Gary Bredbenner died last week. Uncle Jack did a very nice post on it here, and there was a wonderful obituary in the Daily News yesterday.
I don't know if you knew Gary, but if you've been in the Philly beer scene for any amount of time, I know you've seen him. Short, round, always smiling, Gary was hard to miss: he was the guy with a beer in his hand (at least one beer, sometimes two) and usually had the best food in the place in his other hand. He had a nose for it. He was a very generous guy with beer and food, too, a real embodiment of the best of the craft beer community. If he knew about a great place to get good beer, he let you know about it. A very friendly guy, even if he did describe himself as "An Evil Fat Man," grinning all the while, referring to his way of tempting people to indulge themselves.
But you can read about Gary in those places up top. I wanted to tell you about how we buried him yesterday, on a sunny green hill above his hometown, and about how we said good-bye to him in just the way I think he would have wanted.
The news came last week from mutual friend Dan Cosper, and shortly after Dan sent out information about the funeral plans for Monday in Danville, I got a call from Rich Pawlak. "Got the news on Gary. We goin'?" I had to stall him off, because I knew I had work, and would have to re-arrange my schedule, but I also knew that I was going to do it. Sunday afternoon I called to confirm, and we arranged to meet early Monday morning to drive up.
Rich came by a bit before 8 and we left. It's about 2.5 hours to Danville from my house, and we talked about Gary for most of it. We got to the funeral home about 10:30 and paid our respects to his dad, Gary's only surviving immediate family, a sad and tragic thing. Gary was laid out in jeans and a Phillies World Series champs t-shirt, with Eagles and Phillies clothes about him (and a Grey Lodge t-shirt; Gary was a regular), a homebrewed bottle of "Batch #1" from "Big G Brewing" tucked in at his feet. It was only the second time I've ever seen him that he wasn't smiling.
We sat down with some of Gary's friends, and talked. Some sad stories about his last day, and some happier stories about his life and our friendships with him; like any good funeral. Rich and I were glad to see a good turnout, including people from Gary's work, neighborhood, and family. The minister from St. Peter's United Methodist spoke, and talked about Gary's loves: beer, food, the Phillies and the Eagles, Metallica, science fiction films, Transformers. He talked about how he was well-regarded at work, traveling around the world to fix computer problems. He quoted John Lennon and Jim Morrison. (He looked like a tall Jerry Garcia, which provoked some stifled giggles in the back of the room.)
Then it was time to go. We said good-bye, one last time; I prayed that Gary could always be smiling. They closed the coffin. Rich and I volunteered to be pallbearers, and eight of us picked up the shiny gray casket and carried it carefully out into the bright sunshine and placed it into the hearse. We got in our cars, and drove about half a mile to the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
The cemetery occupies the side of a hill facing away from the East Branch of the Susquehanna River, looking north to tree-covered ridges. The sun was high enough that the grass around the graves gleamed green. White clouds slowly passed overhead, billows and wisps, streams and towers. Helicopters from nearby Geisinger hospital buzzed overhead, and we joked that the Philly news stations had sent them for coverage. I silently wished to myself that I would have as good a day when I go. There was a short service, a lot of hugs, and we left for the church.
The church ladies had a small luncheon prepared. Gary would have been disappointed in that there was no barbecue, but I know he would have been happy about the sides: two delicious salads (potato and macaroni, with big chunks of hard-boiled egg and olives) and calico beans. There was also chocolate cake with peanut butter icing that never came out of a box; moist, solid, not too sweet, just toothsome stuff. We talked a bit more, I thanked the church ladies for the macaroni salad, and we left, in the midst of a short, cool summer shower.
We had one more memorial to make. We drove over to One Guy Brewing; it was closed on Monday, but not for friends of Gary. Guy Hagner had been at the funeral, too: Gary loved his place. The picture below is Gary at the One Guy opening (note: two beers!). Guy left from the funeral home and went back to heat up his pizza oven. Eventually a dozen of us made it. Guy brought out some poignantly delicious pizzas -- thin-crust, but chewy, lightly-sauced, just-picked basil, thick-cut local pepperoni...my God, when will the PLCB relent and let this man serve his public?! -- made sure everyone had a beer (with help from his quite competent son, Matt), and we toasted Gary. Not with sips, either!
And we went home. My good friends: if you have the funeral Gary Bredbenner did, with the genuine love and emotion his friends had for him, you will be well-dispatched from this world. Gary leaves behind scarcely any family, no great achievements, no lasting monuments. But his smile made him known to everyone, his enjoyment of life's simpler pleasures was an inspiration, and his passing was a cause for a celebration of his life. I know he'd much rather have stayed around for another beer, and another rack of ribs. But if it was time to go, it must be nice to see how the wake went. Go with God, Gary.