This weekend I said hello for a while to one of my favorite Colorful Characters, Raynard Nebbitt. Then I said goodbye to another of my favorites, Paul “Father Time” Pagano, at the visitation following his recent death at the age of 93.
Raynard sat with me for part of the three hours I spent signing books Saturday at The Novel Neighbor bookstore in Webster Groves. As many around here know, Raynard’s brought smiles all around for years by standing on the Rock Hill Road Overpass (AKA the Raynard Nebbitt Crossing) and waving at passing cars and trains. Not too long ago, people went crazy about a blog post I did about Raynard. Before things quieted down, the post got 35,000 views in a week. So you can tell plenty of folks consider him friends.
I wasn’t surprised, then, that many greeted him at The Novel Neighbor. After I signed a page on the front of the buyer’s copy, Raynard dutifully placed his signature next to a picture on page 217, where my vignette about him begins. He was faithful to the task, but it seemed he preferred being somewhere else, most likely his spot on the bridge.
The signing with Raynard was lots of fun. The visitation for Paul Pagano on Sunday was less so, but there nonetheless was a sense of celebration at a life well lived. The family reserved all of Collier’s Funeral Home in St. Ann for the all-day event. Relatives, his many friends and people from throughout the community perused pictures and videos of Father Time at festivals, ball games, parades and any other place crowds gathered. Everybody has an axe to grind, I’m told, but the only one Paul had was to make people happy.
A radio played an interview Charlie Brennan of KMOX did with Father Time. Behind protective plastic was a letter of condolence from Mayor Francis G. Slay. Father Time’s scooter-wheelchair was there, without a rider. On a table were various publications with articles about him. One of them was The Colorful Characters of St. Louis. He got his copy of the book at my book launch party on Oct. 2. From then until he died on Oct. 21, I’m told, he was constantly showing the book off to friends.
People like Raynard Nebbitt and Father Time are why I think The Colorful Characters of St. Louis is my best book so far. They’ve gotten the attention lately, but there are many others I wrote about who also make for great reading. Like Raynard and Paul Pagano, I feel like they’re friends now. I hope you feel the same after you’ve read the book.