A eulogy for Andrew Vaché
A year ago my friend Andrew died in a kayaking accident on Lake Michigan. His wife asked me to speak at his memorial. It was easily the greatest gift she could have given me. It gave me something to do that week. It forced me to sit down and write for an audience and with a deadline, which is the only way I can manage to write. It brought him to life for me and gave me something permanent to stand against the worst part of everything, which is the inevitable forgetting. Though I couldn’t deliver on it, I wrote it with Garrison Keillor’s soft, nostalgic story-telling cantor in mind. If you’ve ever listened to the closing parts of a long story on Prairie Home Companion, you’ll know what I had in mind.
Below is a version of the eulogy I delivered.
I was looking through my long texting history with Andrew and
noticed a pattern.
We liked to share things we were up to and
the sort of thing I shared
was sort of sad compared
to what he sent me.
For example I once sent him a picture of an
iPhone stand I made out of
scraps of the kinds of 2x4s that
are meant to be concealed inside walls;
On another day Andrew sent me a picture
of a polished wooden serving bowl
whose finish gleamed even through
the photo’s poor lighting.
My wife has been asking me for wooden bowls
for ten years.
I saw a set of them once at Pier One;
picked one up for a little bit,
then put it down.
They were made by robots in some foreign factory
and I didn’t buy them.
Andrew spun wooden bowls for his wife
with pieces of a black maple
taken down in his front yard and
possibly hewed with an axe
he found at Second Chance
on his way home from work one day.
He turned it on a lathe, which he somehow owns,
sanded it, and finished it.
I like to think he planted that tree, too
I can imagine him
On a childhood vacation passing near Baltimore
scattering fistfuls of assorted seeds to the wind
—Violet, hydrangea, maple—
from the back seat of his parents’ Oldsmobile,
Steve and Liz beside him,
just because he liked the idea.
His wife would have filled the bowl with things from their garden,
themselves the bounty of some late night
Andrew spent planting in early spring,
Brightly alive and creating
while the rest of us slept.
Andrew’s areas of expertise were myriad:
presenting fitting gifts to loved ones
cleaning out drywall buckets in preparation for pickling food
planing wood to invisible perfection
listing properties of archival ink
pointing a telescope into the heavens and
finding distant stars in a black sky
Andrew was a blend of characteristics and beliefs
not commonly found together in a single person.
He was a guy who could tell you minute details
of different car models;
Bore you, frankly, with how much he knew,
Going on and on and on because
your habit is to listen and politely nod.
he would also help you disassemble
the engine of your minivan,
—whose designers put the spark plugs under the intake manifold
(a term Andrew taught you)
so that an otherwise routine repair threatens
an $800 bill from the mechanic—
Andrew would help you take apart your engine,
over a complete Saturday
Setting up, handing you all the right tools,
(maybe putting the gasket on backwards, but
also assuring you it didn’t matter)
While the day grew long
and the sky grew dark
and in the end it was night
and your car was fixed
and it only cost you parts.
He was a guy who liked to fish,
and drive a tractor,
and ride his bike at 5:30 AM
to your weekly coffees
through the Baltimore streets,
a guy who didn’t use gloves when he handled raw meat
and then wiped his hands on a dry towel;
who maybe needed to clean his fingernails a bit more,
and organize his garage,
and write down his passwords.
But also a guy who spoke a bit of French,
was a gourmet cook,
a tenor, with the voice of a cherub,
and who sung the praises of the bidet he bought
and tried to convince you to convert your own toilet
basically every time you got together.
Andrew was a free man full of action and valor
in equal balance.
I will say that one trait Andrew did not get
was the ability to tell stories
that are short.
No one is perfect.
I’m a Christian
whose belief is more held than felt;
that is I think Christianity is beautiful and
true but my experience of it is mostly in the mind
—I am religious, but not spiritual, as someone has put it—
which is why although I can consider the promise that
I will one day see my brother again,
this is a remote hope that so far hasn’t provided
much in the way of daily comfort against
the black hole his tragic death has left.
Through these groanings though
I guess I know
to cling to what we have
but cannot see
and wait for it with patience.
In the meantime
Every morning this week I’ve waked into a world where
I wish only that he weren’t gone.
Andrew was my close friend and I am grieving our loss.
I am going to miss him so much.