The week after Thanksgiving always brings a twinge to me, and it’s not from indigestion. It’s because for many wonderful years, the first holiday card always arrived that holiday weekend from my friend and former colleague Brady Ennis. In addition to being a superb editor, Brady was a talented artist, and his card always featured a stunning sample of his sketching prowess. No less impressive was his ability to organize his holiday card distribution in order to have his be the first of the season.
Brady passed away all too young at age 52 in the summer of 2006. The last years of his life were not happy, but his last days were. Brady and I worked together at a travel guidebook in San Francisco in the mid-1980s. Brady was my assistant; we were the entire editorial staff. He had actually applied for the top editorial job at the same time I did, but cheerfully handled being second-in-command. His editorial acumen and copy-editing skills made me look good. After I left, Brady was passed over yet again. But my successor quickly flopped, and it became clear it was Brady’s turn to take over.
But after he left the guidebook several years later, he could never find another job that matched his editorial capabilities. His career devolved into more and more menial work, and eventually he had to declare bankruptcy and move back to his home town of Alton, Illinois. He also had health issues – he smoked and he was HIV-positive – but he always tried to see the good in the world. His sister told me that he was getting his life together back in his native habitat.
On the day he died, in fact, he was on his way back from an animal shelter, having optimistically adopted a kitten he told his sister he was going to name Shadow. His car went off the road – whether because of a medical event or some other unknown reason – and he was killed. Undoubtedly petrified, Shadow ran off and was never found.
I think of Brady at this time of year. Sometimes, forgetting, I anticipate his card arriving in the mailbox. Then I remember it’s not coming.
I think of the sad trajectory of his life and how many of my old friends in their 50s (and now 60s) are facing the same distress he faced. The world – seemingly more youth-obsessed now than even when the Boomers were young – has dispensed with their services. It cavalierly discounts their wisdom and experience in favor of who will work longer hours for less money – but not necessarily with more productivity. It doesn’t matter if someone works a twelve-hour day if they spent four of those hours chatting or surfing.
I’ve been extremely lucky in my career, and I anticipate putting it to bed in the coming years on a high and satisfying note. While I would like to sing of my success, I can’t, because gloating.
The week after Thanksgiving always brings a twinge to me. It is the bittersweet twist of gratitude for my life and of sadness for my friends and all their shadows.