Fitzgerald: Merry Christmas to my best friend

Silent night, holy night.

All is calm, all is bright.

My dad was a funny guy who always had a lot of corny, but true, sayings.

“Keep your chin up” and “Keep your nose to the grindstone” were two of them. I once said, “What the heck is a grindstone?” He replied, “Just keep your nose to it.”

He also had funny ones: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he would say about wayward family members and, “He will be the richest man in the cemetery” if you were a cheapskate.

But my favorites were these: “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and “Never kick anyone when they’re down.”

I met Barbara Shrider 20 years ago in Salt Lake City. She was sleeping on a cement basement floor next to the furnace. I wasn’t exactly at the residence on a church field trip.

But she made spaghetti for everyone and put up with some insults about her living situation (until I chatted with the couple of offenders). Anyway, we hit it off from the start. My dad died shortly afterward, Jan. 2, 2002, and I am still devastated by the loss of my hero.

I was editor of the Provo Daily Herald, with a staff of 30 journalists and a budget over a million bucks, and the 2002 Winter Olympics were looming. We had prepared for two years for our coverage.

Thank goodness it included the hiring of my great friend and national award-winner

Noel Nash. We worked 18-hours shifts for two weeks, but won every award in sight for our Olympics coverage, which was spectacular.

A lot was happening in my life, that’s for sure. But meeting Barbara and beginning our beautiful relationship was right there with burying my dad and covering the Games.

Months later, I had left Provo in a management dispute (so did Noel) and was in between jobs, staying back at my mom’s condo in Michigan City, Ind. Barb was still living with family in friends in Salt Lake. It would be the first Christmas without my dad, but I lobbied my mom to invite Barbara.

My dad was a generous-to-a-fault guy and my mom was, and still is, the sweetest person ever. It’s what dad would have wanted and she agreed.

Barbara made the 1,400-mile journey by Greyhound bus to Chicago and I picked up her up downtown with my longtime friend, Dave Gillott, a now-retired and still-hilarious ex-Chicago cop.

We toured my hometown without much regard for the law, heh-heh, and Barbara hit it off with my friends, my mom and our family over Christmas and beyond.

Since then we have criss-crossed the country, living everywhere together from Hawaii to California to Las Vegas to Florida and back again. We even drove two cars and a boat from Hollister, Calif., to Key West, Fla. Just me and Barbara with walkie-talkies.

We both love Pinedale and she has been here with me since I took the Roundup job as editor in January of 2007.

Good luck finding anyone here who doesn’t like her. She worked and made friends at Ridley’s for a few years and still irons clothes with her pals at Clean Wash Laundromat.

She has been everything to me. My best friend and lifesaver so many times. We’ve had our fights, like all couples, but here we are together in Wyoming 20 years later.

Just today, last Sunday now, Barbara marched off to the stores – she likes to walk and puff cigarettes, even at 7,000-foot elevation – and I stood out by our apartment front door to greet her.

She doesn’t see too well at the age of 73, so I waved until she could recognize me as she approached the clattering street signs at Tyler and Charles next to the skate park.

Our faces shined brighter than a thousand

candles at first sight, just like 20 years ago in Salt Lake City, and I swear a small flock of birds swooped around her, like they were welcoming an angel from heaven.

“That’s because you’re a bird brain,” I teased and she laughed.

“It’s because they like me,” she said, with absolute accuracy, her portrait framed by the azure Wyoming sky, emerald pine trees and bright white snow in front of the library.

I was so happy to see her.

A tear or two are leaking onto my keyboard now. Some tough guy from Chicago, huh?

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t kick anyone when they’re down.

Merry Christmas, dear Barbara.

And to all a good night.

Mike Fitzgerald is a freelance writer who lives in Pinedale. He can be reached at [email protected]