Richard Joseph Lanoue (1947-2023) was a neurodivergent calendar savant who lived in Omaha, Nebraska.
My older brother Richard Joseph Lanoue, born on October 6, 1947, had a phenomenal memory. Tell him your birthday and he would remember it always. Once, in sixth or maybe seventh grade (my memory isn't as sharp as Rick's), I brought three pals from school home to meet him—just once. Over forty years later, I asked him if he remembered Jim Chess, Mike Gaffney, and John Ward. He not only remembered them; he remembered and recited their birthdays.
Confined to a wheelchair his whole life due to cerebral palsy, Rick had the use of one hand with one typewriter-pecking index finger, which he put to good use, recording hundreds of pages of memories. In later years, he lost the use of that hand and finger, sadly ending both his writing career and his ability to play Christmas songs on his electric chord organ.
Not long after his 76th birthday, he fell sick. His doctor at first thought it was pneumonia, but a body scan abruptly changed the diagnosis to stage four colon cancer. I rushed to Omaha to spend three days with him—the first at his hospital room in Intensive Care, the next two at his hospital-adjacent nursing home. Big brother was in bad shape; he couldn't talk; couldn't even will his facial muscles to smile. This was really sad, because Rick usually had an earnest, generous smile that could light up any room.
I told him how years ago I had taken four of the memories that he had typed long ago and laid them out on the page as short little poems. I had initially thought to put together a book but later (I can't remember why) abandoned this project. I had recently come across these four "found poems" while clearing out my office at my university.
I read these four snippets from his History of the Family to Rick. Would he like to publish a book of memories in poetic form to give to friends and family? (He blinked for "Yes.") Would he like his name to appear in the book as Richard Joseph Lanoue? (He closed his eyes for "No.") Rick Lanoue, then? (He blinked).
Rick loved Christmas. Every year since 1967 he hosted a family Christmas show—for most years in the basement rec room of our home in Omaha but during and since the Covid pandemic, via Zoom. I suggested to him that he might give this book to relatives and friends as a Christmas present. Would he like that? (Firm blink.)
Rick didn't live to see this collection of his memories. A few days after our conversation, he passed away—on November 4, 2023.
So here they are: words he wanted to share about his olden days, age ten to thirty-five. Rick Lanoue's Christmas present for the world.
—David G. Lanoue