SPENCER - It was a summer day in Kennebunkport several years ago and Brenda Cloutier was struggling on the steep dock at low tide, trying to manage a cart filled with a weekend's worth of supplies while helping her son to their boat, when she heard a voice.

"Young lady," a man said, "let us help you with that."

She turned to look and was stunned to see George H.W. Bush telling Secret Service agents to give her a hand. She opened her mouth but nothing came out.

After they helped her load up, she said a courteous goodbye, trying to respect Mr. Bush's privacy.

But Mr. Bush wasn't going to have that. He'd taken a liking to her son, Brian Cloutier, a special-needs adult who couldn't fathom that this man was the president when his mother made a more formal introduction.

"I told him, 'Brian, this is the president,' and he said 'No, he's not. My cousin Wayne is the president,' " Mrs. Cloutier recalled, explaining that their cousin Wayne D. Andrews was the president of Morehead State University in Kentucky at the time.

Mr. Bush recognized that the news of another president was upsetting his new friend.

"And so he just put his hand up and he told Brian, 'That's OK, you can call me Papa George,' " Mrs. Cloutier said.

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, probably because Brian didn't care who Mr. Bush had been, only that they were buddies who sat side by side, shared hugs and, during subesquent visits to Maine, lamented about wheelchairs. When Papa George began relying on a wheelchair, Brian, who sometimes uses one, told him, "It's not so bad."

The two visited often and Brian seemed to almost sense when his friend was in town. Brian always sent Papa George a birthday card and tucked in a scratch ticket - they had planned to split any winnings.

Some days they saw one another as they tossed off the lines at the dock and headed out to sea. The Cloutiers would always try to make way for Papa George, who would tell them their bigger boat had the right of way, before falling in behind him.

Once they hit the open water, though, he'd open it up and blow by them with a wave - something his son, George W. Bush, spoke about when he eulogized his father on Wednesday.

There were tears when news of Papa George's death hit the Cloutier home last week. Brian has lost more than a few important people in his life, including Barbara Bush, who once wrote on a photograph that she and George were standing on the beach looking toward Wells where the Cloutiers have a home. The photograph hangs in Brian's room.

"Can you see us?" she wrote.

Brian would like to see her and his dear friend but he understands he can't. He puts things simply.

"He's gone," he said of Papa George. "When you're gone, you're gone and you don't come back."

His parents know he is processing this loss and will feel it more when he gets to Maine in the summer and his friend isn't there. They've reassured him that Papa George is with Barbara and Jesus and is enjoying heaven.