Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And Another One Bites the Dust

And Another One Bites the Dust
This week Victor Miller died. ‘Most everybody in the state knew Vic. He was a former mayor of Harlem, a Blaine County Commissioner at two different times, talented drummer who nearly achieved national fame, a tireless storyteller, and a man with a heart as big as he was. And Victor was a big man. Victor was my friend.
It was a hard week for me. Every morning I walked down to City Shop for my usual coffee with the boys before work. I wanted to hear the report on our friend in the hospital. Victor was one of our coffee regulars. He called us his “kitchen cabinet”.  He often said we kept him sane. We agreed. His empty chair haunted us. His oversized coffee cup hung on a nail on the wall, untouched.

When I got back home, I flitted from task to task, from kitchen to garden to shop and back around in circles again, finishing nothing. Heaviness like a black cloud had settled around my shoulders. My friend was dying.

I’m not family. Usually when I visited with Vic, it was with the boys at coffee. But I relied on him for advice, for the history of some of the issues I had to deal with, to better understand my role in Harlem City government and for words of encouragement.  Unlike many of our mutual friends, I didn’t grow up with Vic. I vaguely remember that fat little boy standing on the street corner wearing overalls when I was a “sophisticated” high school girl.

I first got to know Victor when a friend of mine married him. Vic was a serious musician at that time, making a name for himself with his drums. When I came to Harlem to visit my Dad I always walked across the tracks to visit Vic and Cynthia. We’d hang out and play pinochle until the wee hours when I’d walk back home through the snow. They came to visit me in Washington. A photo I treasure is of his family and my family, our arms around one another, sitting crowded on the steps of our house in Poulsbo, the shadow of the photographer stretched across the lawn. When Vic and Cynthia’s marriage reached its end, Victor still kept in touch with me, if only through his famous Christmas Letters. He mailed CDs of his music to me. And then when I moved back to Harlem, there was Vic, holding out his hand in friendship.
The Victor all of us knew was a performer.  As his friend Richard said, when Victor entered a room everyone knew he was there. He knew how to hold the crowd, to entertain. At home he treasured his solitude but in his public life, Victor was always on stage, whether behind his set of drums, chairing a meeting, or sitting around a conference table. Victor could tell stories that started with point A and wandered the map to point Z, then wrap up the story where he started. Along the way, he dropped nuggets of wisdom and humor.

Maddening at times? Oh yes! Could he ever work himself into a snit! Stingy? Uh, let’s say careful with money; both the taxpayers money and his own. A story Victor would tell on himself is that when he traveled he carried empty toilet paper rolls in his luggage. In the hotel bathroom, he left the empty roll and packed away the full one. When he told the story, I didn’t believe him.  His best friends assure me the story is true.
Vic loved meetings, maybe because each meeting gave him a stage, but more, I think, because each meeting presented an opportunity to improve the community, albeit in tiny frustrating steps. A couple times I hitched a ride with Vic to meetings across the border in Canada and on those trips, one-on-one, captive in a car, I got to know a different Victor. This Vic was more sober, serious, personal. He opened a window into his soul and gave me a peek at the essential man. I cherished those times. I thank you for that, Vic.

Above all else, Victor was a deeply spiritual man. He lived every moment of his life hard, full speed ahead. He agonized over issues. He lost sleep when his friends were in trouble. He tried to hide his vulnerable heart behind a shield of garrulous loquacity. He laughed. He cried. He loved. He hurt. In other words, he was human.

Good-by, Vic, I’ll miss you.
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
August 23, 2012

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