By Ron Gawel
“Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.” – Harlan Ellison
My best friend, Greg Olson, would have turned 56 this past July. I first met him on Goat Island in the summer of 1978. He was 18 and he and his older brother, John, avid runners, came sprinting by. Our paths directly crossed as only fate would have it.
It was one of those great, rare moments when you just know you are about to make a friend for life. Fond recollections now linger in my mind and heart of this reserved, yet free-speaking and special man, forever keeping his memory alive.
Greg had a certain zaniness and an infectious, winning smile that could easily light up a room. There was also a shy, gentle quietness about him, but he could break into hysterical laughter when the opportunity presented itself. He always brought with him enthusiasm and exuberance.
Greg’s great adventure began in 1960, the start of that turbulent decade of change. Only God knew what this man would be capable of doing to attain all the success he achieved, the great love and joy he found and the golden opportunity he discovered, as well as the disappointments and sorrows he would suffer during his 55-year journey in this unpredictable world.
In those early years, Greg was a dedicated rider who participated in bicycle races. I’d often accompany him and John by car throughout New York and Ontario, hoping to come upon victory.
On a chosen Saturday night, Greg and I would view and then critique films – everything from the voluptuous Bo Derek in “10,” to the man’s man Robert De Niro in “The Deer Hunter” and “Raging Bull,” to the scandalous “Caligula,” to the ghastly “Alien,” to the ever genteel Christopher Reeve in “Superman,” whom Greg would be compared to by some.
There were also occasional, but always riotous and outrageous nights across the border, chugging down a Labatt Blue.
At the fitness club, this dedicated athlete, always fit as a fiddle, with a lean physique any man would admire, would put me to shame the way he conquered that StairMaster. He was invincible and his persistence and steadfast discipline were an inspiration and would never cease to amaze me.
When I got married, Greg was my best man. A year later, I was privileged to return the honor when he married the love of his life, Cindy.
But like in the sentimental and somewhat ominous Jim Croce song, “Time in a Bottle,” it all sadly ended way too soon. With just so little time together and so few stolen moments to share, his beloved Cindy passed away and, with her, I always knew went Greg’s heart.
Then, like the sudden emergence of a morning fog one day, after a brief illness earlier this year Greg was gone as well.
I have no answers now, but this much I’m able to say: I miss him and the camaraderie we once shared ever so much. The “war stories” we’d confide to one another and the gibes we would often playfully swap. It all abruptly and heartbreakingly came to an end. For “death comes like a thief in the night,” without warning, too often and too soon.
Ron Gawel is a retired high school English teacher and a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls, where he lives with his wife, Eileen.