Matthews: My friend, Pablamente

Aug. 19, 2014 @ 10:04 AM

He was quiet, wore glasses and was the kind of redhead that ran a real risk of bursting into flame when exposed to the sun. He was also one of the smartest, and most talented kids in our class.

I was chubby, loud and suffering through the culture shock of our recent move from San Diego to a little town in Eastern North Carolina.

Somehow, we recognized a kindred spirit in each other. I don’t remember meeting him; I just know that very soon after our sophomore year in high school started, we were buddies.  We carpooled to school, were always partners in class projects and hung out constantly.

I think he liked my busy, boisterous family, where there was always room for one more at the dinner table.  His peaceful, reserved home life was both a revelation and a respite for me.

He was the one that talked me into joining the yearbook staff. I loved it because it reminded me how much I love writing. I guess he’s a big part of what I do now.

I have a penchant for renaming my friends. My name for him was Pablamente. He complained that I had made him into an adverb, but I think he secretly liked it.

I’m bossy and opinionated. I’d bluster and bully, and with a twinkle in his eye, he’d give in on the small stuff. But his quiet thoughtfulness was the dominant force in our twosome.

His mom, when a girl, had been a dancer. As a semiprofessional, she’d often been on a local radio show. I loved to tease him, asking if she left scratches and dents from all that dancing on the radio set and if she ever fell off.  

He adored my parents. He called my dad “Richard”, and my mom “Rona.” The Richard came from racer Petty, because my dad was, and remains, something of a daredevil behind the wheel. The Rona came from Rona Barrett, a famous, loquacious gossip columnist from the ’80s (I’ll let you figure that one out on your own).

When he heard about the founding of the N.C. School of Science and Math, he applied to be in their inaugural class. Being one of the smartest guys I knew, there was no doubt that he would be accepted. 

When he was rejected, I was floored. At least one of the other kids from school that had been accepted could not hold an intellectual candle to him. Outraged on his behalf, I fiercely insisted he appeal the decision, even though it meant I would lose my buddy. He did, and was a member of the first graduating class at NCSSM.

Pablamente ate countless meals at our table. He loved my Italian mother’s authentic spaghetti and Sunday gravy. Not being a fan, on spaghetti night, I’d always wish for my favorite, potato salad. His Catholic family had originally come from Syria.  Later I discovered a dish that was the perfect culinary melding of us both.

Pablamente’s Syrian Potato Salad

12 average sized red-skinned potatoes, boiled ‘til tender, cooled, peeled, and cut into cubes


1 bunch green onions, sliced

1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

¼ cup olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together dressing.   Cover and refrigerate for an hour for flavors to blend.  Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Pour most of dressing over them, and stir to coat.  Add more if needed.  Cover and let rest at room temp until service.

Serves 6.

After we graduated from our respective high schools, I married and Pablamente went off to college (where he had a double-major), and we didn’t see each other very much. But when we did, it was always just the same. This past fall we had lunch, teasing and laughing the whole time. There’s a strong possibility that at one point iced tea came out of my nose.

Last week, my friend died. Our friend Lucy summed him up perfectly. He was a gentle soul. 

Farewell, Pablamente. I love you.

If you are struggling, know that there are people that love you.  Please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Thanks for your time.

Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is