In little towns like ours as it used to be, friends were friends all their lives. The web of friendship stretched out to everywhere and nearly everyone.
These two guys, Manuel Francis Silva and my father, George Grey Shannon knew each other nearly all of their lives. To me they were alike as two peas in a pod. I learned from them that a friendship is not a commodity. It doesn’t depend on where you went to school, Manuel went to the eighth grade, my dad graduated from Berkeley so it’s not that. My dad’s family came to America before it was America and was round about most of the great events in our history, Manuel’s father immigrated from Sao Mateus, the Azores in 1893. Big Manuel was a first generation American. My dad was at least an eighth. It’s obviously not the length or importance of your resume that counts.
Having coffee in our kitchen they ran this shared and refined dialogue like they were two old curmudgeons though when I knew them best I was a teenager and they were only in their fifties. They made each other laugh. I studied them because I wanted to be like them. I can still see them, Manuel with his back to the window that looked out on the fields along Branch Mill Road, the four corners in the background, my dad in his chair at the head of the formica kitchen table, his desk on his right hand, the black wall phone above and the NH-3 fertilizer calendar behind him. I don’t remember much of what they talked about. Farming mostly, it’s what farmers do. Crops, seeds, the weather and the vegetable buyers being cheapskates. Just a soothing mantra, heard like a familiar old song. Manuel would complain about the coffee but what he really meant was I love you, something that has to be felt and not said.
I went all the way through school with Manny Junior who turned out to be a righteous man himself. He fell directly in his father shadow. He too was well liked and a respected member of our community. In fact we both married girls named Nancy Taylor which became a reason for more jokes around the table.
Manuel passed away at eighty in 1991. He had the kind of funeral where every man felt that he was Manuel’s best friend. It should be on his tombstone. How rare is that? He wasn’t rich in the monetary sense but oh boy, he was richer than King Croesus in the things that count for me. The number of people who came to that little house on Sunset Drive where he and his bride Angelina lived, you might remember it was the one that had the little butterfly pinned to the outside wall, was legion.
My dad followed him nine years later. When you live until eighty eight most of your friends are gone, so we had a small graveside ceremony with a few family members and friends. My uncle Jackie gave a little speech where he said this, “He was a good brother.” Can there be any greater praise? When the ceremony was over a well dressed young man who we didn’t recognize came over and introduced himself as Manuel Francis Silva III, Manuel’s grandson. He said that even though he had never met my father, his father had called from San Jose where he was on a business trip and told him that he must attend the funeral as a representative of the family. He could have just left without saying anything but his fathers wishes that he represent were just as important to him as to his father, and as would have been to his father before him.
Twenty years have passed since that day and my brothers and I still think about that moment. That friendship between two people such as Manuel and George could mean so much to their children and grandchildren.
A small town kindness. Yes, it is that, for there is an old and unshakeable tradition that proper and well-raised people pay their respects to the family. Nothing less is expected.