Harvest Moon: Remembering Richard Ward

It’s still hard to believe he’s gone.

I’m almost ashamed to say this, as I know my suffering over losing him—his friendship, just knowing someone like he exists in this world—cannot begin to compare to the hell his wife, Linda, his children, and the rest of his family are going through. And yet still, it feels like an unfathomable loss. 
There was supposed to have been a lot more late-night dinners with Richard—or as my wife and I liked to call him, Ricardo—and Linda, out back behind their house, under the towering old oak tree. I’ve lost count of the nights we broke bread together, watching Linda let the chickens out of their coop to scratch about the garden as the sun set while Ricardo manned the grill. He loved their chickens and would chuckle as they’d peek in and out of a bed of hydrangeas near the picnic table where we’d gather. He always made sure everyone had wine in their glass before he’d ever pour himself a drop. Then, as we’d sit down to eat, he loved to talk about whatever we were drinking, whether it was a Saintsbury Pinot, a perfectly chilled Fevre, or an energetic glass of Champagne, one of his favorites.

One Christmas Eve, Linda and Ricardo hosted a crab-and-grower Champagne dinner at their home. The table looked perfect—mostly candlelit, with whimsical little decorations down the center. Fine china. Beautiful glassware. Then, suddenly, midway through dinner, a candle got knocked over and the table caught fire. Linda shot up out of her seat and doused the table with water, which, for a moment, made the fire worse. Ricardo laughed through the whole thing, throwing his napkin on the small flames. We were suddenly all laughing, chipping in to clean up the mess. Then, a few moments later, there we were again, back to dinner and good conversation—always guaranteed if Ricardo was around. 
There were supposed to have been more trips to New Orleans where the four of us enjoyed a profound communion on various occasions, the kind of communion that can only occur in the city where jazz was born and the sidewalks are still uneven. Once, my wife and I arrived in NOLA a few hours after Linda and Ricardo had gotten there. Linda texted us when we landed to tell us they were waiting for us at Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro down on Frenchman Street, where Ellis Marsalis was set to play. We arrived just before he took to the stage. Ricardo ordered us a round of Sazeracs and then leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, smiling, relaxed and content throughout the entire performance. 
On another trip, we touched down in New Orleans on January 24, 2010. We were undoubtedly the only four people in all of Louisiana who had no idea that the New Orleans Saints were about to play the Minnesota Vikings that day in the Super Bowl playoffs. We had unknowingly just walked into the biggest, friendliest block party in all of the United States.
After checking in to our hotel, Ricardo led the way, searching for a good bar and some well-made drinks, but every bar we hit was impossibly crowded to the gills with football fans. Always the adventurous traveler, Ricardo made his way across the street and found a lounge upstairs at a hotel that was, miraculously, empty, save for a few comfortable chairs and sofas, a wide-screen television set, a small bar and a bartender! The only other people there were a young mother and her daughter of about 11 or 12. Turns out they were big fans; each time the Saints made a touchdown, the little girl would do a few cartwheels across the room. We have a video clip showing her little body cartwheeling in shadow across the bright television screen. In the background, you can hear Ricardo clapping and laughing each and every time her hands took to the carpet. He got the biggest kick out of that. 
After the game and an exhilarating Saints win, we poured out into the streets of New Orleans, and into an ocean of boozy humanity, all of us making our way up and down Canal Street and meandering throughout the Quarter. Ricardo took quickly to shouting “Who Dat!” at the top of his lungs and high-fiving complete strangers as they passed by. For an elegant man, always impeccably dressed, and who favored bow ties, this was delightful to behold. We stopped to rest numerous times that night, most notably at the Hermes Bar at Antoine’s, where Ricardo got a wild hair and danced a little jig around the bar while holding his drink and making funny faces into my wife’s video camera.
On yet another New Orleans trip, the four of us rented an old house in the Faubourg Marigny. It was beautifully decorated, save perhaps for a few antique dolls on display in the main room. Some had blacked out holes where their eyes should have been. Others were bald, but wore lacy dresses. Some had chipped cheeks. One was missing a foot. They positively creeped Linda out beyond all measure. Ricardo always got up a bit early to make us ladies an espresso…even on vacations. When I met him in the main room our first morning in that house, we had a big laugh when we looked at the dolls. During the night, probably after being really spooked, Linda had draped Kleenex over each and every one of them. 
Most of all, there were supposed to have been more quiet moments shared among the four of us. Like the times we’d sit out at the end of the pier at Nick’s Cove in Tomales Bay and watch the sun set behind Hog Island. The fog would start to roll over the hills as if it was being chased. Ricardo would order us all martinis and maybe something to nibble on. Then we’d just sit there, the four of us, and not say anything if nothing needed to be said. The calm that allowed for that kind of comfort and quiet among friends came in great part from Ricardo. He was a confident man. Self-assured enough—among women and men—to give attention and comfort to others first, before ever seeking it for himself. He had a protective streak, and on more than one occasion I can recall his hand on my shoulder if I’d had one too many, or if I started to walk down the wrong part of some street, always gently leading me back to the rest of the group. That’s how he was with his friends—quietly making sure everybody around him was okay and having a good time. 
I stopped believing in guardian angels a long time ago. But, in a parallel universe, if they did exist, and knowing full well that I’d be standing in a long line behind others much more deserving of this honor than I, I’d consider it the greatest privilege and gift to somehow still feel his presence around me, still feel that steadying hand on my shoulder. He will be dearly missed. Indeed, some people are irreplaceable.

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