It's November in southeast Pennsylvania. After a hot summer, with autumn’s arrival the weather went from muggy and hot to crisp, cool and clear.
This time of year for me has always been a time of reflection, and I'm not the only one. Looking inward, I take the measure of life and my thoughts turn towards close friends and family who mean more to me with each passing season.
With the rush of life: waking and sleeping, work and play, at times one can forget to appreciate those who really matter. With those who help design our lives.
I can’t stop time, but I remember…
How does one sum up a thirty-year friendship? I remember it as a very long, thoughtful conversation that could be picked up easily, no matter how much time had passed. Those late-night moments, drinking and talking on the back porch while the moon travels the sky. Singing and playing guitar together, perfect harmonies delivered with ease. Working side by side, first as college TV majors, writing, producing and directing ridiculous (and hilarious) video spoofs for class. Then later, as colleagues, directing and shooting thousands of commercials and stories; always trying for the most creative approach, pushing the boundaries to see where the line was. Easy, when you have such a long rapport of working together. Easy, when an enduring friendship is behind it all.
Easy, when you're working with someone close enough to be your brother.
Buck Nonnemaker and I weren't brothers in the sense that we grew up in the same household, with the same parents, but my long friendship with Buck taught me that there is more than one type of brother. Just like family, some friendships stand the test of time. Held together by music, creativity, and acceptance, my friendship with Buck created enduring memories of great times together, and taught me much about the value of the people who mean the most to us. About how much a truly close friend or family member can bring to a life.
And the blues. It taught me the value of the blues, too. I've been a musician all my life, and when I met Buck in college, I was at the tail end of my teenage years, a punk rock-infused kid with little interest in "old music." In part because of meeting Buck and some of my other friends from that time period, I gained a deeper appreciation for and ability to play all forms of music. Even if you couldn't think of anything else, you could always play "a little blues."
On we went through life: college, first jobs, then successful careers. Learning, growing, creating. As with any family member, there were times when life got busy and we saw more or less of each other, but always there was the music. Always, those harmonies, both in a figurative and a musical sense.
I remember …
I sat in the bright sunshine the other day, thinking about what happened back there. A phone call, while I was away on vacation. Buck, with why he hadn’t been feeling well lately. Somehow, I already knew what he was going to tell me.
At first, things seemed pretty normal; the friendship worked as it always had, with maybe a little more urgency to play and sing together as often as we could. It seemed important to keep this part of life as much the same as possible when so much else was changing.
Things happened fast at the end. I saw Buck for the last time on the final night of his stay on Earth. That night, I and the guys who go all the way back to when we were at college together... we played. We played and sang songs we knew, and some that we didn't. Some sounded good and some... not so much. Buck wasn't talking by this time, but he still let us know through facial expressions, indicating his feelings about how we sounded. Even then, at the last, he was coaching us... making us better just by being there. I stayed late into the night, playing through "our set": songs Buck and I used to do together; talking with my wife and with Buck about what I remembered about each song.
Late that night, I played one final Beatles tune on my guitar... and told him I'd see him later. I didn't say goodbye.
I didn't need to.
So, yeah. I miss my friend. He passed on after a brave battle with cancer a little over a year ago, but some relationships you keep. I find Buck in my thoughts often: at work, and at play. An enduring friendship teaches you plenty: about how to get along, how to grow up, and, if you're lucky, how to be a better person. I have been lucky to have friends like that.
I can’t stop time, but I remember, with love and gratitude. I most often find my friendship with Buck in my music. A chord, a harmony, a turn of phrase: they all remind me. There are certain chords that make me think of Buck every time I hit them.
Because I learned them from him.
--Wade B. Walton, November 2015