(Editor's Note: Eric Leiser, president of Leiser Furniture Inc. in downtown Herscher, died at the age of 41 on Feb. 24, 2010. He would have turned 47 today – July 2, 2015. This column on friendship, written in memory of Eric, was published on July 1, 2010.)
Up until this year, July 2 never meant much to me.
That date happens to be a friend’s birthday. But among guys, birthdays aren’t a big deal.
Guys don’t give each other birthday gifts, unless we happen across a good gag which might prompt a few laughs.
Guys don’t sing the Happy Birthday song to each other.
Guys don’t send flowers to their buddies on birthdays. Sentimental cards are completely out of the question. Those outrageously hilarious cards? Maybe.
My friend, the late Eric Leiser, would have been 42 on Friday.
During the past year, seldom has a 15-minute stretch passed that I haven’t thought about him. That frequency rate is certainly higher within his family.
But this isn’t about family. It’s about something on a totally different level – friendship.
Eric Leiser was 15 years my junior. I was a young adult when he was a kid. As he grew up, little did I realize that we’d someday become friends.
Several weeks before he turned 41 last year, Eric was experiencing back pains. I figured that he was pushing himself too hard at the gym and overdoing his job of lugging furniture in and out of his store.
My concern intensified one day when his back pains prevented him from laughing at some inside humor. Something was indeed wrong.
Nine months later – early in the morning on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 – Eric died of cancer.
Hundreds and hundreds of people stood in line for hours at the visitation. A huge network of friends felt the need to be there.
Life now goes on. Leiser Furniture, an 118-year-old Herscher landmark which Eric operated, remains open; the Leiser family is a resilient bunch.
Their business has survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, numerous recessions, harsh winters. And now this.
But again, this isn’t about family. It’s about friendship.
Up until a year ago, Eric was a daily presence in my life. Because of the physical location of my office between his original store and his modern showroom, Eric would pass by my front door numerous times every day. And during so many of those walks, he’d stop in for a breather from indecisive customers. Eric became our unofficial proof reader (but I never trusted his proficiency in grammar and spelling). He’d help himself to perusing proofs of this newspaper as it was being put together. And he became privy to goings on within my workplace. You know what I mean, those things which are covered by this common workplace creed: “Whatever you see here, say here and hear here STAYS HERE!
Whenever business brush fires flared up, Eric would stop in even more frequently to milk me for all the details.
Eric was a part of our inner circle and he never violated that code of honor. He took all my inside jokes and workplace secrets with him.
In other words, he was a true friend.
I fully realize there’s a much bigger picture here. Eric was far more importantly a husband, father, son, brother and uncle.
And he had many friends, each representing a different aspect of his life.
For over a year, Eric has been gone from downtown Herscher. He’d spend his final months at home, and he was in and out of hospitals. He gave every ounce of his immense reservoir of stamina to the cause of beating cancer.
For some reason, life just ain’t fair.
I still look for Eric whenever my office door opens. Flashes of his image are generated by folks who pass my office window.
And whenever one of those brush fires flares up, I imagine what Eric’s spin on the given situation might have been. I see his unique expression – a cross between a scowl and smile – and I hear him chuckle.
Somewhere in your life I hope you have such a friend. At least one.
Don’t fool with birthday cakes and cards. Simply savor your friendship. May it last forever; and may you never take it for granted.
Friday, July 2, happens to be Eric Leiser’s birthday. I’ll think of him on that day…just as I do nearly every hour of every other day of the year.