Remembering Bryant Wollman
Bryant Wollman said he didn’t much like reading about himself, especially on the Internet, but he forgave my mentioning him in a story about Farmers Feed, our old 1970s food club, because he said it was sweet.
The last time I saw Bryant was at Davies Hall in San Francisco, maybe a year ago. He was impossible to miss, decked out in full Scottish plaids, kilt, sporran, the works.
He looked wonderful. He said that he had had trouble with his heart, but that he was in a hospital group focused on recovery from cardiac incidents, and that they told him he was a model patient.
There were lots of things about Bryant that not many people knew. They saw him in his mail truck, delivering letters along Half Moon Bay’s Route One, but they probably didn’t know that he had once belonged to Mensa, the genius society, or that he briefly attended medical school.
They may have known that he played the lead in “Fiddler on the Roof” in Santa Cruz, but they may not have known he played Wicked Willie Whoppergotter in a Farmers Feed production at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society some years earlier, in 1972.
I’m sure they didn’t know that Bryant tried a few piano lessons with me, hoping to learn to read music in a hurry so he could join a Russian men’s choir. “They said my voice was all right,” he said, “but I have to learn to read music.”
Some people may remember when Bryant dressed up like Saint Nicholas (“Not Santa Claus,” he said. “This is how the real Saint Nicholas dressed.”) He would distribute toys and gifts on his way to midnight Christmas mass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. We were on his route one year, and he gave us a little candlestick which angels would fly around when you lit the candle.
Bryant’s friends made sand candles at the 40th birthday party he gave himself, alas, only 21 years ago. He and Gene Fleet made a paradise garden on the Tunitas bluffs, planting right over the tracks of the old Ocean Shore railroad. When my daughter disappeared, they brought food to the house, even if I couldn’t eat.
They had Joe and the kids build a bridge over a gulf their goats would not cross, and I wrote a poem about it.
He blew the conch to summon the herdsmen.
From the next valley came an answering call.
And lo! The Golden Goatway Bridge
built of huge stringers and consummate daring
crossed over the sheer drop to the ocean.
Bridges are something else, he said.
The children cut the ribbon.
He drove the gold stake.
The goats refused to walk across
to honor the occasion;
in fact, Bryant chased them up the cliff,
looking like a goat himself,
but gathering ceremonial flowers.
When he changed his tactic
and ran away from the goats, they chased him.
“The goats have taught me all I know,”
he said, panting,
distributing the flowers.
Nov. 15, 1947-July 9, 2008
(Picture is Bryant at my piano Feb. 2, 1984)
Michaele Benedict is the author of “Searching for Anna,” for more information please click here