The loss of friends compounds itself with the passing of years. That cannot be helped. These people, friends in life, remain with us in our hearts and minds. Gone they are, but not forgotten.

Travis’s rod

Sometimes, we learn little things about our departed friends and loved ones that make us smile. Other times, we run across some item that reminds us of our friends. I have a number of fishing rods that my friend Travis Seekins gave me. Travis had a mail-order fishing tackle business and when he had too many of the same items in stock, he would make a trip to my house, bearing gifts.

Last week, I had meant to bring one of my new lightweight spinning rods trout fishing. But in my haste, I grabbed an old rod that Travis had given me. That rod was not used much, since it was an older model and out of vogue. I didn’t learn my error until it came time to open the trunk and head down to the stream.

As it turned out, the “Travis rod” worked perfectly. It was just the right length and action for my needs that day. Trout bit well and with each one, I gave a nod to my buddy, sort of like hoisting a parting glass, hoping that somehow he might know that I was taking fish with his rod.

Jerry’s Smelt

Jerry Partridge was a disabled veteran living in a small cottage on one of the Belgrade Lakes. Jerry made a name for himself as a consummate Maine fly-tier. Jerry also developed a version of an existing fly that was considerably more effective than the original. This was called, “Jerry’s Smelt.”

I have an original Jerry’s Smelt that Jerry sent me. It is tattered and torn from the teeth of countless salmon. Occasionally, I’ll use this fly, out of respect for its maker. Sure, the line might break and the fly become lost forever. But I like to think that Jerry would appreciate my using his fly, despite its probable value. The fly stands as a living legacy to Jerry.

I just learned something about Jerry from one of his old friends. Every time he attended the funeral of one of his fishing buddies, he would lean over and gently attach a shiny-new Jerry’s Smelt to the person’s lapel. It seems that Jerry wanted to make sure that his friend had something to use for catching trout and salmon in the hereafter.

Grandpa’s scheme

My grandpa, Tom White, was never fond of long hair. Back in the 1960s when the trend for long hair on men became fashionable, I had a job with the Maine Forest Service. My hair, short by today’s standards, covered just the tip of my ears and nearly touched my shirt collar in back. Grandpa was always at me to get a haircut. I didn’t consider my hair long and so didn’t oblige.

What I didn’t know until only a few years ago was that grandpa and my boss hatched a scheme for me get a military-style haircut. My boss, like grandpa, was fond of close-cropped hair. And so it was difficult for me, with the both of them harping at me to get a haircut. Finally, the boss mentioned, “Joe the Barber.” Joe had a barbershop in his home, somewhere in Searsmont. Joe was a good barber and specialized in trims, not full haircuts. Or so I was told.

So I consented for the boss to take me to Joe’s for just the slightest trim. We walked in and Joe greeted us, but in Polish. Joe didn’t speak English (or so he wanted me to believe) and all he could, or would, say was, “Ya.” I found this disconcerting, since no matter how I tried to describe what I wanted for a trim, all I got was a “Ya.”

Even worse, Joe swiveled the barber chair around so that I couldn’t see in the mirror while he trimmed my hair. I recall saying, “Joe. It’s been a while now. I think you’ve trimmed enough.” And Joe would smile and say, “Ya.”

Then came the moment of truth. Joe spun the chair around so that I could see my new “trim.” I was nearly shaved bald. My stomach jumped and my heart sunk. The boss beamed. It took many years for me to forgive him.

And now I learn that the whole thing was grandpa’s doing. He had orchestrated the plan, including the bit with Joe. Now, grandpa, my boss and also Joe are long gone. I forgive them all, of course, and in fact look upon the incident as an act of loving and caring.

Kerr’s blues

Kerr’s blues and pinks are an old fashioned potato variety from Scotland. My friend Peter MacPherson brought several specimens of blues and pinks with him when he first came to America just after World War II.

Every year since then, until shortly before his death in 2006, Peter raised his annual crop of Scottish spuds. He also made certain that I had some of these small but flavorful potatoes. And now that he is gone, it has fallen to me to keep the breed alive. My garden doesn’t permit enough space to raise too many potatoes, but I always plant a token row, just enough to keep them going.

Some years ago, I took Gaelic lessons from Peter. And he, like my grandpa, was none too fond of long hair. But even in Peter’s time, I didn’t have long hair. However, anything but the closest cut was considered long by Peter and his ilk.

Anyway, I was recently listening to some tapes of our Gaelic lessons and was amazed at how Peter ended one of our sessions. “Get a haircut,” he implored. And being a good student, I got in the car, drove to the barber and got a haircut, a very short one.

So here’s to all of these great people in my past. I hoist a glass to every one of them in fond memory. Slainte!