October 1st is now indelibly etched on my brain as the day one of my favourite men in the world breathed his last.
Arthur Wright Provost, late of Scottsdale, Arizona, described himself to me once as a ‘card-carrying liberal and a semi-practising Jew’. We met working on the Trans Alaska Pipeline. I honestly can’t remember meeting him before waking from a morphine-induced sleep after a snowmachine accident that could have been a lot worse than it was. He was sitting by my bed, dressed for an Alaskan winter. I hadn’t a clue who he was but figured that it was the morphine addling my brain. I wasn’t about to admit I was clueless, so we chatted about my accident, the prognosis, and what I was missing at work.
I think I was in hospital for a couple of weeks. It’s was all a little fuzzy back then and it still is now. Art came to see me every day. He’d stand or sit, chat for awhile, and then leave. By chance or design his visits never coincided with those of anyone else so there was no one I could ask. I still hadn’t a clue who he was.
I eventually figured it out.
When I got back to work, he’d pop into my office when he was on the terminal and ask me my opinion of something completely random and esoteric. And then he’d argue the toss. He’d make my day. I can’t remember how I ended up babysitting for his grandson, on whom he doted. He was taking his daughter out to dinner, and they left me with the infant. Art told me that the kid would look after me. I’d never been around kids and hadn’t a clue what I was doing. Yer man was roaring so I figured he needed changing. I put him on the changing board, looked down at him, and asked him – Okay, now what? That’s how little I knew. He looked at me as if I was the most clueless adult he’d met in his six months on earth before lifting his legs in the air and dropping an arm over the side of the table, his index finger pointing to the nappy bag beneath. It was plain sailing after that. I wonder what he’s doing now?
Art and Roberta visited me in Budapest between cruises many years later and nothing much had changed. He still had that dry sense of humour. He was still stirring it. He was like a kid poking a stick at a rattlesnake just for fun. I loved how he’d laugh at himself and I loved how he loved his missus. The more they aged, the younger they both seemed. They were a pure joy to be around.
I looked forward to news of their many trips in their RV. And anytime I was Stateside I’d check to see where they were. It happened once that they were in Twentynine Palms as EZ and I were headed through Joshua Tree National Park en route to Vegas so we hooked up for lunch. Although I thought we had plenty of water for the desert trip, we hadn’t nearly enough by his standards. He wasn’t one to be argued with when it came to staying alive.
We had a longer catch-up when I took himself to meet them in Scottsdale. We had a blast. As hosts go, they really rank up there. I am salivating as I recall that prime rib dinner and marvel at what we packed into one weekend. Watching Avshi Weinstein play a violin that had been recovered from Auschwitz was incredibly moving. Listening to Roberta’s son play the drums at a Catholic mass the next day was a different sort of wow. And I know that himself still rates our afternoon at the Musical Instruments Museum as one of the highlights of that trip. It was like going home.
We were to meet in Madrid one Easter but something happened and they never made the trip. We had plans to meet in Sicily and Malta but those too never transpired. About two years ago, Art had a setback from which he never fully recovered. The tug of the immortal world proved too much last Friday.
I’m sad that our travel plans came to nothing. But I’m happy that we did manage to spend quality time together in recent years. I’m honoured that he shared his favourite gin with me and sent me copies of photos he’d taken on his travels to put on my wall. I’m grateful for whatever way the planets aligned to have him visit me in hospital so many years ago and for the friendship that resulted. It was almost worth the accident – almost.
When I saw a series of photos on his FB page with two dates and that telling dash in between, I honestly thought he was stirring it. I messaged him immediately, asking what was up, telling him he’d nearly given me a heart attack messing like that. His son wrote back and told me the news. I had thought him invincible. So many close encounters and he always pulled through. Not this time though.
I can see him wandering around heaven, giving his tuppence ha’penny when and where he feels the urge. I have visions of him introducing himself to my mates who I hope have have warmed a seat for him at the table. Lori will knock great craic out of him. Ray will enjoy his take on the world. Pat B will have met his match in dry humour. Johnny P and he will rock the heavens. Stewart, Pete, Brent, Don, Rex – they’ll all enjoy his company as much as I will miss it. He was quite the character. He was my treasured friend.
Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.