The upstairs of the Lost Coast Brewery was packed full of people tonight. We were there to drink beer, eat fried food and celebrate the life of a man we were extremely fortunate to know and love.
John Winwood died on Valentine’s Day. He was well known in Humboldt County – a fixture at the Farmers’ Market, a storyteller extraordinaire, a philanthropist, an artist and craftsman, and a true gentleman.
Although I’d seen John riding his bike around town for many years, I first got to know him when he started coming to the art studio where I work. Over the last several years John created many beautiful paintings and sculptures – all while spinning stories and telling jokes. He never had an unkind word to say to anyone.
This is not to say that he didn’t have a dark side. His life, especially his early years, were fraught with abuse and institutionalization. At times his stories were full of sadness, and he would become visibly angry while telling them.
John’s gratitude for anything we might happen to do for him was overwhelming. He brought us garlic, chili peppers and beaded necklaces he made himself out of pine nuts, shells and brilliant cobalt beads.
Every year on the day before Thanksgiving, we have a potluck. Tables are full of all sorts of food and decadent desserts. Apple cider flows. Spirits are high. This year John refused to let anyone start eating until he had made a toast.
“I just want to thank you folks, ” he said in his gentle graveled voice, “for having this place where people like me can come. And thank you for having this dinner. I don’t have any family, and tomorrow I’ll be all alone, so this is the only Thanksgiving I’ll have.”
I thought about this moment tonight as I looked around the Brewery. There were at least 50 people laughing, drinking and sharing memories about John. 50 people, and yet not one had invited him to share in their Thanksgiving meal.
Why the hell wasn’t he at one of their tables? I thought to myself angrily.
Why the hell wasn’t he at my table?
I will miss John dearly. I only hope he knew that every time he told a wild story, held a door open for someone, whispered an almost-dirty joke or delivered a thankful toast, that he gave a greater gift to us than any of us could possibly have ever given him.