John Mashek, one of my father’s oldest friends, died this week at the age of 77.
I knew John pretty much my entire sentient life. Like my father, he was a Washington-based correspondent for a Southern newspaper. Our families were close enough that John and his wife, Sara, looked after my sister and me when my parents took a holiday weekend. While staying with the Masheks, I think — hey, IIRC and all that — my sister and I learned about this amazing institution known as Candy Night, in which the paterfamilias brought home candy bars. We lobbied hard for Candy Night in our own household, although I can’t remember if we won.
Over the years it was commonplace for my father to say to my mother: “John Mashek told me the dirtiest joke today, I’ll tell you when the girls go to sleep.”
John had a stroke a few years ago and I heard it wasn’t easy for him, living in a Georgetown house with multiple levels, but he was getting around. I last saw him in March 2008, when I appeared with Richard Price at the Smithsonian. In fact, I think it was John who alerted my parents to the program and encouraged them to drive over from Delaware for it. My parents have heard my spiel a lot over the years, but dinner with the Masheks? Count them in.
He died while attending his granddaughter’s soccer game and was cheering and jumping up and down moments before he complained that he couldn’t catch his breath.
I learned a lot about male friendships from the bond between my father and John Mashek. Primarily, I learned to value them. However, my favorite Mashek story is more about Sara. My father wrote a very funny column for the Atlanta Constitution about making the rounds of a Washington party, sure that each woman was an exotic foreign type, only to find time and again that the woman was as Southern as he was. IIRC, he projected the romantic soul of an Irish woman on redheaded Sara, only to discover that she was Cheap Hill, Tennessee.
I learned about John’s death from a popular Internet site for current journalists and recovering ones such as myself. Over the past week, there’s been a lot of hubbub in newspaper circles about fisticuffs at the Washington Post and whether it’s an allegorical story about slipping standards or just a sad one. I do know that John Mashek, along with my father and several others, were standard-bearers for their profession.
Your memories are, as always, welcome in the comment section.