My dear friend Larry Bowen passed away, unexpectedly. The funeral is on Friday. I found these four heart-shaped rocks on the walk back from the school bus stop this morning. If there's one thing that characterized Larry, it's heart.
Larry was one of those diamonds in the rough you hear about. A big, tough, burly guy with a heart of soft, mushy, compassion for anyone weaker, especially kids and animals.
I first met him when my then-youngest, Katie, was one week old. Larry's wife Sue worked at the same store as my husband, and they got to talking: "My wife's an artist." "Oh, really? My husband's looking for one for his silk screen business."
This led to our 17-year working relationship and a deep friendship.
Larry knew us probably better than anyone. He was there when Katie lost her first tooth. He said to her, "Wow, you're in luck! The tooth fairy gives $5 for the first tooth!" Katie was thrilled. (Normally the tooth fairy only gives a quarter for teeth, at our house) I shot Larry an annoyed look, and he laughed and laughed. Then he slipped me $5.
When our cat went crazy and bit Katie's face, because she was trying to catch him and put him back in the house (until that moment he'd been an inside cat), Larry was there. It bit him too, on the hand (rotten cat). They both needed stitches, but Larry was only worried about Katie, and he never gave us the hospital bill.
When Katie was in high school and needed a scientific calculator and we couldn't afford one, Larry loaned her his. It was stolen in school; those things cost more than $100. I was terribly upset. Larry said it was no big deal.
Whenever Larry visited, which was about two or three times a week, our miniature poodle, Willie, went nuts, jumping all over the couch, barking and wagging his whole body. Larry said Willie reminded him of his own miniature poodle, Frank, who died before Willie was born.
He told us Frank stories that we still bring up at odd times and laugh about, like Frank's embarrassment at getting a frou-frou dog haircut.
Whenever we needed someone to keep an eye on Willie for a few days when we went out of town, Larry volunteered.
One of my favorite photos which I sent to my son's new fiance last winter, to help her get to know the family, was of Larry posing with six-year-old Joey on Larry's big ol' honkin' motorcycle. Joe says the ride was fun at first, but it turned harrowing -- he thought when Larry turned onto a small cul de sac it was leading to the expressway, and Joe was screaming at Larry to not go on the expressway because it was too fast.
I remember Larry chuckling about it when he brought Joey back home (riding slowly). His grandsons all did motorcycle sports starting as preschoolers, but he never made my son feel inadequate for being afraid to go too fast.
Larry always had candy in his pocket or in the car, for my kids. In fact, it tickled him no end when Katie asked him for candy. I told her that was rude, and it was better to wait for candy to be offered, but he loved it and we decided the rules for Larry are different than for the rest of the world.
Our working relationship wasn't always a bed of roses; his pay scale was sometimes low, and sometimes I disliked the assignments. I dreamed of something bigger and he told me, "You and I will always be middle class," which I resented.
As the internet opened wider, there was more competition for lower-priced silkscreen work, but everyone around here knew Larry was the best.
His work ethic was top notch, his prints were the best in the business and his prices were reasonable. He was honest to the core, morally upright, and had integrity. Plus he was a lot of fun to talk to. We talked about everything under the sun. I knew his family intimately, from his stories, and he knew mine. He advised me on everything.
He gave it to you straight, no baloney, no fancy words. If he saw something that wasn't good for the kids, he told you (like when he overheard a friend say something inappropriate for kids, at a family party).
I stopped working with Larry a few years ago because I wanted to do kids' books, and he was passing his business down to his son. We no longer saw each other often, but I still visited the same CPA Larry set me up with 19 years ago, still joked with my family about Frank, and kept telling myself I should stop by Larry's house and see how he and Sue were doing.
When our oldest wanted t-shirts for her fiance's business a few months ago, she wanted Larry to print them, and my husband and I jumped at the chance to go with her. As a special treat for both, we brought Willie with us.
Larry and Sue sat on the porch with us for a long time, just like when Larry would come to my house and sit and talk for hours. We caught each other up on all the kids and grandkids, and Larry played with Willie. It was a great time.
I think I gave him a copy of my Ellie McDoodle book. I hope I did. I'm so grateful we went. So glad we renewed that friendship. I'm too good at letting friendships lapse because I'm distracted with other things (ADD curse).
Why was Larry such a good guy, when his exterior was so rough and tough?
During a terrible motorcycle accident that should have killed him, just a short time before I met him, he had an honest-to-goodness angel encounter.
It changed his life.
He carried everywhere the scars of that accident; his leg was swollen and infected for 20 years and no doctor was able to completely heal it. He also carried everywhere the magic healing of that accident. Because of Larry, I know angels are real.
When Sue called to say that Larry died, I went into shock. Numb, I phoned each of my oldest three kids. And then the tears came.
I hesitated to even tell my youngest; it was late at night and I thought she might not even remember Larry. She said, "Oh, was he the Licorice Man?" Yes, Larry was the Licorice Man.
I have a million stories about Larry, a million funny memories, but that sums it up as well as anything: He was sweet and good.
The world is a better place for Larry's having been here, and I am diminished by his loss. :(
More heart-shaped found objects on my website, here.