Some things are just too hard to put into words – and this is one of them, because words solidify the event and make it all too real. On Saturday, I lost my best friend of the past forty years.
Bob Altschuler was my buddy and musical partner as a part of the Dyer Switch Band and Shine Hill Road. He was fellow graduate of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Leadership Bluegrass Program, member of both the Hudson Valley and Adirondack Bluegrass Associations, and truly a member of my family. We shared all the holidays together and our daughter and granddaughters thought of him as an uncle – grandpa’s brother by another mother! He was a superb banjo and dobro player, arranger, and instructor. But, more than any of those attributes, he was a wonderful, kind, concerned, intelligent and generous human being.
So, it’s not easy to say goodbye to yet another “brother.” Bob joyfully spread happiness wherever he went, whether that was at his job with the NYS Retirement System, a bluegrass stage, some banjo workshop or simply with his family and friends. He loved all of God’s creatures and wouldn’t hurt a fly. (No, really, he couldn’t even bring himself to swat a pesky insect!) Bob cared deeply for people and longed to be part of a warm, loving family. He deserved love and during the past few years found it again with his lovely wife, Linda, her children, grandchild, and extended family.
As I know all too well, though, through my family’s experience with my dear brother Patrick, depression can be an illogical, tragic disease which we will never really understand. There will be no answers to so many questions that will linger on for years to come. We can only cling to our own precious memories of happier times, of love, and peace. I will always choose to remember my dear friend Bob with a great big smile on his face after he cracked a silly pun on stage or stuck his big size fifteen feet under our noses in a van on the way to a gig.
My mind’s eye will see him on a bench at an IBMA conference spending an hour with a young banjo player, tweaking a $200 instrument until it sounded like a priceless prewar-Gibson. I will picture being able to look to my right on stage, cueing him to do the next blazing banjo solo and hearing the crescendo of notes on his original masterpiece, “Becky Ann’s Bluegrass Rag.” We will meet again someday, my friend, on some bright highway, with songs to sing and tales to tell. Until then, You Big Lug, fare thee well!