Bill Coates is a friend of mine, who is also my pastor. About 10 years ago, he invited me to a get together at his home.
Coates is notorious for putting together sort of a "fruit salad" guest list. He invites young people, middle aged folks and older guests. For a bit of variety, he might toss in someone from another church, another religion or no religion at all.
It makes for a rather interesting event.
A group of friends grew out of one of these gatherings. One of those friends was Calvin Allen and his wife, Lydia. Calvin was a retired anesthesiologist who had a soft-spoken growl of a voice.
Anesthesiologists are usually not well-known doctors. People know their family doctor and maybe a specialist, like a cardiologist. You generally meet an anesthesiologist when you’re about to go under the knife. Not exactly the time you start a cordial relationship.
I never knew him as Dr. Allen. He was just Calvin and he became someone I treasured.
He was quick-witted and had a wry sense of humor with a deep chuckle that made you know you had said something really funny.
When I compiled my book, "When Old Mowers Die," I decided to have a little fun on the cover. I borrowed a hearse and asked Calvin to play the role of a minister, complete with clerical collar.
With his white hair he was perfect for the role. He took on the make-believe look of exasperation that made people laugh when they saw it. I still laugh when I see it.
A few years later, I asked him to reprise the role for my second book, "Sweet Tea and Sweet Jesus."
He stood with another good friend, Bruce Fields, in the photo. Bruce has no use whatsoever for a black religious robe, but he and Calvin each donned one for the photo. It was Calvin, the non-preacher resplendent in a borrowed robe, along with Bruce, who is a preacher, but normally wouldn’t be caught dead in one.
By the time the second photo was shot, Calvin’s health was failing and he was no longer driving. When I picked him up for the picture, we talked about life and health.
He regretted that he didn’t take better care at a younger age.
"I won’t get much better, but I’ll be alright," he said.
Calvin Allen died last week at the age of 85.
In his later years, he devoted himself to helping people learn English and prepare for their U.S. citizenship test. At 80 he learned Spanish, in order to better communicate with his students.
Each Christmas, Calvin whipped up a batch of homemade egg nog that had a fair share of nog. There is just something poetic about an anesthesiologist that stirs up an elixir of Christmas cheer. We looked forward to the annual call to come by and join that fruit salad mix of friends and raise a glass to our friend.
I don’t know if the recipe was written down, but I’d love to have a glass of that egg nog, even in July, and celebrate a life well-lived.
In my mind, I think he’d give us one of those good deep chuckles.
Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life.