And you never even got to meet him. Neil Wilding: father, husband, provider, neighbor, and friend. Raconteur, chef, hunter, oenophile, pilot, scientist, volunteer, teacher and perennial student.
I first knew Neil as a neighbor, and damned near the perfect one: never asked for much but willingly gave anything and everything. He groused loudly (but sweetly) when I polished the bed-liner of his often-borrowed pickup truck (“the boys at the co-op will think I’m a sissy!”) but didn’t mind at all when I put it in the ditch, resulting in a long scratch all down one side (“that’s what trucks are for”).
Neil knew everything. I’m not exaggerating, he actually did. The top speed of every type of train and every make of car, plane, or helicopter; the scientific name of every plant on earth; the type of ammo required for every sort of gun (and how to hand-pack it yourself); the vintage of every wine fit to drink.
Watching Neil cook was exquisite–and excruciating…every spice hand-selected, roasted, ground and mixed to perfection. Coffee brewed at exactly 121 degrees for 20 seconds; no more, no less. Everything Neil did, he did right. Nothing half-assed.
And there was no limit to his generosity. He was the type of guy you could go thirty years without seeing, then call him at 3:00 a.m. to bring you bail money. Or to come shoot the copperhead in your garden. I never needed him for the former, but I did for the latter.
Never having had a real father, Neil was the next best thing, only better. He lectured me, drank beer with me, taught me how to clean a shotgun, took me out for coffee, and cooked for me when I was sick. He told great stories, and he listened as much as he talked.
The world lost a great man today. I did, too.