OLD FRIEND – Jeff Aaron

I met William in the early 1970s. I met Joady a bit earlier when she attended York University. She shared an apartment with several other students and I was friends with a woman who was dating one of them. William was working at Grossman’s Tavern in Toronto then. I don’t recall seeing William there. Wm was a good and enthusiastic cook. Meals at his place were lots of fun. His wit was quick and sharp, he was well-read and lively. When he and Joady told me they were to be married I volunteered to drive them to City Hall in my mom’s 1972 Chevrolet Impala. Not a limousine but plenty big. I arrived at Wm’s digs as scheduled and found the happy couple still floating in the bath. I got them to City Hall but by the time I parked the car and walked up the steps they were already married and coming out the door so I didn’t witness the ceremony.

My activities sometimes took me away from Toronto so I was not involved in Joady and Wm’s move to England. Apparently they crossed the pond on a Polish liner, the Stefan Batory. Wm said he liked the vodka and cheap beer. I did see the steamer trunks he painted up in bright yellow with pink polka dots. The stevedores would have a hard time losing those.

In September of 1976 I visited Wm and Joady in England. They were living with Joady’s parents in Taunton, Somerset, in a Georgian home named Roughmoor House. Wm had a great knowledge of the local history. He was very interested in ring forts and standing stones. He introduced me to village pubs with skittles alleys and shove ha’penny games. Wm carried a pocket notebook with blank pages. He would draw constantly. He once remarked that he drew like some people knit. Joady’s mom took us on a trip to Ireland. The sea was so rough on the way over that Wm and I had to hold onto our pints at the bar to keep them from sliding away.

Wm and Joady later moved to Buddle Oak, a farm cottage in Halse, a village not far from Taunton. Wm had a “day job” at some manufacturing company in Norton Fitzwarren (Wm called it Warts and Misfortune). At home he painted big pieces of masonite board by leaning them against the wall in the big room downstairs and squatting or sitting on the floor. There was no central heat; the only warmth came from the coal stove in the kitchen. There was a pet rabbit that would warm itself under the stove until it was overheated and then would dash across the kitchen and fling itself down in the cool draft under the front door. Money was tight. They had to scrimp to afford a bag of coal. Wm drew and painted things inspired by the shapes of the local landscape. He cast little figures from aluminum cans melted over a charcoal fire. He dug around in pre-Roman earthworks and ring forts and collected bits of pottery.

Wm and I kept up a regular but infrequent correspondence. His envelopes were always plump, full of leaflets and brochures about shows and projects that he was involved in. He would often decorate them with rubber stamps and little figures. It was always a happy surprise to open the mail box and find something from him.

Wm never told me that his health was failing. I was encouraging him to come to Cleveland and show his work here. He just wrote that he couldn’t fly and didn’t explain more. It was a shock to hear that he was gone. I still really miss him.

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