One year ago, we lost this dear man:
I met him about 20 years ago, and adored him immediately. One of the first things that struck me about him was how much he loved to laugh. He had this great chuckle … and when something really hit him funny, he would throw back his head, slap his thigh, and really let it go.
Born on the first day of 1916, Bill was from a different era, and I’m not sure he ever truly left it. Sure, he dipped his toe in ours from time to time, and certainly wasn’t disconnected or ignorant of what was going on in the world. He just chose to let some of it pass by without his participation. Newer technology amused him, but I think he viewed much of it as a toy, and he wasn’t interested in playing with it. Bill pretty much stopped with the television remote because, really, what else do you need? Because of his military service and subsequent jobs, he traveled the world, and saw things that became historically significant. Those things affected him greatly. But I don’t think any of those things changed the essence of who Bill was from the beginning. Simple things pleased him – a good meal, a silly joke, a great baseball game (or even a bad one), reading the newspaper every day, and hearing about other people’s lives. Like any of us, he had his flaws – notoriously tight with money, easily rattled, stubborn beyond all reason sometimes. But he was also a good provider for his family, a veteran of WWII, and once he loved you, he loved you. Period. Bill was also a gentleman – even at his advanced age, he preferred to open doors for me, instead of the other way around. As long as he was able, he stood every time a woman came into the room. He said grace at every meal and was always neatly dressed. He always complimented his wife on how she looked and he was your best audience when you were telling a story. I think those things were so ingrained in him, he never really thought about it – they just happened. As we say in the South, his mama raised him right. And, boy! did he ever love his mama.
Alzheimer’s began to take him from us long before he actually died, but even in his last months, a glimpse of his true self would fight its way to the surface. One of my last memories of Bill might be my favorite. We had gone to visit for a weekend, and he was quiet and didn’t leave his chair for most of the weekend … observing but no longer participating in the lives that spun around him. I think he finally figured out who I was only a few hours before we left. When it came time to leave, I went over to give him a hug, and said, “You take care of yourself, ok? I love you.” He murmured, “I love you, too,” sort of vaguely, and I walked across the room to leave. As I got to the door, I heard, “But don’t tell your husband, ok?” I turned around, and saw the real Bill – his hand lifted, pointing at me, chuckling and grinning. And he winked.