It’s been a year since Andy McLaren died. My tribute to him appeared in today’s edition of the Donegal Post (4 July 2018):
Andy McLaren died shortly after midsummer last year. He spent the last week of his life in the Intensive Care Unit of Letterkenny General Hospital, where only immediate family members were permitted to visit. A sympathetic nurse carried messages back and forth. Andy was on a breathing apparatus, and he didn’t want me to see him under those circumstances. He said that he’d let me know as soon as he was better, but his lungs were too damaged and his resistance was too low. He died on Sunday, July 2.
I miss Andy. I miss hurrying into Linda’s Diner to find him sitting with one eye on the clock and the other on a rumpled newspaper, halfway through a cup of coffee and wondering how late I was going to be this time. For years we’d ordered the breakfasts with brown toast and extra jam. After he had open heart bypass surgery, Andy rethought his diet. He moved away from the rich breakfasts to the better-balanced lunches, although he usually topped it off with a Sticky Toffee Pudding. I kidded him about being a cardiologists’ nightmare. He’d grin ruefully, shrug it off and go outside to roll a cigarette before we drove to our homes.
When I was a blow-in newcomer in South Donegal, Andy loved showing me around. He introduced me to Linda’s – in those days it was Linda’s Country Kitchen. He showed me the best places to buy turf, heating oil, and hardware. He took me to his golf club, where his consistently low scores were in great demand during tournament play.
When we drove to Derry to go bowling, Andy told stories of his glory days on the lanes. He’d been a member of the Northern Ireland Bowling Team when they went to Reno to compete in an international tournament. He described the tiny details that top competitive bowlers had to master – how to read the oil patterns on the lanes, and how to use oil-absorbing practice balls to establish a groove. As a real-time player-coach in bowling tournaments, his advice was spot-on.
He was a great golf coach, too. Andy could watch a swing and spot the adjustments that would add twenty yards or fix that slice.
A Master Upholsterer, Andy could look over a sad and saggy three-piece suite and see the showroom-worthy furniture that it could become. He worked his excellent craft on boats, cars, and motorcycles. He loved watching the fixer-upper shows on cable, knowing that he could do as well, or better, than the self-promoters on the shows.
I miss our Boys’ Nights Out. Andy would come to my house at about seven, packing a bottle of Captain Morgan’s Rum. We’d go to the Eclipse Cinemas in Bundoran, choosing the films that our Significant Others wouldn’t like – Bruce Willis shoot-’em-ups, dark mysteries, No Country for Old Men. After the show we’d drive to The Filling Station in Ballyshannon, calling ahead for orders of fish and chips. We’d settle at my kitchen table to wash down the food with pints before we cracked the seal on the Captain Morgan bottle. Then we’d set the world to rights.
Andy McLaren loved his children and grandchildren. He loved people. He was one of the best friends I’ll ever hope to have.