Sometimes, a person achieves unusual distinction for nothing more than his goodness and generous spirit. Sometimes, he lingers in the memories of those who knew him because of a moment, or two or three, that unexpectedly revealed something remarkable, rarely equalled, and hugely pleasurable in his company.
Howard Wall of West Tisbury, who died December 28, was such a one.
Despite tribulations, Howie, as he tended lawns and plowed snow, was ever hopeful. He deprecated each and every problem he encountered and dismissed as unnecessary every sympathetic word directed his way. His good humor and broad smile did not fail, as he sped around on his tractors, headphones clapped to his ears not to muffle the roaring but to add melodies. He raced through two acres of tall grass that he had meant to get to two weeks ago but had been unexpectedly caught up in other things. Sometimes, he mowed with his lights on, because he had to get it done, and he’d got there late. When he was done, the lawn looked like Fenway.
He was rueful when someone remarked on the condition of his pick-up, heaped with tools, useful and discarded, and odd bits of furniture, bicycles, and lumber. He said, if his truck caught the eye, you should see the garage at home, and he winced at the thought, having in mind his wife’s unhappiness over his never diminishing collection. He arrived before dawn on a snowy workday morning, plowing his way in, pausing to gulp a coffee and refuse toast, and plowing his way out, on to another job. He did that difficult work on one dirt road after another, none an easy track to follow and each full of hidden calamities that would wreck his equipment. He worked alone.
Howie had music in him, at work and at play. Of a summer evening, a big lawn done, the roaring of his tractor and his trimmer ended, that music would emerge. If you were the homeowner, it would astonish and delight as, up the hill a hundred yards from the house, the lingering light of sunset giving way to evening’s shadows, he had pulled his pipes from that truck. The moment was perfect for him. Amazing Grace slipped softly through the trees and over the fragrant, mown grass to the house. The family left the dinner table, left the house, and there, dimly on the hilltop was Howie making music after a job well done. Just because the music was in him and would always get out.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, very good people who have music stay with us even when they are absent.