The train wreck was a church split and we were both part of that church. We both stayed in the church with the remnant.
Each Wednesday evening the church had a wonderfully delicious “homemade” dinner for every soul who showed up. It was the highlight of my week, and I tried to get there just about every week.
One evening I sat down next to Don and his wife, Ethel. I knew them only in passing from our Sunday services. Don and I found ourselves next to each other and we began to talk. And talk. And talk.
We were both from New York (although he was born in Quincy, Massachusetts), so we immediately spoke each other’s language. He lived in New Hampshire for a time and served in the State House of Representative.
As a Republican!
Being a Democrat from New York I quickly found Don to be a great political sparring partner. I so appreciated his wit and humor in the midst of differing views.
He had a distinctive New England/New York accent (“why don’t people use their blinkas in Colorado?” Don asked me that evening). My Long Island accent came back every time we were together. It was uncanny!
On that first evening that we sat together something quietly amazing happened. In the middle of the meal as the 30 or 40 people were sitting at round tables, Don got up and took a pitcher of water from the kitchen along with a stack of small plastic cups.
He proceeded to go to each and every person and offer them a cup of water. He started with me. It was an inconspicuous gesture on his part, but for me it was a cup of cool water from an older gentleman offered with grace.
And at that moment — in the midst of the beautiful train wreck that was a struggling church community — a cup of cool water from Don White meant the world to me.
Don and I had a weekly ritual of catching up at the Wednesday evening meal for a number of months after that.
He would kid me about being a liberal Democrat (“how can you do that to yourself,” he once said). I would tease him about being one of only about a dozen Republicans in the entire state of New Hampshire. He would respond, “well at least there are a dozen of us with enough brains to govern the state!” And we would laugh hard at it all.
We both loved baseball, and loved the New York Yankees on top of that. Don rightly boasted that when he grew up kids were able to get into Yankee Stadium for free with their parents. He could recite the rosters of Yankees from 50, 60, and 70 years ago without giving it much thought.
Growing up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium does something to a person, Don once told me. Yes it does.
I started to umpire baseball during those months of Wednesday meals. I remember Don kidding me that I had gone over to the enemy’s side! And that he wanted to come out of the ball park some day when I was umpiring just to heckle me. He and I would have loved that.
What I appreciated so much about Don at those meals was his genuineness. What you saw is what you got with Don White. He was a Northeast guy through and through, and he loved to remind people of that (you could also figure it out quickly from his accent).
I saw Don a couple of times in the weeks before he passed. His body was failing, and it was difficult to understand what he was saying exactly. But he was sharp and present in his unique way.
I imagine that when it is time for me to pass from this world to the next Don White will be there offering me a cool cup of water. And I will most gladly take it from my friend.
Rest in peace, Don White.