When my high school buddies Roland and Earl and I go out to lunch each week, we keep a photograph of our late, great friend Christopher clipped to the passenger side visor. Chris may be gone, but he is with us always. We even pretend that he didn’t die, feigning indignation that he hasn’t been in touch lately.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

Fifty-odd years ago, the four of us would end up most nights at Chris’ house, watching Johnny Carson over coffee and butts, laughing ourselves silly. The same absurd, irreverent things that made us laugh as teenagers make us laugh in our 70s. One of those things is death.

Earl’s not well and I had a rough year and a close call, so we both feel on intimate terms with our own mortality. Getting comfortable with the inevitable is a big part of getting old.

Back in the 1960s, when we were all immortal, there was only one Westbrook boy who had ever died. Gary Randall was the all-American boy, handsome, popular, quarterback on the football team, catcher on the baseball team, star basketball player. Gary suffered an aneurysm and died at basketball practice back in 1965. Thereafter he assumed an aspect of sainthood. Now dozens of our classmates have passed on and we find ourselves increasingly living among the dead.

I’m not a big believer in an afterlife, but I do feel the presence of those who have passed out of this world and into memory.

Every once in a while I drive by Pine Grove Cemetery in Falmouth where my mother and father are buried along with my maternal grandparents overlooking the 11th fairway at Portland Country Club. I just say a few hellos and let them know what’s going on in the land of the living.


When Roland, Earl and I take our postprandial drive around greater Portland, we often swing through cemeteries to check on the graves of friends and relatives, many of whom are interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Westbrook.

One of the most interesting graves at Woodlawn is that of our favorite high school teacher, Mr. Davan. John “Paddy” Davan was a beloved history teacher and storied basketball coach. His sons Ben and Jack are buried there along with Mr. and Mrs. Davan.

Ben Davan was killed in Vietnam, re-upping repeatedly at a time when most young men were trying to avoid going to war. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for single-handedly wiping out an enemy machine gun nest and then losing his own life while rescuing three of his wounded comrades.

The strange thing about the Davan grave is that it records the fact that Ben and Jack, sons of Paddy, died worlds and years apart, Ben in 1969 and Jack in 1976, but both on the same day, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

I have spent my entire life coming to terms with the mysteries of existence. Back in high school I put a lot of stock in the way John Updike engaged the mundane and the miraculous with words. The short story “Pigeon Feathers,” for instance, ends with the young narrator shooting pigeons and coming to the certainty “that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.”

I hung onto that “certainty” as long as I could. These days I’m more comfortable with the prospect that death is final and nothing will be revealed. But, hey, what will be will be.

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