuts and kids suddenly had to excel at every goddamned thing they do, before the drinking age was raised and teenagers started drinking themselves silly.

Steve's punk rock exterior belied the truth of his character: he was (and is) one of the sweetest, kindest men I've ever known. He is enormously talented, as a writer and teacher, professionally, and as everything else, personally. He's a musician and a painter and can make pretty much anything out of anything. Over the years he has made for me and for my children, a quilt, a stuffed animal, hats and vests. He is clever and talented in a million ways. He's a modern day mad scientist. The only thing I don't like about Steve is that he lives 650 miles away, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he grew up.

Bob, last summer, at 86.

Bob, last summer, at 86.

Reading his dad's obituary was one of those great obituary-reading experiences where you keep saying to yourself..."He did that? and that? and that? Bob did so much, he gave so much. He and his wife, Connie, who died just last year, were both truly lovely, charming and very, very engaged people, who lived full lives of love and service. It's the kind of obituary that makes you think, "Jesus, I need to get busy!" But also, reading his Dad's obituary was very much like reading (except for the churchy parts) the story of Steve: the bits about all the projects, the accomplishments, the quirky things he built to amuse the people he loved, the never-ending sense of fun and curiosity about life.

The very best story I have about Bob Amick happened in the summer of 1988, when I took my brother, Steve, who was 15 at the time, on a cross-country adventure. We stopped for a night in Ann Arbor. I can't recall why, but Bob was the only person who was home at the Amick's at the time. First he took us on a tour of the town. It was so much fun! Bob was so engrossed in what he was saying and showing us that he often seemed to forget that he was driving a car -- it was harrowing and hilarious There was an innocence about Bob that was truly adorable. Stevie and I spent the night and then next morning, when we were getting ready to leave, in his wonderful, bumbly manner, Bob looked around the kitchen and grabbed the first things he saw to give to us: a bag of potato chips and a potholder. Stevie and I laugh about it to this day. It was so adorable, so kind-hearted. Bob wouldn't let us leave empty-handed. The greatest thing was that it turned out that the potato chips and the potholder actually came in quite handy. We ate the chips later in the day, and, because we were camping, we needed the potholder; I hadn't thought to pack one. We used it for the entire duration of the trip, in Montana and Wyoming and Colorado and Kansas. Everywhere we camped and cooked outdoors, we used that damn potholder. And we never forgot Bob Amick's quirky generosity.

So the world today has lost a truly lovely man. I hate that everyone's parents are getting sick and dying. These are the folks who were our beacons, our road signs when we were young. We probably didn't appreciate them as much as we should have when we were in our 20s, but now that many of us are parents, it's much easier to see how very great they were, how they gave us, in many cases, so much, packaged in so little. Bob Amick, when he handed me a bag of chips and an old potholder, was simply trying to do one final nice thing for two kids heading out on the road of life. Twenty-seven years later, the memory of his kindness and generosity still lives in my heart. He was a good man. His life taught us just that: that we are here to be good people.