Dinner With Denyer
Ted lived a full, creative life, filled with joy, enthusiasm, humor and curiosity about, and for, nearly everything. He was a dedicated oil painter, a dyed-in-the-wool artist with a capital A. But the Ted Denyer I remember is not standing at an easel, painting from sunrise to sunset. He's sitting at a table across from me with a bowl of pasta, a salad and a pint of dark ale.
For the final 17 years of his life, Ted and I had dinner together every other Thursday. We hashed over the usual culprits: art and music, literature and poetry, religion and politics, usually wading in way over our heads. Each fortnight, in all kinds of weather, I readily made the journey to Mount Tremper. Like so many others who knew him, I needed a regular infusion of Denyer.
Our dinners were nearly always held at Ted's unique homemade home along the Esopus Creek. He preferred his own quiet space to noisy restaurants. He prepared simple, delicious, wholesome meals, like the legendary Denyer Pasta Sauce on al dente spaghetti. Supper, as Ted preferred calling it, was hoisted up from the kitchen to a small, cozy room on the second floor above his studio employing a marvelous makeshift basket & pulley contraption. We began our meal, sitting across from each other at his swing-out, wobbly table, hoisting a pint to our good fortune. A toast to a dear companion willing to tag along on this short, miraculous, confusing journey called life. Our time together was a blessing and we knew it.
As I devoured my meal and Ted picked at his, we sought out the meaning of things material and ethereal. We were fellow travelers willing to share chestnuts we'd gathered along the way if we thought they might be of use. Our conversations were spontaneous and wide ranging. Depending on our mood, we could be fickle, hopping from topic to topic or dogged, locking in on a single culprit. We admitted to our limitations (always with promises to self-improvement) and, although we sampled humble pie from time to time, we regularly and unabashedly celebrated our extraordinary creative gifts & exemplary moral fiber. We were tireless in hashing things out, over and over. We were true believers and wary skeptics. We shared a love of detail in our narratives--never in a rush to get to the point. We chewed on Ted's favorite topic, "What Is Art?" until it was mauled beyond recognition.
Often, we sat in his studio, listening to music on his old, paint-splattered Radio Shack CD player. Our tastes ranged from J. S. Bach, to Dmitri Shostakovich. For several years, we subscribed to the Hudson Valley Philharmonic concerts at the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston. We could not imagine a life without music.
Ted and I were alike in another important regard; we were born with a common malady: the Curse of the Cantankerous Male. Luckily, our disease was tempered with and usually overwhelmed by a powerful curiosity about the nature of things. Nonetheless, we found ourselves scrabbling from time to time over differing and (big surprise) strongly held beliefs. We'd get all tangled up for a while, finally hacking our way through the thorns, finding the path back home, with a renewed appreciation for the high value of a loving friendship.
I'll miss those nights. Terribly and probably forever. Each visit began the same way. Me, standing at Ted's colorfully painted front door, beer and groceries in one hand, pulling the cord attached to the cowbell with the other, anticipating Ted's shock of cotton candy hair framing his smiling face.
We delighted in that formal absurdity.
Followed, always, by a heartwarming hug.
On the way to the kitchen, Ted would reprimand me for bringing my small gifts. "Next time, bring only yourself, promise?" "Okay, I promise." Another unique journey, filled with joy, curiosity, confusion, a sense of adventure and much laughter, had begun.
Ted and I regularly held a mirror to our pomposity, willing to peer at the two sometimes wise and often foolish gents grinning there. I'll keep that mirror close to my heart. Ted is gone, but his image remains.