Andrew Weegar gave me flowers.
This line lodged in my head during the eulogy at the funeral of South Portland writer Deb Dalfonso in December. The speaker was reminding us that Deb had left us a great gift: that her warmth and wit and vivacity would remain with us in her writing even though she was gone.
Andrew Weegar gave me flowers.
In the four years since his stupidly untimely death at the age of 41, I have — like Deb’s friend — wanted to speak out on Andrew’s behalf, just like he had spoken out for so many.
(“For Chrissakes,” he e-mailed me in 2004, when I’d told him I’d heard him on “Maine Things Considered” talking about the passing of Maine Times co-founder Peter Cox, “somebody had to say something.”)
But I was never able to. My grief remained white-hot. Thoughts of Andrew instantly cauterized in my brain. I would tell friends, “I will write about Andrew when I am able to think about him again.” But at Deb’s service, I realized those moments are not delivered. They are made. The time had come.
Andrew Weegar was a Maine environmental journalist and naturalist of the highest order. He knew more about Maine than most of us know of our own back yards. Then again, the state was his back yard.
We met in 1994 when the now dually defunct Maine Times and Casco Bay Weekly were brought together under one roof at 561 Congress St. It was not a happy union. We at CBW saw ourselves as young-turk upstarts, and the Times crew as stodgy wonks. The only bright spot was the acquisition of the singular presence of one Andrew Weegar.
Of course, I didn’t see it that way at first. Being a showoff, I didn’t much care for his antics that so charmed others, like arriving for a staff meeting toting a chainsaw or nicknaming everyone (the girls, mostly) after various exotic-sounding birds — Brown Thrasher, Ruby Crowned Kinglet — or matter-of-factly producing a rodent skull from a pocket of the wool pants he donned in the fall and didn’t doff until long after ice-out. I determined I wasn’t going to waste my time on that character.
Except that, à la Pepé Le Pew, Andrew could sniff out the one person in a room who did not have any interest in what was bubbling in his stew pot back home, especially at deadline time.
That was our first real meeting. I was making last-minute editorial changes. Everyone in the production department was waiting. And that’s when he decided to cram himself into the small space between me and the computer behind me. “Elizabeth Peavey,” he said. (He always announced people’s full names when addressing them, as though accompanied by fanfare.) “Elizabeth Peavey, how in Christ’s name are you?”
That’s how it started. The next encounter I remember is showing up at his house in North Bridgton one August afternoon, in search of a swimming hole. I’m not sure what led me to his dooryard, but I was met as though I’d been expected. “Elizabeth Peavey,” he exclaimed, opening the screen door of his family’s rambling brick home. “What a Christly pleasure.” When I told him of my quest, he responded in typical Andrew fashion. Despite the fact he was under a crushing deadline, he asked me to hold on a minute while he grabbed his swimming trunks and shut off his computer. Another part of the Andrew Weegar ethos was to never give directions when you could take someone there yourself.
To that end, he dragged me all over — on a rainy trip down the West Branch of the Penobscot and on treks into the deep woods. He took me ice fishing and stomping around bogs.
And he gave me flowers. Not roses in a box. Not an arrangement in a vase. But cardinal flowers, trillium, starflower, bullhead lily, black-eyed Susan, spurges, sorrels, weeds and worts. And he gave me critters, too. Moose and salamander and fox and pickerel and pike. He gave me secret places and mysteries. But, more than anything, Andrew Kimball Weegar gave me back the home state I’d once fled.
I did not think I could bear to write this. But I also did not think I could bear the news of his death in a farming accident. (An accident? I thought the deal was we were always safe with you.) I didn’t think I could bear to write his obituary or attend the visiting hours or the funeral at the home he was restoring, nail by nail, in Fayette. I certainly didn’t think I could bear the sight of his beautiful little girl with her thick braid of orange-gold hair. I felt if I looked at her too long I would turn into a pillar of salt. And I all but knew I couldn’t bear the news two years ago, when that little girl’s mother — Andrew’s wife, Abby Holman — died in a skiing accident. (Another accident? It just couldn’t be.)
But it was. And it is. And I can bear it. Just as all those people around me in that church will bear the weight of Deb’s loss. Because we must — if for no other reason than to bear witness. Because, for Chrissakes, we have to say something.
Elizabeth Peavey’s column appears here monthly.