Dave Hayes, who was known to listeners of WHBC radio as the voice of the Firelands, may be gone but his memory could notbe any fresher in my mind.
Dave fought an incredible and inspiring 12-year battle against the lymphoma that finally claimed his life. Some would say Dave lost the battle, but his friends and family know that he NEVER let the disease beat him.
One week before he died, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Dave and his wife Vicki. We watched a movie, talked about music and swapped CDs. Dave was very ill, but his illness was just a nuisance he brushed aside; nothing would interfere with Dave’s love for life, his friends and his music.
For the past few weeks, I have had constant reminders of my now-gone friend. I can’t help but think he is saying hello.
I was going through some boxes I had stored in the basement and pulled out a WHBC coffee mug that Dave had given me for a birthday. It brought back memories of dozens of nights in front of the stereo, listening to the latest groups he or I had discovered, offering our critiques of the music they performed.
Vicki once commented that both Dave and I liked every bit of music we ever heard. It must have seemed like that to her; both of our record and CD collections numbered well into the thousands.
(Actually, there is a lot of music neither of us liked. But if what we heard was well-played with sincerity and emotion, chances are we’d enjoy it. Especially live.]
We went to numerous concerts together and Dave himself was a fantastic musician and songwriter. He played solo and in groups. One of his songs, “I Only Wish It Was Me” was covered by the California band The Stragglyrs.
Dave would be thrilled to hear the progress I’ve made in my guitar playing. He’d be even more thrilled to hear my songs on my 12-string guitar -- because it was his. I don’t play it too often, but when I do, I feel as though Dave is directing my fingers on the frets. I pulled out the 12-string after I discoverd the WHBC mug and felt as if Dave was in the room with me.
A few days later one of my co-workers announced she was leaving to take a job with Smuckers in Wooster. Again, I thought of Dave.
Dave’s battle with lymphoma and the problems that accompany chemotherapy and radiation treatment was up and down. At times his illness would be in remission and he’d look like nothing was wrong with him. Other times, it looked like he had hours to live.
During one of those periods in 2006 it looked the end was near. I was bracing myself for the worst.
The phone rang one morning and it was a woman from Smuckers. She informed me I’d won first prize in their contest. I had no idea what she was talking about.
It turned out that every time I bought a Smuckers product while using my grocer’s courtesy card, I was automatically entered into the contest. I won four box seats to a Tribe game, four caps, autographed baseballs, $100 to spend at ballpark, a camera, a tour of Progressive Field and my name and picture on the scoreboard.
At that same time, a mutual friend Bill came in from California for a visit. I called Dave, and he, Vicki, Bill and I spent the day at the ballpark. Dave looked miserable. His head and body were bloated from the treatments he’d had and his face was beet red. But he would have none of it. The four of us had a wonderful day. At the time, I thought it might be the last time the four of us would ever get together. (Dave actually made another of his amazing recoveries and went on to enjoy another three years here on this earth).
Every time I see a jar of Smucker’s jam, I think of that day, and how it came together so suddenly, so perfectly and so unexpectedly, in the blink of an eye.
Then last week a friend of mine sent me a CD in the mail. It was the latest by the Cowboy Junkies, not my favorite group in the world -- but definitely in Dave’s Top 10. I was again reminded of him.
As we drew nearer to Christmas, my thoughts turned more and more to Dave again, if for no other reason than he passed away on Dec. 23.
If I needed any more reasons to remember my friend, it came in an email late last month when a reader complimented me on a recent column, then asked: “How about something from the Dave Hayes past?”
How about it, indeed.
I have felt my friend’s presence so strong these last few weeks. I’ve been playing the 12-string more and more. I’ve been playing many of the hundreds of CDs Dave gave to me.
And I’ve been reflecting a lot on times we shared, backyard barbecues, boating expeditions on the Portage Lakes, and most of all, the music we both loved so much.
Dave, I know you’re still there. You’ve been reaching out to me so hard this last month.
And I thank you. Because as long as you’re fresh in my memories, no one will ever convince me that you’re dead.