Recently I was standing in my kitchen cooking, while
listening to the radio. A rendition of “Variations on a Theme” by Erik Satie,
otherwise entitled “Gymnopedie No.1”, began to play. A feeling of stillness
fell over me as I stopped and listened to its simplicity.
I first heard this piece when I was thirteen. My friend,
Ned Richmond, taught me how to play a simple, two chord progression over and over on my
guitar, while he played the melody on his. I wasn’t much of a guitar player,
and I had never played a duet with anyone before. I was thrilled by the reverie
of playing music with him. Later, he taught me the chords to the Blind Faith
songs, “In the Presence of the Lord” and “Can’t Find My Way Home”. He also
taught me a zany song called “Dog Breath”, by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of
Invention. Some of the outstanding lyrics of that magnum opus were as follows:
Here's Ned with his guitar
“Cucuroo carucha (Chevy ‘39)
Going to El Monte Legion Stadium
Pick up on my weesa (she is so divine)
Helps me stealing hub caps
Wasted all the time
Bongos in the back
My ship of love is
Ready to attack”
Our families vacationed together. We sat opposite each other
on wooden swings under pine trees. He had longish, brown hair, parted on the
side that fell in his face while he looked down and played. I thought he was
gorgeous. He was seventeen, and the son of my father’s best friend. We went to
Cape Cod every summer. My heart flip-flopped in his presence like Tito Puente’s
conga drums. I was smitten, but I knew I was more like a little sister to him.
Every summer I witnessed him meet girls who were older and prettier than me. I
endured emotional torture as I watched him engage in little romances with the
anointed maidens of summer, vacationing with their families. There was a sauna
with a porch and a long dock on the lake. The kids gathered there in the
evenings to listen to the radio, swim, catch bullfrogs, and have fun.
Ned, Ed and Ruth Richmond at White Pond Cottages
My earliest memory of him was during a picnic shared by our
families. He had an older sister named Kathleen. She affectionately called him,
“Ro”, short for Rodent. He was nine. I was five. As corny as it sounds, I fell
in love at first sight. He was a slim and sturdy, brown-haired boy dressed in
swimming trunks. He impressed me by sucking in his stomach muscles as hard as
possible so that his belly went concave and ribby. He posed with arms in the
classic muscleman posture, fists above his shoulders, with a roguish grin on
Our fathers were best friends in high school, and served in
the navy together. They kept in touch over the years, and our mothers became
close friends as well. His mother, Ruth, was petite and Irish, with a Long
Island accent and a playful sense of humor. I was fascinated that she smoked
cigarettes. My mother didn’t. I asked her why she smoked. She just said that I
shouldn’t start, because she wished that she hadn’t.
In 1965 we began to share family vacations. Our parents
chose a charming place called White Pond Cottages, on Cape Cod. Our mothers
shopped in gift shops and tourist traps. Our dads fished. All we wanted to do
was swim, laugh and play music. It was heaven.
One night when I was ten or eleven, Ned and I walked in the
woods around the pond with a flashlight, looking for bullfrogs. It was so dark
that he held my hand so that I wouldn’t get lost or fall down. I remember the
sensation of his hand holding mine, and the intensity of the thrill I felt. My
heart pounded and I actually felt weak in the knees.
Ned and me around 1966
After the summer, I wrote impassioned letters to Ned’s
mother, planning our marriage, discussing how many children we would have, and
how many we would adopt. I was determined that he was the one I was waiting
for. I saved my allowance money to buy him special gifts for Christmas. I got
him cool things that I thought he would appreciate. Once it was a rubber
chicken; another time it was plastic vomit.
The Beach Boys somehow found out how I felt about him and
wrote two songs, which expressed my love: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “God Only
When those two songs came on the radio, I tried to transmit
the love to Ned mentally. Of course, either he never knew, or he knew and wasn’t
interested. Even though I thought that it was hopeless, it was nice to have a
place to direct my love. I wrote to his mother asking for an article of his
clothing to have, and she sent me one of his old basketball jerseys. It was
extraordinary the way she respected my feelings. She didn’t make fun of me.
The last time I saw Ned, I was fifteen and he was nineteen. That
summer, our families went to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. The song, “In the
Summertime”, by Mungo Jerry, was popular. We drove around Wolfeboro eating ice
cream and listening to the radio, singing at the top of our lungs. I knew he
had a girlfriend back on Long Island, but somehow our relationship had shifted
and we were buddies. I still pined for him, but I was content to just be in his
presence. He was in college after that and we sometimes wrote to each other.
In 1975, when I was twenty, I moved to California with a friend. One
day my mom called, saying that Ned had died. The details were vague and I still
don’t really know what happened. It seemed to be self inflicted -- involving a
car and carbon monoxide poisoning. I believe that he was hurt by a girl. I never
really heard a clear explanation about the details. I was stunned.
Ned Richmond -1974
I’ve thought of him hundreds of times over the years.
Wondering what happened. Why it happened. Never realizing what a sensitive soul
he had, and how hopeless he must have been to take his own life. My parents
told me that his parents were devastated by his death. He was a beautiful young
man, twenty-four years old – talented, intelligent, funny and adorable.
I learned from that event that the ripples from the death of
someone we love never end. I still want to know what happened. I think of him
from time to time with profound affection. He has been in my prayers many
times. I want to see him again someday. I want to know what happened. Maybe he
can show me how to play that Erik Satie piece again. That would be wonderful.
This song still seems apropos:
From, “God Only Knows” (Beach Boys)
“I may not always love you
But long as there are stars above you
You never need to doubt it
I’ll make you so sure about it
God only knows what I’d be without you”