Putting our Heads Together

Putting our Heads Together
I don't think he sees me

Sunday, February 26, 2017


I think there are houses that get lonely.  I imagine Marc and Den’s James Island home is such a place.  We knew Marc and Den in two houses in Colorado Springs, their rented beach house at Folly, and finally their home on Godber.  Each house a home by virtue of love, memories, and their wonderful encompassing natures. 

Godber was different than any place we had seen them in.  I recall the warm cottage in Old Colorado (a section of Springs) with its wrap around porch and odd neighbors who at one time had a deer hanging and dressed from a tree in their backyard for a week.  We spent more time at their next home on Bijou which was a larger place.  The thought of their Victorian home makes me smile and tear.  They gave their Godson, Russell (our grandson), his first “big boy” bed there.  Marc often told of Russell’s first night in that bed, Russell’s first night without a crib.  He said that late at night, he and Den were lying in bed, and as he was sleeping lightly the pad of small feet woke him up.  Marc peeked and saw Russell standing there in the dark, looking toward them but trying not to disturb them.  Russell then turned around and padded back to sleep.  Apparently Russell just needed the security of seeing Marc and Den there in this brave new world without slats.  There were many parties on Bijou that we attended.  At one of which I asked Jean-Marie to marry me for the first time.  She yelled for Marc’s help, to which he told her it was her problem.  Thanks, Marc.  It took me three years to get up the courage to ask her again.  It was a house characteristically full of life even when it held death as when they provided a room, comfort, and love to their dear friend Rick who was dying of AIDS.  During that time the house always had people there, helping Marc and Den care for and love Rick.  When we visited with Rick, because of the sanctuary and community provided by Marc and Den we could focus on Rick and not circumstances. 

Marc and Den’s first South Carolina home on Folly was my least favorite house.  It was a beautiful house that came furnished, and as such lacked their personality.  It does have one memorable event attached to it for me.  During a visit around Easter, Jean-Marie and Den had a late night of conversation, laughter, and general bonding over candy Peeps and Cointreau.  I won’t say any more. 

When they moved to Godber, we were there to join new friends in moving things in and setting up house.  I didn’t hold out much hope for the house.  It was a solid practical house, a house with good bones.  But it was a basic brick rancher and did not carry the more timeless personality of their Colorado Springs homes.  I was wrong though.  House became home as they filled it with the memories and moments cherished over their lifetime together.  Pictures and paintings went up on the wall.  In no time, people that so easily shared their smiles with Marc and Den over the years (including our own) were smiling a greeting to all who entered Godber.  Knick Knacks were placed on shelves, antiques took up their positions, statues stood guard, and memories quickly defined and warmed the space that Marc and Den had taken as their blank canvas. 

Godber became a nexus for life as was typical of the pair.  What resonates most to me are the quiet family moments that we took part in on our many trips to Charleston to visit Marc and Den.  Not long after Marc and Den were in Godber, Dennis with longtime friend Chris Vinley in tow, drove to Alabama to retrieve Dennis’s mother and bring her to live in the cottage behind the house.  Dennis and his mother would share a ritual of early morning cigarettes and coffee out on the brick patio until she passed.  The small elderly dog Penny came with Dennis’s mom and ended up outliving them both.  What amazed me about Penny was that she could not have lived a more pampered life, yet given the opportunity she would totter under the gate and take off down the driveway.  As the world’s slowest animal, you only had an hour or two to react before Penny reached the end of the driveway and the wide world.  I retrieved Penny a time or two as I imagine many friends of Marc and Den did.  The brick patio was its own world, we would sit about the teak garden table just talking and drinking and laughing on countless occasions on countless visits.  Each visit we would enter Godber and were always greeted with the same hospitality that started with Marc telling us what room we would be sleeping in, and with Dennis taking our drink order.  Den would make the first round, after that we were on our own. 

Over the years there were so many celebrations and parties at Godber.  Jean-Marie and I were at one (it could have been Marc’s birthday), where there was a pig roasting in the driveway with an elderly neighbor attentively sopping it with sauce (a task he was paid for with a bottle of vodka).  Marc’s niece Jamie was married in the spralling backyard ten years ago this April.  Dennis’s life was celebrated in the same backyard with Marc joining the band to sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. 

The importance of this congregation of life hit me hardest as I spoke separately with our son Michael, Marc’s niece Jamie, and the dear Trisha Mae - long time renter and friend from the cottage out back of Godber.  When Marc passed, our son as executor flew down on a red eye to begin the mechanical process of death.  He stayed at Godber, and worked with Marc’s family to; among other things, set up a memorial service at Marc’s church with following reception at Godber.  Michael told me how it felt to have the gathering and how the empty house transformed when love was invited back in.  One night, with Michael and Marc’s family at the house they had a fire going in the fire place and they lit the outdoor fire pit, made drinks, and talked into the night.  I could hear Jamie’s voice over the phone soften and smile as she expressed how important that moment of life and light was in the house that no longer held Marc.  Of that same night, Trisha told me it was the night she returned from holiday in her native Virginia where she had been when Marc died.  She told me how much longer the ride was made as she carried this sense of dread of coming home to a cold and dark Godber.  Pulling up into the driveway she saw the house alight and heard the voices of this family gathering and all her fears were dispelled. 

I think some houses can feel lonely.  That they can is a tribute to the love and life that made them a home.  Godber is such a house.  It was as much an extension of Marc and Den as were Marc and Den’s smiles and loving embrace of family and friends.  Godber was more than a framework for brick and mortar, it was the framework for the lives of two men who opened their doors (both actual and metaphorical) to anyone that needed them.  And though Godber is destined to forget its sorrow through some unknown redefinition by resale, the haven it has been will live with the memories of my missing friends.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Heart of the Moment

In my life there have been two major influences that have opened love's door for me. The first and dearest, the one that fills me with passion and completeness with each breath she takes is my wife. The other has been the couple of Marc Edwards and Dennis Haddock - forever thought of as Marc and Den. To me, Marc and Den were the definition of love. They are both gone now. That is to say, they are both together again.

I want to tell the tale of how Marc and Den met. I apologize in advance for how clumsily I do it. The true sweetness of it could only be achieved by listening to Marc tell their story. Each time I heard it, the breath would go out of Marc's voice, his eyes would darken passionately with the memory of it, and you could tell just a few sentences in that he was no longer talking so much as reliving the moment. At the time of their meeting it was the eighties and Marc worked at the West Bank Club in Chicago as Catering Manager. Dennis showed up to the Club one day to interview for a job. For Marc it was love at first sight as something inside him melted away, and he could barely speak. So paralyzed was he by this first meeting with Dennis, that he had to run and get his assistant asking her to do the interview because he just couldn't think straight around Dennis.

That random stroke of lightening ignited something that would not stop burning. After some time, Marc and Den moved to Colorado Springs where we would join their lives. Jean-Marie met them long before meeting me. Marc was a partner in the very successful Food Designers catering company and Dennis was working at the Antlers Hotel when my wife was well on her way to being one of the best wedding and special events florists in town. As happens with Marc and Den, their friendship with Jean-Marie quickly deepened. So when I started dating my future wife, Marc and Den had us over to dinner to size me up. That part I did not know. What I did know was that the food would likely be exotic and spectacular because of Marc's line of work. I remember that night sitting in their lovely candlelit dining room sharing wine and conversation with a meal of pot roast and steamed broccoli. Perfect. I had a wonderful time, and only found out much later that the initial impression I rated was a lukewarm, "He's ok, but we just don't see it, J-M."  Luckily for me, Marc and Den gave second chances.

Over the years, Jean-Marie and I shared many meals, parties, and vacations with Marc and Den. When Marc and Den were planning to simplify their lives and were plotting their exit strategy from Colorado Springs, Jean-Marie and I joined them on trips to Charleston and Savannah to help them decide where they wanted to live. Though they ended up in my beloved Charleston, the Savannah trip held the most memories for me. Images from the trip bring easy smiles:  Dennis poking fun at me when we were at a bar and the barman kept "checking" me out, Dennis and I napping in the backseat of the car from the airport to the hotel (time often found Dennis and I napping), Marc hungover in the back of the convertible parked in the Southern Summer sun as the rest of us visited a garden shop (Den parked in the sun on purpose because he was miffed that Marc drank so much the night before). The sweetest memory of that trip came late one night at the hotel. Jean-Marie left the room to get ice and ran into Marc and Dennis kissing in the hall. Marc and Den were so embarrassed at getting caught!  She wasn't, and I wouldn't have been. I loved how Jean-Marie giggled when she told me what happened. Marc and Den were married and been together a lot of years at that point, and to still show that passion and youthful innocence about their love was simply beautiful.

Marc and Den were so adaptable as a couple. Charleston and semi-retirement did not go as planned when Marc did not realize the money out of his business that he had expected. Still they spent their first year in a beach house as promised, then hit the ground running. They found jobs and fell in love with the city. Dennis went about tending gardens, first at a church, then at a garden center, and finally the lush grounds of the stately College of Charleston. Marc worked briefly in a flower shop before moving back into work where he could make a difference. This started with Camp Happy Days where he was Director of Development for a cancer camp for children. From there he moved onto Senior Director of Development at the Charleston Animal Society (how he prevented Den from adopting all of animals himself I will never know). It was while there that Den was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Marc's world was turned on its head. It was so painful to see what Den's illness did to Marc. It was also an honor to witness how Marc's love allowed Marc to push through all his own anguish and pain to tenderly guide Den through the maze of treatments and provide Den the gentle daily care he required.

After Dennis died, Marc's friends and family rallied around him, but he was inconsolable. There was a light in him that passed along with Den. Eventually Marc re-entered the land of the living even if ghost-like. As best he could, he returned to the friends he loved as counselor, advocate, and port because that is who he was. He moved from the Charleston Animal Society to Low Country AIDS Services, where he could more directly help that neglected community. He would talk often to our children and our grandson. Jean-Marie would call him regularly and they would talk about hurts and joys, and sometimes nothing at all just hear each other's voice. I would hop on the phone with him (though I am horrible on the phone), and we would joke and we would laugh. I wish I could hear that laugh again. We would also see him as often we could.

The last time we were with him was over Thanksgiving just this past year. One day we were in the kitchen cooking, drinking, and listening to a CD of Marc at his first cabaret recital. There we were with the beautiful voice of Marc singing the standards in the background of our conversation and something hit me. I turned to Marc and said to him that I did not know how he could have performed without breaking down, because what we were listening to was simply a love letter to Dennis. Marc just shrugged, eyes wet with held back tears.

Not long after that visit, Marc's broken heart caught up to him. He completed the greatest love story I am likely to know when he rejoined Dennis. Both Marc and Den did many fine and noble things in their lives. They were leaders in the community, they were strong shoulders in weak times, they were an example for us all. More than anything else that I learned from them or shared with them, how they so openly defined love with both passion and innocence is what I will cherish the most, and will forever pay forward.