Travel around Maine long enough, and you’ll find plenty of interesting characters who, surprisingly, are perfectly willing to let a stranger into their homes, and essentially roll out the red carpet for them.
Rich Rossignol was one of those people.
A decade or so ago, Rich reached out to me — we were acquaintances, and had some mutual friends because I had dated one of his high school classmates — with an invitation that was both gracious and unexpected.
Come north, he said. Fish with me on Long Lake during the ice fishing derby. And if you choose to write a column about your experience, that would be fine, too.
I took Rich up on his offer, and that began an odd, distant friendship that in retrospect I realize was really one-sided.
He lived in northern Maine, in Madawaska or St. David. I lived in Bangor, some 200 miles away.
Every ice fishing season, he’d renew his invitation, which I regularly had to decline. But every time I needed some lake info on his favorite body of water — Long Lake, home of football-shaped landlocked salmon — he was eager to help.
He’d send me a few paragraphs of his observations that I’d tuck into a column, or use in an advance story about the annual ice fishing derby. Sometimes he’d send along a photo or two.
And each time I had to tell him I couldn’t make it up for the derby this time, I figured (as we all seem to do) that there would surely be a next time.
And then, a couple weeks ago, I learned that wasn’t true.
Just a few days after exchanging messages with Rich, I noticed odd postings going up on his Facebook page. Ominous postings. Final postings.
Rich Rossignol died at his home on Jan. 31, just three days after the completion of the fishing derby that he loved competing in.
He was just 48 years old.
If people asked me, I’d tell them I was Rich’s friend. We had had a few memorable times together, after all, and he’d always been so welcoming and gracious to me, like so many in northern Maine have been over the years.
But did I know him very well? Not really. Instead, we corresponded several times each year in the new-fangled way: Via Facebook or email, rarely seeing each other face to face.
He’d reach out once in awhile to see how I was doing and to share fishing info. I’d ask how he was doing, and he always seemed to be excited about some project or other that he had in the works.
Rich was a handy guy, I learned early on, when he hosted me in his home and proudly showed me all the things he’d built, including the most elaborate shower system I’d ever seen. Across the road, he told me, was where friends gathered each spring to boil down maple syrup.
That, too, was one of those trips I vowed to take: I wanted to attend Rich’s syrup-making party.
That’s another thing I never did. Life got in the way. He did his things up in the St. John Valley … I did mine down here in Bangor, four hours south.
But still, the invitations came, each and every year.
A year ago, after I’d suffered a stroke and missed some work, he reached out, confessing that he’d had some health woes as well, but was also on the mend. And he said he hoped I’d head north to fish again.
“You’re invited any time,” he wrote. “And whoever u want to bring. Whole family and animals!”
And then, a year later — just a week before he passed away, Rich reached out again, sharing a fish photo and checking in for the last time.
“You coming up for derby?” he asked, as he always did.
A week later, when I received news of his passing, I realized that I’d never responded to his question.
Life had gotten too busy. I’d done my own thing. I’d meant to send a reply, but didn’t.
I’d always have a chance to reach out and apologize, I thought.
And then, I didn’t get that chance.
All of us have friends like that, I figure. Distant, and not-that-close. But friendly, and always willing to put a roof over our heads or spend the day sharing a few fishing secrets.
Here, then, is to Rich. An avid fisherman, gone too soon. And a friend.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke