Attic Salt Dec. 16, 2012

Sitting in church for the funeral of a friend on a December afternoon is as good a place as any to take stock.

My friend John Durusau was a Down syndrome baby who lived to be a sweet man of 62 years.

I don’t know about you, but I hear the voices of friends at funerals, the friends we’re bidding adieu and the people who knew them.

I run with a crowd not afraid to express an opinion, sometimes quick to judge, even quicker to admit they were wrong about someone.

With John, you knew his opinions were born and fed in the small, bright world in which he lived. John sometimes said what everyone else was thinking. Sometimes to his family’s dismay, John’s observations were not said in a quiet voice.

The priest fought through congestion and a racking cough to deliver John’s eulogy. Had John been a mourner, he might have leaned toward his sister, Mary, to say in a whisper that could have been heard in Port Allen, “Uh, huh, he needs to be home in bed.”

Reading John’s obit in the newspaper, I could hear his sister’s voice: “For 22 years, he worked at ARC Baton Rouge’s Metro Enterprises where he was a sorter. His job was to sort almost anything that needed to be sorted. And he did a great job.”

John’s favorite television shows were “Cox 4 Game of the Week” and “The Lawrence Welk Show.” He worshipped at St. Joseph’s and Grace Baptist Church. He was comfortable in both churches.

John filled notebooks with information about family and friends, their birthdays, where they worked, notes on movies and television shows. He liked calendars and the opportunity for order they afforded.

John, whose sister was once my editor, was visiting the office one day and heard us talking about the stories we might use to fill the calendar’s white squares.

John turned slowly in a swivel chair to regard a desk calendar. “You put the stories right here,” he said, tapping the empty squares. John didn’t overthink things.

I was honored to be one of John’s pallbearers. I got to church early enough to walk around the cathedral’s block.

Downtown was starting to come back after a lengthy stay in its urban chrysalis when the newspaper moved to Bluebonnet Boulevard far from the sound of the bells of St. Joseph Cathedral.

I miss downtown, those bells at noon and lunchtime walks over sidewalks instead of cow tracks along traffic-choked Bluebonnet Boulevard.

The newspaper building where I spent so many years of my life is gone. Gone, too, are some good friends who worked in that building.

There are food trucks everywhere downtown. I found one at the corner of Fourth and North streets where a cheerful, overly warm man was cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven inside a van.

Checking my watch, I saw I had time for a slice of pizza before pallbearers’ muster.

I found a bench and ate quickly, wiped my mouth with a wadded napkin and walked quickly up the street to say goodbye to John.

Advocate writer and columnist Ed Cullen welcomes comments by email to ecullen@theadvocate.com.