Three years ago, we lost our best friend. Mark was one of those fun, funny guys you wish you were friends with. He had an infectious laugh, and he could always find something funny in even the most mundane of circumstances.
Mark and my husband met when Mark was a first grader in a wheelchair, and my husband was an older and wiser fourth grader. Some kids were picking on Mark on the playground, and my husband, along with another friend, Marc McGowan, raced over to his defense.
Thus began a friendship that spanned over three decades. Almost more brothers than friends, Mark and my husband actually even started to sound alike, and told “the same stupid jokes” (according to Mark’s sisters). Mark was one of those guys who would drop everything to help you if he could; he was thoughtful, humble, and gentle. He was great with kids, since he was just a big kid himself, and he happily sang silly songs, played, and kidded around with them.
He was the best friend and greatest Uncle anyone could ever hope for.
We were beyond devastated to learn of his untimely and tragic death at age 39. We found out the day before April Fool’s Day, and we struggled with the news all night. We couldn’t believe he was gone. We also worried about how we would be able to break it to our kids, who totally adored their Uncle Mark.
We decided, that first April Fool’s Day without Mark, that we were going to change the way we looked at the day. Normally April Fool’s Day is chock full of tricks and nasty surprises. For example, I remember the day my brother Alan put Vaseline on the toilet seat in my parents’ bathroom.
Needless to say, Alan never did THAT again.
That first day without Mark in the world, we decided that our April Fool’s Day would still be a day of surprises; we would just make them nice ones. That morning, after a sleepless night, my husband called out from work on bereavement and we took the kids on a surprise trip to San Francisco, the city where Mark had lived. We took the girls for donuts for breakfast, pulled our oldest out of school, and enjoyed a morning at that famous San Francisco hands-on science museum, the Exploratorium. Later, we went over to Ghirardelli Square for chocolate. While the girls hunted for sea glass at Aquatic Park, my husband was on the phone again with Mark’s sisters and friends, making arrangements and figuring out what needed to be done.
We didn’t end up telling the girls until some days later; that day was all about surprises and fun. And it made the day easier to bear, at least a little.
Today we were debating what to do to surprise the kids. We had already decided to go out to dinner at Texas Roadhouse in Scarborough, which was a big deal because we rarely go out for dinner. We also gave our oldest time off of her clarinet practice, which had her squealing in delight (because she was able to go play video games downstairs instead).
While we were still debating, my mom-in-law came down and said, “Do you hear that music? It sounds like an ice cream truck.”
Now if you are at all familiar with rural Maine, you will understand what it means when I say we live on a private road. In Maine, private roads = dirt roads. Only our actual driveway is paved.
Also, we are far enough off the beaten path that even the service guys get lost, GPS or not.
Despite that, my mom-in-law was right; an ice cream truck was indeed coming down our road! My oldest and I ran to the door and waved, and he turned right down our driveway!
How’s that for a surprise? Our own special delivery from the ice cream man, who had to come a quarter mile off the main road to find us.
The kids happily got an ice cream, and even my mom-in-law got one, too. And when everyone was settled in at the dining table with their treat, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “Okay…that was weird.” We both looked heavenward, and said, “Thanks, Mark.”
Only Uncle Mark could have pulled that one off: getting a random ice cream truck, on a cold day in early spring in Maine, to come that far down a random dirt road, just to deliver some ice cream to the girls.
Thanks, Mark, for the April Fool’s Day surprise. We miss you!