Happiness and sadness are never very far apart it seems. My lifelong friends (BHM Senior Editor John Silveira, BHM Food Editor Richard (Butch) Blunt, and BHM Webmaster Oliver Del Signore) and I had gathered at Oliver’s house in Boston to celebrate my 65th birthday. The party barely started when I got a call from Oregon informing me that my good friend, Franz Shindler, had died. The news caught me by surprise, even though Franz had been failing for a couple of years and was battling lymph and skin cancer in his leg. I had to take a long walk and have a private cry before I could tell anyone.
Franz lived on a remote part of the Rogue River above the Bradford Creek tributary in a rustic home he built himself. It was the third home on the site. The first, a cabin, got washed away in the 1964 flood. Then Franz built a home in 1978 but it blew down in a storm before he finished. The present one, which Franz built a couple of years later, was meant to stay. It’s 3 stories, rustic, and reminds me and my family of a wooden castle out of Disneyland with its marvelous wood floors, walls, and ceilings, its creek rushing under a bridge you needed to cross to get in the front door, and the gardens he had terraced into the hillsides above him.
I last saw Franz two months ago after travelling in my boat the several miles upriver necessary to reach his home. I brought his postal mail to him from his son Bo, who lives in town. He said he felt fine despite the cancer and would not do chemotherapy. He was 82 years old and didn’t think it made sense. He said his doctor agreed. He said I should come back soon and spend the night so we can talk, but I never did due to my own brief flu-like illness and then deadline for the magazine. I intended to go up after this Boston trip.
Franz and I had, on occasion, spent half the night in his kitchen having a few shots of whiskey and talking about politics, life, and fishing. He knew more than me about most subjects, and I felt I learned from him. He was a retired longshoreman, a gunsmith and collector, a machinist, and he could tie a killer fishing fly. He was an all around good man, although he admits he drank too much during most of his life. God loves a man who can admit his faults.
We had a great birthday party when I returned to the house. John made both a lamb curry and a seafood curry. Oliver broke out bottles of his excellent Nashoba Valley semi-sweet red, blueberry, and plum wines. John’s sister, Joan, made a cake, and two store-bought pies rounded out the desserts. Everything was delicious. There’s nothing like lifelong friends to help you celebrate your 65th birthday. I’ve known Butch since I was 13, and John and Oliver since I was 20.
Franz would have enjoyed the fun. His attitude about his own death in the midst of a party would probably be something like: Face your troubles and sadness, deal with them, then get on with having fun in life.