Over the Bar in the River

The final words of a dear, dear friend

By Brian Doyle | April 19, 2013


A wonderful friend of mine was on his deathbed a few years ago, and I waited on line with his family and friends to go in and get a last blessing and chat, in the American Irish way, and during my few moments with him he said three things that I remember to this day.

One was the answer to a question I asked: Are you scared?

Nah, he said, with the hint of a smile. It’s a big recycling program, I feel, and I had a great run, a woman I loved dearly, eight kids, lots of grandkids, good work, good friends, fought a cruel empire, saw a lot of the world. Nah, I am not scared. I am sad that a lot of great stories will die with me, though—some of them true.

The second thing was the phrase rushing the growler. He murmured that, in a moment when I thought he had fallen asleep, and I said, Bernie, what’s that? and he opened his eyes and said, Oh, when I was a kid in Montana, this was in Butte, the most Irish town in America then, one of my jobs was to take the bucket to the pub and get it filled with beer for my dad. He’s back home from the mines for dinner and he’s bathing out back and when he finishes wiping off, there I am with the bucket of beer, and he takes a dipper and has a taste, and he says, Thank you, son. We would stand there a moment, you know, waiting for nothing, just savoring the moment. We didn’t get many moments like that. He worked awful hard, and there were a lot of us kids. That was called rushing the growler. The growler was the bucket, see? He’d stand there three minutes, maybe, sipping and smiling at me, and it felt like all the time in the world. That was a good time. That was a great time. I sure liked my dad. He sure was a good dad.

The third thing was the very last thing Bernie said to me, the very last words I heard from lips that had told me a thousand stories—some of them true. He’d had just enough energy to place his hand on my head and ask a blessing on me, and then his arm slumped back down to the bed, and I stood up and got ready to be replaced at his bedside, when he said very faintly, I’ll see you over the bar in the river. I didn’t say anything, because I was weeping, but I’ll always remember that line. I’ll see you over the bar in the river. I very much hope that this is true.

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