My friends and relatives are filling Facebook with soft words and kindnesses, memories, connections and nostalgia. Last week was a bit emotional around here.

Kevin Waters, our dear friend, mentor, emergency pilot and neighborhood national treasure, died suddenly on July 5th, 2020. This July 5th of course marked a year without him. Those who worked with him, or leaned on him for the compassion of the enlightened, are still trying to figure out how best to proceed.

My brother Ben, who died back in January 2021, would have had his 56th birthday on July 7th. I’m not sure he would have “celebrated” his birthday, not being one for candles and cake and a supply of helium from Shaw’s. Just the same, the first iteration of “Ben’s birthday” after his passing would obviously not be an easy day. I will always remember Ringo Starr’s birthday for my brother’s sake.

Says I to myself, in the midst of all the tenderness and maybe a bit too much syrup, “I don’t need to put up no stinkin’ social media post. I’ve got a newspaper column!” I can offer my sugarcoated mush and slobber without it triggering, by way of reply, an inquiry from some total stranger in the Midwest asking whether anybody still around this island is descended from Ebenezer Hall (yes) or whether Paul can be hired to replace a claw-foot tub (no).

Facebook is like that busybody over the fence, sometimes, with questions when you don’t have the energy to answer. Anyway, I’ll tell you a story about Kevin and a story about Ben, and that might suffice to paint my affection for the two of them. Ben first.

When we were teenagers, the roof leaked. We lived in a place where few people, as far as anybody knew, had the skills to do anything except their official, paid job. The multitasking handyman-ism of rural Maine was not expected. Jacks or Jills-of-all-trades stood out as peculiar and probably not born there. A few people had tools but the majority, if you will pardon a ridiculous and unfair stereotype, acted like city people which — as any 10-year-old native Maine kid can and will tell you — meant they were completely lacking in any practical ability. This is of course nonsense; cities are full of carpenters and plasterers and plumbers and such, but the folks who live out where the grass grows do not know that. They think everybody in cities works behind a desk, unless they are a starving would-be Broadway actor waiting tables at Sardi’s, or in the mafia.

Anyway, the roof leaked badly and my family was without the resources to engage the services of professionals. The story I remember was that Ben, all of probably 15, called up our grandfather in South Thomaston and asked what to do. The recommended supplies, including a good deal of “90-pound rolled roofing” and several cans of sticky black goop, were obtained from I suppose somewhere industrial down on 4th Avenue (this was way before gentrification and hipsters). We — but largely my brother — re-did the entire roof on that decrepit brownstone before we were old enough to drive. I tell this story because Ben, unlike his sister, didn’t feel he had to codeswitch. He didn’t squirm about the Brooklyn thing, and he didn’t feel his ears get all hot when somebody talked about the Old Days. He was an honest man.

Ben also had a city house that was full of tools. I love a good defiance of a stereotype.

Kevin Waters was “on the desk” when I landed the Cessna 152 at Knox County on my first solo cross-country while training for my pilot’s license. “The desk” means working as dispatcher, radioman, mission control, logistics manager, cashier, one-armed-paperhanger and complaint department for the air taxi company which, you might recall, he’d started with three other guys after the previous air service owner quit playing ball with us on half a day’s notice one December.

I have a photograph — which I treasure — from that first cross-country, of Kevin and me after he signed my logbook “arrived alive” and gave me a hug.

Kevin was all about making things better for the other guy. He could be madder than a hornet with a hernia about some damn fool who wanted to utilize the specialized skills of bush pilots in order to FedEx their laundry, but Kevin would offer kind words, and gently ask, “How you doing?” On a hard day, he was reassurance personified.

I’d walk into Kevin’s office feeling like The Village Idiot and come out feeling like The Right Stuff. I sometimes expected him to roll his eyes after I pulled another inexpert, amateur landing but he’d just grin and say, “You know what they say about Cessnas? Made by farmers, for farmers.”