Bob and I were exploring the grounds behind St. Bart’s Episcopal Church last month when I came across a bench engraved with “In Fond Memory of Nick Meyer.” I stepped back, closed my eyes, and let his image come to me: a round-faced man with cheeks that bunched when he smiled.
Nick Meyer told everyone that he was dying, a statement he used as a free pass to hang out. He made his rounds, showing up at Chatham Marketplace to lean against the counter and talk while our daughter, Amy, rang up groceries; to St. Bart’s to work in their free community lunch garden, and to the purple and green A-Frame office where Tami and I ran Abundance NC and land-lorded the surrounding Industrial Park.
“Here comes Nick,” I’d say, watching him work his way across the lawn in a slow, rolling gait. Tami would sigh, fingering the envelope with her list of calls and must-dos, and give the papers on her desk a little shove. And when his straight-backed form shadowed our open door, she would bestow her signature smile, as warm as summer.
Nick would ease into our guest chair and make himself at home. “How are Our Ladies of Perpetual Abundance today?” he would ask and we would murmur what we hoped were witty remarks. He’d quip back and we were off to the races. He enjoyed the nuances of our work dynamic: Tami the creative visionary — a butterfly — and me earthbound, mired in logistics.
Abundance was (and still is) surfing a monster wave of grassroots activism. In those days we were focused on local food, renewable energy, and building community. To ease our stress, Nick gifted us a tiny, jade-colored Buddha sitting beneath the stunted branches of a bonsai pine.
Nick joined one of our Local Food Friday lunch teams, bringing groceries and helping us cook. When it was time to eat, he flitted from one group to another, joining our conversations as we ate lunch on the lawn. “You aren’t eating,” I said. “Yeah, well . . .” he said, and told me it had something to do with his condition.
When Nick found out that Bob and I were Vonnegut fans, he gave us a 1982 first printing of Dead Eye Dick signed by the author. “You know why he signed it this way?” he asked, and I turned red because, yes, I had seen Vonnegut’s drawing of something we are all born with.
One day he arrived, and with a flourish, spoke a quote he thought I would appreciate. I liked it so much I wrote it in red marker at the bottom of my whiteboard. “Everybody wants to build something, but no one wants to do the maintenance.” – Kurt Vonnegut.
Nick came to our house for dinner back when we were hosting weekly potlucks, and we took his picture with Spot as was the custom. And, as was the custom, we printed out the photo, pasted it into an album, and handed Nick a pen. This is what he wrote:
I wondered just how it would feel
To enjoy potluck with Bob and Camille
Despite my surmises
it’s the least of surprises
that “pot luck” is more than a meal
We all humored Nick, accepting his gifts and tolerating his idle chatter, pretty sure he was making up the part about dying. And then he did die. His obituary echoed our impressions of him with statements like, “A man of great humor and insatiable intellectual curiosity, Nick was politically active, angered by injustice, and generous of spirit,” and “He had a quick wit and especially enjoyed bawdy limericks and bad puns.”
Years after his death, I unearthed the little Buddha while digging in the garden around the old Abundance A-frame. Excited, I hurried over to Tami’s new office. “Do you remember this?” I asked, opening my hand. “Oh . . . Yes . . .” And we stood there for a few moments, thinking about that unforgettable man with the not-so-secret secret.