WILLIAM B. KELLER
This book is dedicated to the love of my life that I will never learn to be without; Diane Jill (Evers) Keller
“and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in no wise be cast out” Book of Mormon.
This is my story about my Jill. Those that know her may find some of the events within this work not quite accurate, or in some instances actually untrue. Although that is most certainly not my attempt, on the other hand I don't care. This is my memories of my beautiful sweet darling, and I will assure my readers the things you read here are real and as they happened to me. There have been some unfortunate instances in recent years regarding authors who purport their work to be true and without error, and I would submit to you that, except in the cases where they were intentionally falsifying their work, everyone's remembrance of an event is different and not necessarily a deliberate falsehood. I am going to great length to explain this phenomenon because I would rather face anything than to discredit Jill's memory in any way. So I ask for forgiveness in advance regarding any following mistakes, and invite you to know the woman I loved all my life and will continue to love for eternity, the way I know her.
2 William B Keller
ONE My personal knowledge of the girls is limited in their early days, as I was not in the picture for the first fourteen years of Jill's life; but more on that later. Her mother, Marva, was one of a large family of brothers and sisters. There was also Walter, (always known as Buzz), Frank (he was Frankie), Avis, Gene, Daryl, Barbara (Barb), Russell, and
3 the baby of the family Linda. Her father Gayle on the other hand had two brothers, George and Cloyd (everyone calls him Hoot), and a sister, Martha Jane, who went by Jane. The Kaufman's, which they proudly remind everyone to this day, is with one f, are a close knit family and tragedies, both great and small, are a huge blow to them. She was born on September 3, 1949 in Lima, Ohio to Gayle and Marva Evers. Jill was the firstborn of two daughters, her sister Jan following her but only chronologically, as the two sisters loved each other and were fiercely protective of one another. Not that they never had any stereotyped ‘sisterly moments’ in their lives. A favorite place to play in their neighborhood when they were growing up was at the home of the Early girls. They fit Jill and Jan so well because they too were not strictly into dolls and dresses, so a good game of baseball or a wrestle in the dirt was not out of the question. One lazy summer day Jill and Jan decided to go to the Early’s to play, but for some long forgotten reason Gayle decided the girls would stay at home. Of course they knew that since he drove an eighteen wheeler all night and slept very little during the day, all they had to do was wait for a few minutes after he sat in his favorite chair and he would be asleep. They heard the snoring coming from the living room, tiptoed in and slid the still burning unfiltered Camel from between his fingers, then stubbed it out in his pedestal ash tray. Burned fingers would wake him for sure. Tiptoeing out the front door, a purely symbolic gesture because once he allowed the allure of sleep to overcome him, their father would not have awakened for much of anything short of war breaking out in his living room, and then it might have been questionable, the girls grabbed a ball and bat and they were off. Soon the games began, and along with them all thought of their sleeping father was gone. Jill grabbed the heavy wooden bat, too heavy for her to handle in the first place, and took a mighty practice
4 swing. To her surprise she solidly connected, that wonderfully satisfying feel of connecting with your target, the delicious sting of contact vibrating up to the elbows. The problem was the connection was with Jan’s head. Jan dropped like a vanquished boxer walking into a straight right in the late rounds, landing in a crumpled heap near home plate. The girls stared at Jill for a long moment, Jill returning their gaping, slack jawed, bulging eyes gaze with a mirrored image of her own. Simultaneously, almost like they had practiced the routine, they all started to scream. The sound unglued Jill’s feet and she ran for home, not even pausing to toss aside the heavy bat. The war occurring in Gayle Evers’ living room that could not wake him up did not happen, something with much more noise and intensity came instead, catapulting him from his chair before he was even completely awake. It was his oldest daughter screaming in hysteria, the bat slung over her shoulder, “I just killed Jan, I just killed Jan.” Needless to say, they traveled the distance to the Early home without their feet once touching the ground, the wooden bat at long last discarded without further thought. Of course, arriving at the Early girls’ home, they found a cranky Jan rubbing at a growing egg on her forehead. The treatment that led to a full recovery was a dish towel wrapped in ice and one week of being grounded inside the house for going away without permission. Perhaps it will help you understand Jill's feisty character a bit better by telling some things about her dad. His brother George provided most of this information, and when he told me tales of Gayle's exploits I shook my head and thought that if these stories were fiction, they would never sell because no one would ever accept such outlandish lies. One of the secrets to good fiction is presenting it in such a way that the reader can wrap their mind around the fantasy in such a way that the lie can be forgiven. When you read Stephen King's "Salem's Lot", he is so masterful in presenting the
5 "reality" of vampires that the reader accepts it and for the time they are so immersed in the story they believe in them. Gayle's stories are true, and that is what saves them from being over the line of acceptable believability. When he was a boy, Gayle lived in a very hard part of Lima. There were no tree lined streets with lush green lawns, a late model car in the driveway, two registered dogs of the latest fashionable breed, and flowers in the window boxes every spring. Instead the trees were scraggly and carved more than half to death with initials from the boys in the neighborhood, the dogs were mutts with the mange, and Canadian thistles competed with dandelions as the ornaments of beauty in the hard scrabble front lawns. An alley in back of their house was the most convenient way to come home, so all the children in the neighborhood rode their bikes that way, maneuvering around the discarded tires, broken refrigerators, skeletons of sofas, and various other debris that adorned the rutted unpaved surface. Then, just as now, young entrepreneurs sprang up to make money for their wants and needs, which to any boy past the age of nine in Gayle's neighborhood was cigarettes and beer. To this end, riding home one day on his bicycle he encountered five boys, looking a lot like the motley dogs in the area, blocking his path with their bodies, legs planted wide and arms folded across their chests. He slid to a halt and laid his bike on its side, eyeing the quintet with suspicion, knowing something was coming. "Hey there Evers," the oldest and biggest boy said with a sneer in his voice, his authority and confidence obvious in his tone. He was a head taller and twenty pounds heavier than Gayle, a very big difference at that age. "I see you're using our alley." Gayle squinted into the sunlight, tilting his head to one side in question. "I don't remember this alley ever belonging to you Randy," he said evenly, his voice and the look in his eyes even then something that made people take a step back. The boys were
6 brothers, well known in the neighborhood as trouble and would fit today’s criteria as a gang. Randy cleared his throat, the thin thread of fear pushing against his vocal chords, and tried to maintain his bravado. “Well now, let me tell you Evers,” he replied, wincing slightly when his voice cracked just a bit. “Me and my brothers wondered who owned this here alley, and when we couldn’t find noone who said it was theirs, we decided it must be ours.” He nodded his head twice, hard, as if to emphasize his position. “So, we decided since we own it we’d charge a nickel to go down this here alley of ours. Every time too. So, either pay us the nickel or go back the way you came.” Gayle smiled now, perhaps because he appreciated the concept of making money from the dirty alley, or perhaps, and much more likely, because he knew there was going to be a fight. “What’s it going to be Randy, one at a time or all at once?” he inquired. “Huh?” the bigger boy grunted, with brains not being his strongest suit he was confused because the script was not going exactly as they had planned. Gayle tightened his shoulders and bent his head back and forth, loosening his muscles and at the same time flexing his hands in and out of fists. He hopped up and down twice on his toes, and then moved into a classic fighter’s stance, left foot forward, fists raised, and elbows tight against his sides. “I figure if it’s all of you at once you’ve got a little bit of a chance to win,” he said, his grin making him appear almost maniacal. “One or two of you at a time and I know I will be home in five minutes. Either way, let’s go.” Randy looked incredulously at his brothers. “You know what Evers,” the big boysaid, “I think maybe we can make an exception for you. Ride through our alley any time you want.” “And my brothers and my sister too,” Gayle added. “And your brothers and sister too,” the boy agreed, and the matter was ended.
7 One evening at dinner, Gayle asked his brother Cloyd what was wrong. Cloyd told him some boys knocked him off his bicycle and kept it, and because there were six or seven of them he couldn’t get it back. Without comment Gayle left the table and exited the house through the back door. Minutes later he returned with the bike and leaned itagainst the house. He came backto the table with bruised and bleeding knuckles, a swelling lip, and his left eye swelling shut. He simply ate his dinner and no words were spoken of the incident. George was once walking with a girl in the neighborhood when she left out a startled dry. “Oh look,” she said, pointing toward the end of their street. “There’s a boy fighting four boys at once, and they are all bigger. Someone needs to help him before he gets hurt.” George peered down the street, ready to help the hapless fellow, then relaxed. “It’s okay,” he replied, “it’s Gayle. It’s the other four who need help.” My favorite Gayle story involves the Navy during World War Two. He was assigned duty on a destroyer, his work in the engine room both stifling and extremely dangerous. Because of the sacrifices all the men and women were making and the security issues always in the forefront of the high command, very little leave was allowed when the ships made port around the world to take on supplies or make repairs. One exception was when a brother or sister was in the same port as a sailor on one of the ships. Gayle solved that problem by declaring he had a brother in every port the ship landed, securing liberty and a trip to town for fun and the opportunity to see the world. There was not a lot of attention paid to who was requesting sibling leaveas it was called, so he had little trouble executing his plan. Either a jealous shipmate or some carefully doing their duty finally called into question how this sailor seemed to have a brother or sister in the last five ports of call, and the inquiry finally escalated to the ship’s
8 captain. Nothing was said, because there was no way to prove the wily seaman had been scamming them, so the captain simply waited for the next port. As the ship was tugged into the dock, sailor’s submitted their requests for leave to visit siblings or close family members. The captain was not disappointed as Seaman Evers sent a request to meet with his brother George, stationed on land with the Army. The trap was set and now sprung. Two armed Sea Patrol personnel, the Navy’s version of the police, escorted Gayle to thebridge. Perhaps a week or two in the brig on bread and water would cure his wayward charge. Puffed up in his authority and secure in his knowledge, the captain looked down his nose at Gayle and said, “Young man, there is no way you have a brother in this port. I can’t prove anything regarding our past stops, but this time I’ve got you. You can take my punishment or demand a trial, which you will lose and it will become a permanent part of your record. Which will it be?” “Captain,” Gayle said without hesitation, “I think neither. I will go visit my brother George.” “Men,” the captain barked at the SP’s, “take this man on shore and find his brother. When you cannot find him return him to me for punishment.” “And if we find a brother sir?” one SP asked timidly. “You won’t,” the captain snapped, “but if you do, bring him to me as well. I want to verify this brother.” They left the ship, and a search of the Army garrison found one George Evers! The two brothers were returned to the ship in shackles and only after the captain verified George’s records did he relent and allow them to go. Fate stood in the way of Navy justice, as Gayle was purely guessing when he submitted his brother’s name. From what I have been told, the Evers boys and their sister Jane got their strong will honestly as well. Their mother, Loretta, lived a survivor’s life, and her husband John met her when she was a singer in a nightclub. That is not a big deal today, but at that
9 time such activities by a lady was somewhat scandalous. But she was a good singer and did it to make a living and never apologized for it. John owned his own trucking company, which consisted of a number of eighteen wheelers he owned and hired drivers to haul freight for him. He must have been a strong person, because I was told of an incident where he had a deadline with some freight. It was get it delivered or lose payment for the shipment, and that was not going to happen. The night of the delivery fog was so severe that traffic was halted and no one was on the roads. John took two lanterns, walked a few feet in front of his truck, and marked the road on each side. The fog was so dense he could only move about ten feet at a time. He climbed down from the cab of the truck, set the lanterns, and climbed back in, driving forward to the edge of the lanterns. He then climbed down, moved them ahead ten feet, climbed back in, and repeated the process from Lima to Toledo, the destination of his freight. An hour and a half trip took all night, and as he arrived at the terminal he had to wake a watchman to gain entrance, as no trucks had arrived that night. Ten feet at a time, he delivered his load. Because the dockworkershad all been long ago sent home, he unloaded the truck himself, and when the fog finally lifted he took a new full trailer and made the return trip to Lima. This was one determined man. Fate is cruel, and one day his insurance premiums were due, so he gave the money to his wife and told her to deliver the payment that day. She failed to get it there and one of their drivers chose that day to get into an accident of which he was at fault. The resulting lawsuit, devoid of insurance coverage, wiped him out. Gayle once said that was the only time he had ever seen his father cry.
We see where Jill got her spirit and fearlessness, and she and Jan grew up like most other kids, ornery perhaps but neither with the least spirit of meanness or contention. I met Jill in the spring of 1963 not too long after my fourteenth birthday. My parents were looking for a new church to join, so we went from Sunday to Sunday on a quest for spiritual fulfillment. Our small Methodist church near Lafayette was a nice church with good people, but it was so small that the pastor was almost always either a
11 student or at best a new seminary graduate who shared his time with two or more churches to earn enough to support his own family. Honorable and decent, but not the best atmosphere for young children’s programs. So, the search for a new church home began. We had some interesting misfires during our visits, including the quiet service that erupted with screaming and rolling in the aisles when members “caught the spirit” as my dad said later. That was fine, but I was sitting beside a lady who dropped and rolled like a practice session during fire prevention week, and when she started screaming I nearly joined her. That one was a pretty easy decision, at least for my family. Most Sunday’s were pretty benign, just not what we were looking for, or I should say not what my parents were looking for, because when you are fourteen years old you go where your mom and dad take you. Not that we didn’t have our moments of fun in the process. A church event that actually happened when we were on vacation involved a pastor who was apparently preparing for the service by getting a breath of fresh air. We had arrived at this church in a long forgotten city and state while traveling, as in those days vacations were always by car, never flying, and as we prepared to exit the car this fellow came out of a back door. He had snow white hair, very pale skin, almost albino like, and was wearing a flowing white robe. Even his shoes were white, with his legs covered with knee length white dress socks. The pastor lifted his arms skyward, bending his back as well as throwing his head to the rear in what was undoubtedly a major league stretch, but the process gave him the look of Gabriel without his trumpet. “Oh look,” I quipped, “it’s an angel.” We all got the giggles, and when we got settled down and decided to go in, we started in again. Try as we might, none of could make the transition from the car to the interior of the church without dissolving into stomach hurting laughter. We ultimately
12 gave in and continued on our journey as sinners, because there was no church attendance that day. I think another reason my parents got the idea of looking for a new church was because there was a lack of programs like Christmas Eve services. We went to one in Lima, and I forgot my suit jacket, which was a serious infraction for anyone, including a youngster, in those days. So, I was forced to wear my topcoat to hide my white shirt, and as the church was warm and the hour late, I snuggled into my topcoat like a caterpillar in a cocoon and was soon fast asleep. It is now a bit of true confession time; I snore. Even as a youngster I had the trait, and in the middle of a lovely tune during the cantata I left out a loud snork. Horrified, my mother elbowed me awake, which was a successful maneuver for perhaps a full minute. Again I added my note to the singing, drawing looks this time, and the process continued two or three more times. When the quick looks became people turning around and glaring, we finally gave up and slinked out in the middle of the program. One fateful Sunday we tried Forest Park Evangelical United Brethren Church, a growing congregation on Lima’s east side, and as we entered a classmate of minefrom school met us at the door. This pleased my parents, because I immediately knew someone, definitely making an improvement to my comfort zone. My friend Tanya took immediate charge of me, and I was instantly at ease. “Sunday School class is about to begin,” she said, “it’s in the chapel where the choir sits during the service.” We walked into the back of the spacious chapel, and at the front, sideways facing the podium where the pastor stood when giving his sermon, the fourteen year old class had gathered. We moved forward, my eyes looking toward the group. Sitting on the end of a pew, her profile almost a blur to me from that distance, was a girl. The instant my eyes touched her, the very exact instant, I said to myself, “I am going to marry her someday.”
13 Trust me, the experience was as bizarre to me as I know it is to anyone I ever told this to, but that is exactly how it happened. I scared myself with the thought, but there was no denying the truth. This was the girl I was going to marry. I held my breath as we moved forward, and although I didn’t want to act the fool,I failed and grabbed Tanya’s arm as we approached the class. “I want to meet that girl on the end first,” I rasped conspiratorially, and fortunately Tanya didn’t act like I was the idiot I was being at the moment. Instead she said with a delighted smile, “Oh, you mean Jill. She’s my best friend here at church.” Jill. Jill. My heart pounded, the name imprinted instantly and forever in my mind and just writing it, seeing it,speaking it, thinking it, makes my heart ache with love and devotion. My Jill. My dear, wonderful Jill. She was looking at me, a slight frown furrowing her eyebrows, because Tanya had just introduced us and I was standing stupidly with my mouth hanging open like the opening of a birdhouse, caressing her name in my mind. “Oh,” I blurted, startled back to reality with an unpleasant jolt, and then finished with a lame “nice to meet you.” What an idiot. “Good to meet you,” she said in return, giving me the first smile of our life, the very thing I always thrilled to see no matter how many times I was blessed by it. That was it. I knew we had to choose that church, I had to stop being a moron, and somehow I had to make this girl who was completely oblivious to me fall as achingly in love with me as I was with her. This shouldn’t be too hard.
I now know God’s hand was involved in sending us to that church, so my campaign to convince my parents that the search was over had nothing to do with my sales skills, because the decision was made from above. The Forest Park Church was it,
14 later to merge with the Methodists and be known as United Methodist. I wasn’t the least bit concerned with doctrines and dogma; remember I was fourteen, and I did what any healthy red blooded boy entering puberty would do, I worshiped a girl. Wonderfully, I never grew out of it. All I know for sure is my mom and dad was satisfied with what they found and soon we were members, and then I knew the rest was up to me. Although she never admitted an instant attraction to me as well, apparently something clicked because we became what I call church boyfriend and girlfriend. At fourteen we weren’t dating, remember it was the sixties, but then just as now boys were drawn to girls and vice versa. So we sat together at church, took walks before and after the weekly youth fellowship meeting, and held hands when we thought no one was looking. It was the perfect arrangement and helped carry forward my master plan, which was marriage at, oh I don’t know, perhaps fifteen? The pastor of the church, Ron Ricard, is a jewel of a person. He was fairly new when I came into the picture, and making a very good impression on the congregation. I remember Jill saying, “He took over for Reverend Roebuck, and I was upset. How could anyone replace him, and how dare anyone try. I decided I wasn’t going to like him and I didn’t care if he knew it. It just wasn’t right that he took over. Well, it wasn’t very long that I was won over, and I truly love him. He is the most wonderful man.” Jill went with the youth as a delegate to Colorado and it was one of the fonder memories of her life. They traveled by train and saw many sights as well as doing their work, and I think that trip sealed her love for Reverend Ricard. She stayed in touch with the family always, and when I called him about the Jill, he was obviously heartbroken. The reverend’s dear wife is equally as precious as he, and when I met her I immediately saw an exact replica of Julie Andrews. Being the introvert I am, and yes I know that is a lie, of course I immediately told her and asked her to sing the theme from The Sound of Music. Bless her, she was as embarrassed as I am uninhibited, and just
15 blushed. So, forever more, I know her simply as Julie. To add to her embarrassment, whenever I see her I add, “And not only do you look exactly like Julie Andrews, you are the prettiest preacher’s wife I’ve ever seen.” I now add, “Still the prettiest preacher’s wife I’ve ever seen,” and she is. If the world were only full of the Ricard’s, we would have no wars, hatred, or strife. Neither has a mean cell in their entire body.
The next big step in my relationship with Jill came at my sixteenth birthday. In Marchof 1965 I obtained the most important document of a young boy’s life, a driver’s license. Just to make things better, my dad owned the first Ford Mustang in Allen County. That may not sound like much, but to get the first models you purchased the car, sight unseen, months before the first one went to production. And that is paid in full, no sixty or seventy-two month loans like today, you paid for the car or you did not get the car. That was hot! Access to a Mustang was instant popularity, and a boy could get a date without trying. But I was only interested in one date, and fortunately my hard work was still working because we were still an item. Another disadvantage in my plan was we attended rival high schools. I attended Bath, a township school that was a bitter rival to Jill’s school, Elida, a village on the west side of Lima. I don’t remember it as ever being a problem though. I played football and our two schools always squared off at least once each year, and both schools were perennial contenders for the Northwest Conference title, but we never had an issue. It probably helped that I was not a good player and would never have had much influence in the outcome of a game anyway. I didn’t think so at the time as you might imagine, but perhaps that was a blessing. My parents are jewels. I wrecked the Mustang several months after they took delivery and after not being injured in the accident that was also not followed with bodily injuries by my father. And for my next trick, about three months after the Mustang
16 incident, I read an article about how a Renault could not be rolled over because it was perfectly balanced. A friend of mine who was obviously as big an idiot as was I, suggested we do a hairpin turn at a high rate of speed and see what would happen. Since I am a genius I agreed, and I promptly rolled the car three times. My friend Bob was no longer in the front seat; instead he was lying on the pavement with his legs inside the car, in the back seat. I knew my life was over, I just knew it, because how could he have survived? I had actually bent the steering wheel from holding on so hard, and I turned in the broken seat and said, “Bob?” He lifted his head and looked at me, a big grin on his face. “Well, the article was wrong,” he said, and then jumped to his feet with a few scratches. The highway patrol was called, and I knew I was in trouble again, until the trooper surveyed the wreckage. “No wonder you rolled it,” he said, “the wheels are held on with a piece of aluminum and three bolts. This is not your fault.” Bob and I looked at each other and smiled. “Right,” I said, “I wondered how this could possibly happen.” I didn’t even get cited. Incidentally, Bob soon returned the favor. We were riding in his car when he saw his girlfriend walking with another guy. He stopped, made a scene, and she climbed in the back seat of his automobile. She claimed it was innocent; who knows maybe it was, and at this long past point it doesn’t much matter. But because he was angry, Bob took off way too fast on a gravel side road adjacent to a railroad track. He flew up over a hill, directly into the path of an oncoming car. He swung to the right, hitting a stand of trees beside the road. Now this is where things are fuzzy. I saw branches hitting the windshield, I remember that, and in the next instant I was out of the car, seated perfectly just as if I were still on the seat of the car, but bouncing down the gravel road on my backside. I
17 honestly to this day do not know how I was removed from the car; my best guess is by a tree branch snaking through the open window, grasping me in a horror movie style grip, and pulling me from the car. I don’t know though for sure, because it was one instant in the car, the next bouncing on the road. Just as I had done with him in reverse a few weeks before, Bob came running back, horrified and convinced I was mortally injured. “Are you hurt?” he screamed hysterically. Before I could respond he shrieked even louder as if it were my hearing that could have been damaged instead of my body, “Are you hurt?” I looked up at him and held out my hand. He grab bed it and pulled me to my feet. “Remember the accident when I was driving?” I said, a rhetorical question. “Of course,” he said, his voice trembling. “Well, we’re even,” I said, and started walking back to his car. At that point Bob started laughing. “Your pants,” he said, covering his mouth with his hand to stifle the guffaws. I reached back to my seat and discovered my pants and underwear were gone, shredded by the stone pavement. My hand touched bare skin, but there was not a drop of blood or a mark on me. So I removed my shirt, tied it around my waist, and we went on our way. Then, just to make the situation even more perfect, my friend John Kannard started a rock band and asked me to be the lead singer. As silly as that seems today as an adult, I was suddenly white hot! We would perform on the weekends and the girls would pour from the woodwork like the incoming tide. I didn’t care; I was only interested in Jill. Another reason it is not difficult for me to explain how special Jill was is her reaction to the Mustang and my “fame” as a young Paul McCartney. She was not the least bit impressed. Not that she didn’t appreciate the band’s success or didn’t like to ride in a Mustang; it was just that that was not her motivation. She just liked being with me.
THREE Later in school I changed bands, joining as lead singer a band called The Wild Things, and we just continued on together. The one and only sidetrack was an argument we had, a big one. It caused us to break up so it must have been a major issue, but for the very life of me I have absolutely no recall of what it was about. The next few months were filled with dating other girls, remember the rock band advantage, but I found that every one was lacking some thing or other, often something I couldn’t even quite put my finger on, but it was just not right. That wasn’t fair to any of the girls because they could tell something was wrong, and it is not a fun experience to know your date just isn’t interested.
19 Finally I just simply had enough. Why was I comparing everyone to Jill when it was she I wanted, so I called her and said, “Are you as miserable as me?” “Yes I am,” she responded, adding, “I am working on getting over you, because I didn’t think you’d ever call again.” “I’ll be right over,” I said, my throat tight with anticipation. “We’ll go for a drive.” Although I can’t get anyone to believe this, we drove to the local reservoir, a popular parking spot for teens, and just talked. That is all; we just talked through the night. After what seemed like just a few minutes Jill glanced at her watch and looked at me, her face betraying a ‘oh boy, are we in trouble’ look. “It’s almost four a.m.,” she whispered. “We’ve been out all night.” “Home,” I nodded, turning the key and shifting into first gear with one motion. The Mustang responded with a roar and I flew to her house. Daybreak was sabotaging the darkness as she reached for the door handle, hesitated, then turned quickly in her bucket seat, reached across the shifter and center console, grabbed my shirt, pulled me toward her, and kissed me full on the mouth. “Call me,” she breathed, the sweetness of her exhale going into my mouth as she spoke and I inhaled it like a drowning man gasps for air. I struggled for a response, but she was already running for her front door. I waited for a full minute after she went in, trembling too hard to drive, then I floated home in a haze of fatigue and ecstasy. It was just past four thirty when I crested the hill that silhouetted my parents Bluelick Road home. I pushed hard on the gas to build speed, shut out the headlights, then turned off the engine, coasting into the driveway and keeping my foot off the brake to maintain inertia and get to the garage. In those days cars’ steering wheels did not lock
20 up when the engine was turned off, so I thought I might be able to sneak in and no one would be the wiser as to when I got in. I eased the back door open, tiptoeing into the kitchen with my shoes held in one hand, moving past the living room toward my bedroom and sanctuary. A switch clicked, the incandescent bulb hissing to life and bathing one of the high backed chairs in our living room with a circle of light. The lamp was perfect for reading, and the chair a bit formal but nonetheless comfortable and the best possible place for reading the newspaper in the evening. It was occupied by the one person who had taken ownership of the area like his own small kingdom, my father. I froze in midstride, a rabbit hunkering down in the open, somehow imagining if it doesn’t move the predator will magically not see it and move on. Unlike the rabbit I was a little smarter, not a lot just a little, and quickly realized that my ruse had failed. I turned my eyes slowly, and when that did not make contact with him, I moved my head just enough to see my father staring at me. “Good morning,” he said evenly, in a tone he would have used for a co-worker or the milk man leaving a delivery. “Hi,” I said, desperately searching for something more to say, a cute comment or perhaps a profound oration that would have carried the moment, something so amazing that he would forget my circumstance. But of course no words came. I did not dare move closer, nor did I dare retreat, so I just balanced myself between strides, my right foot not quite touching the ground, until my balance failed me and awkwardly I finally dropped it on the cold kitchen linoleum. “I see I need to take the car in for some repairs,” he continued evenly, showing no emotion. “Why’s that?” I said, not improving in the slightest my ability to speak unlike a Neanderthal.
21 “Well, it seems the lights don’t work and the engine stalled out on you,” he concluded, eyebrows arched in invitation to me for a better explanation. “I can’t have that in a brand new car now can I?” My father stretched and yawned. “There’s nothing wrong with the car,” I said sheepishly. “Oh, well then you thought maybe if you coasted in no one would know you were out all night,” he said, in a tone of mock surprise. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” I admitted. “Didn’t work,” he added. “No, it didn’t,” I reluctantly agreed. “Well, maybe if you stay home for the next two weeks you can think about it,” he finished, standing then and moving toward his own bedroom, which I would guess had my mother’s ear smashed against the door to not miss a word. “That’s fair,” I agreed, not that it made any difference. The following morning I called Jill and she immediately said, “Are you coming over tonight?” “I’ll be over every night of my life,” I said, my heart racing with excitement, “after the next two weeks.” The time flew by, because we just tied up the party line for the next two weeks, and soon life was perfect once again. Jill coming to our performances, listening again and again to the same old songs, but never once complaining. The expression that says youth is wasted on the young is so true, because we just let the time pass without savoring every moment, because time was infinite and we were young, thus immortal. The end of High School came upon us like a thief stealing our valuables, and with Viet Nam raging and the draft taking young men off to war, college was the choice of all those who could make it. Lima had a branch of The Ohio State University, and we had
22 open enrollment then, which meant anyone with a high school diploma and living in Ohio could go to OSU without any other qualifications. I remember getting my acceptance letter, which was actually a complaint letter, stating that they had no choice but to accept me, and suggesting I consider a trade school. I always regretted not keeping that letter, because I would have liked to send them a copy of my diploma when I graduated, but I just threw the letter in the trash. Freshman year was used to flunk out the least talented, and although I didn’t quite fall into that category I was certainly close. A schoolmate of mine from Bath recommended Wilmington College, a small Quaker affiliated school and summer home of the Cincinnati Bengals. Although it was expensive, they worked with students to help them make it instead of trying to make more room like the state schools. A visit to Wilmington was pleasant and inviting, and quite candidly they did not have a minimum math requirement which very much appealed to me. Soon the deed was done, and I went away to school. That was pretty much a non event in my mind when it came to Jill, but what I was not aware of she thought it would just be a matter of time before I found some Wilmington beauty and she would be left by the curb. Again, because she was amazing, at the time those words were never spoken from her lips to mine, but rather some time after our marriage. She wanted me to have the best opportunity to get the degree, and avoid the war as well, and was willing to sacrifice her heart for me in the process. Wilmington was a great experience, I met a lot of people and cultivated new friends, both male and female, but it was just that, they were friends. In fact they all knew Jill quite well without meeting her, because she was overall all I talked about. I also lost a lot of the college experience because every weekend I went home because I was ‘Jillsick’; a week was much too long to be away from her.
23 One of my great learning experiences at Wilmington College did not involve course or class work, rather it came from Paul Brown of the Bengals. I was taking some summer courses because I was one course behind and the draft board would snatch you up if you were not right on pace to graduate in four years. I took a part time job with the Bengals while they were on campus for their summer conditioning and free agent tryouts, and my assignment was to be a runner for Paul Brown. If he needed something, it was up to me to get it for him. Besides being a truly great man, he was a teacher as well. One day he motioned me over to his side. “Do you see that kid running sprints?” he asked. “The short one that’s maybe the smallest player out there.” He was easy to pick out and I said, “I see him Mr. Brown.” “Watch him,” Coach Brown said, nodding in the young man’s direction. The players were running forty yard dashes. At the end of each run they would walk back forty yards, turn immediately and run another forty yard dash. This young man was winning every race. He became so exhausted he vomited at the end of each run, and soon was bent over and gagging as he walked back for another race. Still, he never lost one sprint. Coach Brown watched for a long time, and of course I was glued to his side. He smiled and winked at me, then said, “That kid is too small to be a pro, but he has more heart and desire than any player I have ever seen. That’s what we look for in life son, because without hard work and desire talent is useless.” He walked away, turning his attention toward other aspects of the training, but when the Bengals broke camp and returned to Cincinnati, the team chosen and the roster complete, that young man was with them. It’s interesting how we go through life and don’t connect with the obvious. That’s how expressions come about, for example ‘he can’t see the forest for the trees’. We
24 wonder who authors them and why, and sometimes what they mean, but that saying fit me to a, and here’s another one,‘T’. My boyhood friend and now Wilmington College roommate, we transferred there together, Tom Clark, one day said to me, “Why are you torturing yourself like this?” “What are you talking about?” I inquired, expecting some typical college guy gross comment, and believe me we were no exceptions and had millions of them, but instead with a simple question he helped me see the forest. “Why don’t you just marry her?” he said with a shrug. “You’re driving yourself crazy anyway, so just stop it already and get it over with.” I couldn’t speak. The obviousness was so clear I was stunned to my very core that it had never occurred to me. I had a year to go in college, I had no means of support or income, I still had Viet Nam hanging over me because there was a waiting list to get in the National Guard, and there was still no guarantee I was going to graduate after another year in school. There were no obstacles.
25 You might imagine how much money I had at the time. I was driving a 1964 Chevrolet convertible, acquired via a trade in of my own first car, a 1960 Chevrolet Impala purchased for three hundred dollars, and my parents were paying for college. A trip to Service Merchandise, a poor man’s Sears, and just over one hundred dollars later I owned an engagement ring. Service Merchandise did a really good job of making a ring mount appear to be part of the tiny diamond hidden somewhere within all that metal. Still, it pretty much looked like what it was, a cheap ring. Me, forever the cool, suave character that I was, making Cary Grant look like one of the Three Stooges, handled the proposal masterfully. I was driving us toward her parents’ house, paused at a four way stop sign, reached my hand into my pocket, and with one smooth motion pulled the box from my pocket. I flipped the lid like the Marlboro Man snapping the top of his Zippo open to smoke a butt, and there stood my prize. I pulled away from the stop sign, holding the open ring box under her nose like it was scented, and announced, “I bought you a ring so we can get married. Tom says we’re driving us crazy and we should get married.” There, it was out in the open and said. I was so pleased with myself I almost wiggled like an excited puppy. My eyes were on the road, and when my arm started to tire I glanced her way to see why she had not snatched the ring from my hand. She appeared more puzzled than angry, but either reaction was not what I had rehearsed in my mind. Sort of like a rewind, I grinned, nodded my head, and waved the ring under her nose again. Finally, she reacted. Her arm pulled mine down and away from her face, then she twisted sideways in her seat and gave me a look that also fits another old saying that I then understood, ‘if looks could kill’. “What do you think you are doing?” she snapped, her cheeks turning crimson and her eyes, these incredibly gorgeous blue eyes, shooting sparks of anger, and something I always felt guilt over, hurtfulness.
26 Still the cool guy, remember I was a college senior and I used to be a lead singer in a rock band, I just grinned even wider and kind of bounced in my seat. “Isn’t it perfect? I knew you’d love it,” I roared, so excited I still was not getting the message. “We get married, we live our lives together, we, well, we just we!” I bellowed, totally losing control in my love and expectancy. Jill’sface changed slowly, the anger melting away as she watched my reaction. Once again, classic Jill, not wanting to waste time with anger. “So I gather you’re more or less asking me to marry you?” she said, smiling despite herself. “Yes,” I said, almost running the car into an adjoining cornfield. “I don’t want to be away from you anymore. If I loved you any more than I do right now I think I’d explode.” “And that would not be a very pretty picture,” she giggled. “So are you going to give me the ring or what?” I was waving the ring box around like an Italian mother making a point to her children. “Oh, yea, the ring,” I agreed, fumbling to remove it from its protective case. I almost dropped it, steered the car onto the shoulder of the road, corrected my steering, and relinquished the ring box as she pulled it from my hand. “Mister Romantic,” she sighed, removing the ring and slipping it on herself. “It’s beautiful,” she said, holding it up to the light and at least pretending she could see the sparkle. “Let’s get married right away,” I continued, my heart beating so hard I could barely hear anything over the pounding. “Today, right now. Where can we go get married right this minute?” “Slow down Speedy,” she was laughing now, my bizarre proposal forgotten with her enjoyment of my obvious enthusiasm and love, and yes, her love for me. I would learn through the years that she often would overlook my faults and shortcomings
27 because she loved me and knew I loved her. “I’m going to have a wedding, white dress and all,” she said firmly, no negotiating in her voice. “Well I suppose,” I agreed, pouting a bit in disappointment at the thought of a protracted delay. “How soon can we do this?” “Do this?” she said. “We’re talking about planning a marriage here not a ski trip. It will take a bit of time. For one thing, have you talked to my dad?” I looked at her in a combination of misunderstanding and fear. Could she mean I had to ask her father for her hand in marriage? The same person who beat up gangs to retrieve bicycles and outsmarted captainsof ships? “Ask him what?” I asked. Well, I had to maintain that little ray of hope that she meant we wanted to borrow his car or something. “You need his permission to marry me silly,” she said. “That’s how it’s done.” Out of all the plans, schemes, prayers, problems, and fears I had endured since I was fourteen to get me to the goal of marrying my dream girl, this one almost tore a hole in the bottom ofthe boat. How could I possiblyask Gayle to allow me to marry his daughter? Besides, I couldn’t marry her if I was dead. I tumbled this problem around in my mind, wondering how I could do this. Maybe a long distance call, like from Iceland or something, or maybe I could write a letter. In the end I was more concerned that Jill would tell me if I didn’t have the courage to do this like a man I could just take a hike. But I was so scared, how could I possibly do such a thing? But my love conquered fear. I asked him to go fishing one weekend evening, and while sitting quietly for a time without a bite from the fish, they were probably too terrified to come near him as well; I finally cleared my throat and began. “Can I talk to you about something?” I asked, much more timidly than I had intended.
28 “Is Jill pregnant?” he growled, flipping his half smoked Camel into the water as if to free his hands to wrap around my throat. “No, no of course not,” I blurted, fear grasping my chest like a vise and making me wonder is someone as young as I could have a heart attack. “That’s not it at all,” I added unnecessarily. He relaxed a bit, shook out another Camel, lit it with his Zippo that he bought when he was in the Navy, and breathed out a thick cloud of blue smoke. He appeared in silhouette to be a construction paper cutout purchased at the fair, the night interrupted slightly by the glow at the tip of the cigarette. “What is it you want to ask me?” he inquired. My throat clicked with dryness, sweat breaking out all over me and I shuddered despite the heat of the evening as it trickled down my back, tickling my spine and cooling me as it evaporated. “I wanted to ask your permission to marry Jill,” I fairly croaked, probably sounding like a frightened child. I think he smiled, in the darkness it could have been that or a grimace, but I prefer to hope it was a smile. He blew another huge cloud of smoke before he answered. “Well, here’s the thing. If you love her and she loves you, then I’m alright with it.” He turned then and looked hard into my eyes, even the darkness of the night not muting the penetration of his gaze. “But here’s the thing. You treat her right, and I will tell you right now, if you ever hit her I will kill you.” I didn’t move, my eyes smarting because I needed to blink but I didn’t even do that. I knew he was totally serious. “I would never hurt Jill, and if I did I would want you to kill me,” I said, totally earnest in my answer to him as well. He nodded slowly and winked at me. “Good. That’s good.” He turned back to his fishing.
29 I tried to go back to my fishing as well, but my hands shook so badly I couldn’t bait my hook. I finally gave up and just tossed my line back in the water with a bare hook. He caught several fish that night and wondered why I had such poor luck. I said it must have been because he was just better at it than I. Things were different between us after that night. Gayle accepted me, I was one of his equals, but I never was foolish enough to think it was because I was tough or macho. It was because he wanted Jill to be happy. All I know for sure is that I survived the experience and Jill was still my girl. Remember I said it was too much time to wait to get married? Well, it was. Way too much for my taste, but at long last December 12, 1970 arrived. Jill’s number one criteria was no rain on the day of her wedding. Snow was acceptable, cold weather was a necessary evil, but rain was completely out. That’s why she chose December. Of course, it rained that day, but as I look back on the day I don’t think she really noticed. I made a major mistake the day of our wedding. My Chevrolet had given way to a small Austin America, an import that touted good gas mileage, and every penny counts when you get married with no job. But that was not my mistake. What I did wrong was I left the car unlocked. Since I invited a group of my college friends, and I might add these were a group of boys who had named our dormitory floor Horny Hall. As fast as someone would stencil it on the doors at each end of the hall the school custodian would paint it out. I would guess that door had fifty or so coats of paint on that six by twelve inch area. We were married in the chapel, moved into the cultural hall for the reception, opened every gift, and at long last were ready to leave. Going to the car, Jill holding her dress in both hands to keep out of the rain puddles, we saw the traditional tin cans tied to the rear bumper. “That’s cute,” she said, “And I like the just married in soap on the back window.”
30 I opened her door and she gave a little squeal. The car was filled with balloons, confetti, rice, and balled up newspaper. It was jammed with the stuff, almost to the point of bursting. The Horny Hall boys were laughing hysterically in a tight little group, wanting me to know they were the culprits. It took perhaps fifteen minutes for me to clear the car of the debris, finally prepared to drive off toward our long awaited wedding night. The car would not start. The boys were wiping tears from their faces by now, and finally one took mercy on me because I know nothing about fixing cars and connected whatever it was that was preventing our exit. Finally the car started and we were on our way. Because of the winter weather the windshield was frosty so I turned on the defroster to clear the ice. The vents were crammed with rice, and the warm air blew the grains into our faces like tiny bullets. We owned that car for about two more years, and every time the defroster was used at least a few grains of rice blew out. Here we go again, another expression, ‘heaven on earth’. I was living it. We moved to Wilmington and lived in the upstairs of a house on Spring Street. The couple who rented it to us had built a staircase for a private entrance and supplemented their income by ninety dollars a month. We had no control of the heat temperature and of course no air conditioning, but electric and water was included so we thought we were doing alright too. We were newlyweds, were totally broke, I was still going to class, we had no social life, and we were ecstatically happy. Our big treat was walking down to the United Dairy Farmers about once each week to get an ice cream cone. History pretty much repeats itself from generation to generation, so my saying jobs were scarce could be today as easily as 1970. Jill worked for a short time in Washington Court House at Steele’s Data Processing, basically a sweat shop for data entry workers, and fortunately that miserable experience did not last too long.
31 I applied for part time jobs around the city, finally landing a position at a Koco Lene gas station in Wilmington. We at least then had money for gas and an occasional shopping trip, although we never bought anything. The thing is we were happy. Throughout our married life we would often suggest, let’s call so and so, maybe do dinner or a movie, or just visit. Sometimes I would say, or other times Jill would say, let’s just spend the night together. I don’t want to share you with anyone. If we would have been dumped on a deserted island, doomed to live with no contact with anyone for the rest of our days, we would have done just fine. That’s why Wilmington was such a great way to start, just us and no money. I won a thirteen inch black and white television and we used the rabbit ears build into the set to watch some television, but being with one another was all we really needed. One subject I want to broach because I think it is important to young people and something that was always important to us, but yet is private and personal, so I will at the same time be a bit cryptic. We were newlyweds and madly in love, and as such being very physically close, a truly wonderfully blessing from our Creator, is way past description a wonderful thing. I am so very grateful that for both of us, that special bond we call sex, was not consummated until we married, and neither of us have ever experienced that act with another person. This little sidebar is not a judgment of anyone or others, because especially with the exuberance of youth and the opportunities that become placed in front of us, many people have multiple experiences. And just as words cannot be unsaid, neither can actions be undone. I just am grateful that she is the one, the one and only one, and I was hers. Remember that my younger readers, and think about it before you make decisions in your own life. As I look back on our Wilmington days, they seem almost surreal. It was only about a year for us there, as graduation came and our life moved on, but one event
32 happened that changed our lives forever, as certain seemingly benign events are prone to do. About a month before our marriage, I was cooking a meal when the doorbell rang. Two young men in white shirts, dark suits, and plastic name tags were standing at the door. They were Mormon missionaries and asked to talk to me about their church. I invited them in, pulled a list of questions from my pocket, and yes I had a physical list of questions pertaining to religion and faith, things that bothered me, and one by one asked them and received their answers. These young men no older than mesatisfied every question, none of which had ever been answered to my satisfaction. Within minutes I knew I had found the truth, that this church was indeed the Savior’s church. Now my problem was, I had in my possession this wonderful knowledge, but Jill did not. Of course I told her about it, and asked her if she had any concerns or cared if I joined the LDS Church, and as I am sure you have determined yourself by now, her thoughts were for me, and she said she would support that decision. But more of that later. I moved up to the top ofthe wait list and joined The Ohio National Guard in March of 1971, so the immediate prospect of Viet Nam was gone. I finished my college coursework that summer and was promptly sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, for Army basic training and advanced schooling. Married for less than six months, and sent away for four. Now that was not a pleasant separation. Life is full of many ironies, and my involvement with the Army was no exception. I took my National Guard physical at an Army testing facility in Cincinnati. I passed and signed the paperwork that obligated me to the guard for six years. Two weeks following, I received my draft physical notice, and when I called to explain I had just had the same physical at the same facility and was now in the guard, they said I was required to take my draft physical anyway, because it had been scheduled. Ah yes, the Army way.
33 The little life irony here is that I failed my induction, or draft, physical. If I had not already joined the National Guard, I would have never been in the military. Because I had passed the first and signed up, that overrode the failed physical. Our drill sergeants at Fort Lewis told us that there was the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way. Truer words have never been spoken. Another little irony is I ended staying on the Guard for twenty one years, and as each enlistment period came up I just continued signing up again. When you get past ten, you’re more than half way there, so it just seemed like the thing to do. I would receive a pension when I turned sixty, and Jill would receive half of my monthly deposit if I died before her. I received two weeks of retirement pay, covering March 16, 2009, my sixtieth birthday, to March 31. On April 1 I received a full month of retirement pay and we were making plans about how to invest it in the future, not realizing we had only four remaining day of future. Army basic was what it is, miserable and degrading. Millions have been through it and billions more will go through this little rite of passage in the future, but when you are there you feel very much alone. Still, it came and went, with three days off before the beginning of advanced training. Jill flew to Seattle to maximize my time off, waiting for me at the airport when I arrived from the fort. I saw her, looking beautiful and vibrant as always, just as she saw me. Remember the old commercial where the man and woman run toward each other in slow motion, clothing and hair flowing back in the wind, their arms held open in wanton abandonment and finally coming together, falling into each others arms in joy. That was the scene, rushing toward one another just like the commercial, and my heart was nearly bursting with love and anticipation. She skidded to a halt a full two feet from my arms, almost losing her balance and nearly tumbling head over heels. Her hand grabbed mine, her grip so strong I nearly
34 dropped to my knees in submission, and may have if I wasn’t wearing my dress uniform and couldn’t show that kind of weakness as a soldier. “Quick,” she shouted, pulling me as she spoke, “come with me!” Her eyes were wild with excitement. “I just met John Wayne!” My feet nearly left my shoes as she pulled me with her. A quick run around the SeaTac airport turned up nothing, so she excitedly describedthe experience. “He is huge,”she intoned, throwing her arms out wide to emphasize. “I asked him to shake my hand, and he said, ‘Well shore, little lady’, and he took both my hands in his.” Now she warmed to the task, grabbing my lapels and shaking me in her excitement. “Then he took my hand in both of his, and I swear they came up to my elbow. It was amazing!” she cried. I was grinning for all I was worth, not because of John Wayne, but rather because I was looking at her, hearing her voice, touching her. I had my Jill with me. She finally stopped, looked at me for the first time, and said, “My gosh I missed you. I love you, I love you.” I couldn’t speak;my throat had closed tight as the shrinkwrap on a new music cd. But she saw my eyes, read what she saw there as she always could, and fell into my arms.
FIVE Like everything else, Fort Lewis came and went. I attended National Guard meetings one weekend a month and looked for work. Things were tough in the early seventies just as they are now, and jobs were hard to come by, so I decided to move on to grad school. Ball State accepted me so Jill and I moved to student housing in Muncie, Indiana. We both looked for work, a prerequisite for staying in school, and quite simply we both failed to get even a part time job.
35 Ball State, at the time we were there, had a superstar basketball player. His name was Bill Keller, I kid you not, Bill Keller. He was really known as Billy Keller, which was what I had been called as a little kid, but here I was sporting the same name. And he was exactly my height as well, a lightning fast point guard with a deadly top of the key jump shot. In short, he was famous in Muncie,Indiana. As I moved about campus, from course assignments to identification cards, I had to prove my identity because everyone thought I was being a wise guy when I gave my name. I would occasionally get a close to belligerent attitude when asked for my autograph and I explained I was not that Bill Keller. They thought the hotshot athlete was too good to give up an autograph. I finally determined I was hurting the poor guy’s reputation so I just started giving up my signature as requested. After all, I am Bill Keller, but I might warn any collectors out there to look carefully when buying a Billy Keller autograph. Then again, being a star athlete by proxy was not always that terrible. I found out through the local Barney Fife Muncie police that fame is an advantage. Okay, I was speeding, it’s been long enough ago that I don’t care who knows just like I don’t care that the world knows I threw away a New York City parking meter ticket near the Statue of Liberty in the early nineteen nineties. Anyway, I was going to be late for class and was driving too fast, just like we all do from time to time to get where we need to be. Officer Fife pulled me over and strutted up to my car, his hat tilted just so on his balding head and his utility belt pulled a bit too high in a vain attempt to hide the pot belly, which in reality just accented his gut. He paused just before he reached my open window, and I saw him in my rear view mirror make one last adjustment to his mirrored sunglasses, attempting to look more like the guard in Cool Hand Luke. “Lice and registra,” he drawled, I swear that’s how he said it.
36 Tempted to make a comment like, “Anythin’ yew sahay,” I choked back the words and just silently handed over the documents. “Well I’ll be dipped,” Barney drawled. Once again, I was tempted to answer, “I’ll say,” but my thin bank account and the hope of avoiding a ticket forced me to hold my peace. “I got me a celebrity here,” although he said it like sealibrity. “I really do reckon you think because you’re a big shot you can just drive like you please in my town. Am I on the right track mister superstar?” Now how do you deal with this one? I could try to finesse him which he probably wouldn’t understand, I could insult him, at which point he would probably shoot me, or I could say nothing. Of course none of the above is correct because when you’re dealing with an ego and a gun nothing works. I chose silence and waited for his next move. “So mister star can’t lower himself to speak to a lowlife cop I see. Well, that’s just dandy mister star, we’ll loosen your tongue a bit.” I was going to shift gears but it was too late; he was already walking, well more like gliding, back to his car. I actually think he was doing his version of a John Wayne walk. I missed class, because I sat for about forty five minutes before he strutted back to my window. “You sign here boy,” he said, the words coming out like spit. I signed, he tore off a copy and smiled, his yellowed teeth reflected in the mirrored sunglasses. “You and the judge have a nice time superstar. I bet you talk to him, that’s what I bet.” Yes, I had to go to court. He did not give me the option of mailing in the fine. My “fame” worked against me this time. The judge was, as if possible, worse than the cop. He allowed me to say one or two sentences the entire time, yelling and threatening
37 to take my license and then threatening to call my coach. I so wished he would have done that; can you just imagine what an idiot he would have looked like? I finally escaped, paid my fine which emptied our bank account, and thankfully the semester came to a close as well. One semester was the limit; so back to Lima we went. My parents did not say ‘I told you so’, rather they just took us in and put up with me looking for work. Substitute teaching brought in a little money, but a full time career seemed to be elusive. I had an interview in Lima to be a parole officer, and as I tried to make that opportunity happen I had to go to Columbus for interviews. Jill rode along, waiting patiently in the car while I talked to the State recruiter for the prison system. This pattern was always to be our method of operation. You see, we just liked being together, so a drive to Columbus was perfect, as was any time I was with my Jill. I went for three or four different interviews, each time being told I was perfect and they wanted to hire me, but I had to do another interview. What I didn’t realize then but know now is they did not have funding and were keeping me interested while the budgets were being completed. All I knew was I needed a job and no one was giving me that first opportunity. The interviews were held in a warehouse atmosphere; in fact it appeared to be a makeshift affair instead of an office. The human resource director was a man named Farmer, I don’t remember his first name, but I do remember he was huge. Not in a good way either, this poor fellow was easily two hundred pounds overweight. He had a sign on his desk that said, please do not feed me. Obviously no one paid the least bit of attention to it because this guy was really big. He was jovial and friendly, and I believe he really did want to hire me, it was a matter of the system preventing him from filling the position.
38 Discouragement set in, but Jill wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted I keep a positive attitude as I continued to look, and to that end one afternoon after I suffered through another come see us again later interview, we were driving through downtown Columbus and she said, “Pull over at that meter, I just saw something.” I pulled over as directed and she pointed toward a sign that said ‘General Employment Agency’. “Why don’t you go in there and ask if they have anything,” she suggested. “What do you have to lose?” “Nothing,” I agreed, and before either of us could change our mind went inside. They were friendly, accommodating people and I filled out countless forms and questionnaires. A counselor finally asked me if I knew anything about credit bureaus. I said I knew everything there was to know about credit bureaus, and I said it with the self assurance of a man desperate for a job. Also, I thought to myself that a credit bureau was a place people went to borrow money, not realizing that was a credit union. No matter, I needed a job. When you are in a strange town, and by that I mean anywhere that is unfamiliar, you can be a block away from some place and not realize your position. Jill was a world class navigator, and a weatherbeaten Columbus city map was all she needed. GPS was nothing more than three letters in the alphabet in 1972, so maps were the only way to navigate. She skillfully guided us through the unknown streets and as it turned out we were a scant five minutes away. The parking lot had names on all of the spaces, so instead of risking parking in the space reserved for my interviewer we circled the block and found a meter on Town Street. Jill took the driver’s seat, a twofold safety measure. First we saved the coins in the meter, because she could just drive away if the attendant came by, and second she could drive away if a stranger approached. The area looked pleasant enough so we didn’t believe we had much to be concerned with.
39 The Credit Bureau of Columbus, located at 170 E. Town Street, was very pleasant inside the building. Everyone was helpful and kind, a rarity during those times when interviewing for a job. I interviewed with KatherineHarris, a kindly lady who said she was excited that I already understood their business. She did not ask me one question regarding credit bureaus, and from there she sent me to Dave Bringardner, the sales manager. Dave later became a vice president for CBC Companies. He too asked a host of very general questions, not once asking about my direct knowledge of credit bureaus. Of course my answer would have been this is a place people get loans. Looking back on the experience and knowing how the company operates and approaches their customers, I understand his techniques. The most important thing to them was how their employees reacted to other people, the customer being definitely the king. If a sales person can handle a lengthy conversation in a pleasant and intelligent manner, that is how we react to our customer base. Finally he said, “Do you want this job?” “Yes sir, I do,” I replied, again willing to take anything offered to finally have employment. “Well, that’s the wrong answer,” he barked. Not knowing what else to say, I answered, “What is the right answer?” I guessed that as soon as those words came from my mouth I had blown the job. I sincerely did not mean to be a smart alec, but I presumed it came out that way. Instead he smiled, appearing to have relaxedfor the first time. “The right answer is go home, think about it for a week, and then come back and tell me your answer.” Back in the car I was silent as Jill drove slowly toward route thirty three to return to Lima. Jill held her silence for as long as she could, finally giving me a less than playful punch on my arm. “Well, what did they say?” she asked impatiently. “Did you get the job or does the search continue?”
40 “Well, I kind of got the job,” I said honestly. That answer got me a harder punch on the arm. “If you don’t tell me what they said I’m going to stop the car and shove you out the door. Now give me a straight answer.” “He said I could come back next week and accept the job,” I said, “so I guess I officially will have the job in a week.” “That’s close enough for me,” Jill said with a grin. She turned on the next street and headed back toward the city. “What are you doing?” I asked. “We’re not wasting the trip. We’re going to look for an apartment.” Columbus was a wonderful place to live. We began in an apartment on Tamarack Blvd. just off Morse Road on the north side. There was no magic or secret in us ending up in north Columbus, it was purely accidental, but a good one. We spent our lives there, first in the far north and later in Worthington, a suburb just to the north of Columbus. Jill found a job working for Highlights For Children, the children’s magazine, located on Fifth Avenue in Marble Cliff, which would have made the northwest side more convenient, but we liked where we landed. She had found a home, working with a group of girls, and they were, like her, just girls in those days, and over the years became women with families and histories of their own. They grew up together, the Highlights Girls as Jill liked to call them, sharing the births of their children, passing of their parents, and joys and successes of their spouses. Finally, after twenty five years of being together their jobs were outsourced and the little extended family was in jeopardy of breaking up. But they didn’t allow it to happen, and to date still find time to get together for updates and to reminisce. Life has never defeated these beautiful, wonderful angels. They are truly the essence of what our existence here is all about.
41 After a year we bought our first house, staying in north Columbus. Royal Forest Blvd. in Beechwold, near Morse Road and High Street, was perfect for us. A small fixer upper, Jill showed her brilliance as a decorator. Long before HGTV and all of the designer shows, Jill knew just what went with what, and she became someone people would seek out for help in decorating their own homes. I always encouraged her to go into the business but she always declined. She was as good as anyone I ever saw, and the world never had a brilliant designer. That little house was a mess when we moved in; in fact we could not see the front as it was buried behind overgrown bushes. The floors were covered with moldy carpet, the walls coated in countless layers of wallpaper and paint, and the aluminum siding was a Pepto Bismol pink. The upstairs windows were rotted, and all of the windows had removable storms that sort of fit, plus the home was heated with a coal conversion gas fired furnace. It looked like something out of a poorly made horror movie. Jill went into action and soon we were in the middle of a construction zone. Under the moldy carpeting were beautiful hardwood floors, and the walls were actual plaster, not wallboard like what is used in today’s construction. We painted the siding white, and that made me a Sherwin Williams fan for life. That paint took to the siding like it was baked on at the factory. As time went on Jill picked out new kitchen cabinets, countertops, and flooring. We also turned a useless porch into a family room, rebuilding it and replacing windows as we went. Our neighbors took to us like meat with potatoes, and with Jill’s personality that was no surprise. She became friends with young and old alike, finding ways to help everyone she encountered. The older residents needed trips to the grocery and doctor appointments, and the younger ones needed decorating tips and occasional babysitting. Jill was always there, willing to do all she could to be a friend.
42 She also was patient with her silly husband, as I was often looking at ways to supplement our income. I concocted an idea with a friend of ours to raise fishing worms, a popular seventies scheme that promised a lot of money to those who jumped into the business. Living in Ohio, worms of course do not do well in the winter, so they needed to be maintained in a basement. My dear Jill allowed her basement to be turned into a worm farm, complete with bins full of peat moss and worms. The creatures ate chicken feed and hid under damp burlap bags cut and laid flat on the surface. I know, it didn’t work, and eventually the worms were dumped under our cherry tree that grew under our bedroom window. But all was not in vain, because we had the most amazing cherries I have ever seen. I remember standing on the roof, picking them by the basketfuls and smiling at the thought of the pies Jill would turn them into. She also put up with my gold coin purchasing club and my foray into what turned out to be a pyramid company. I took so much for granted over the years;because the incredible love she showed for me was just something I thought was normal. I knew I totally worshiped her, and I realize the feeling was fairly mutual. I mentioned pies, and that is just one small example. That lady could cook, and she loved doing it. I can remember her staying up half the night baking during the holidays and then taking the goodies in the morning to work. Tired she was, but she did it because she loved the results. She has a shelf bowed withy the weight of cookbooks, but her use of recipes was simply to remind herself what ingredients to put in. She measured very little, typically adding ingredients by sight and using a master touch. For the next nearly ten years we just lived our lives, working, going to church, and loving one another. Jill embraced the Mormon Church although she did not officially join. She obviously loved and supported the work and participated, plus she supported me in the work I did and never complained that I was spending too much time away. She was a fierce supporter of the work and doctrine, and never hesitated correcting people
43 who had misconceptions or made derogatory comments about the Church. I always said she lived the gospel better than most members. I remember once a local evangelist came to our home and more or less began a rant directed at our faith. Jill turned him inside out, and I just listened in awe as she matched him sentence by sentence. She enjoyed visiting teaching, a program where every home is visited monthly by the ladies of the Church. This cemented a friendship with Marsha Rayburn, lasting long after that assignment ended and becoming lifetime closeness with Marsha and her husband Lou. My Credit Bureau career blossomed, Jill loved Highlights, and after my first six years in the Army Guard I reenlisted and ultimately stayed for twenty one years, retiring as a Chaplain’s Assistant. Our only horrible event was Gayle’s passing at fifty one. That was a hard and sad time for us all.
We had been trying to start a family for several years. There were surgeries, tests, and various special diets, all intended to result in a pregnancy. Being careful to not be indelicate, most everyone has heard that the best part about trying to get pregnant is the trying. That is not totally true. Using temperature charts, calendar events, and even studying the best time of day is not conducive to romance. It is perfect for a clinical trial or a laboratory experiment, but that is as far as it goes. When the time is right, you perform. No argument, forget the upset stomach or headache, and you darn well better not be in the middle of an argument, because that doesn’t stop the process either. The interesting thing about where life takes us, and it certainly does take us on a pinball ride, is we don’t know what is best for us. God is in charge of where we end up and what happens, even if you don’t believe. I’m sorry all you nonbelievers, God goes about his business rather you like it or not. His divine plan is to let many things happen,
44 but all that happens to us, even though it seems impossible to believe, is for our good. It is all to give us the best opportunity to go home to Him and become exalted. And of course, for the most part, we don’t listen. Jill and I were no exception, even with the Church to rely upon for help and guidance. We became discouraged and upset because the “blessed event” just didn’t happen. Igave her a blessing, laying hands on her head and using words prompted by the Holy Spirit. It promised her that some day she would be a mother. Still, no results. One day she returned from a doctor’s appointment, excited instead of disappointed. “What would you think of adoption?” she asked. It was as if God turned on the lights because we had been stumbling around in the dark. “Why didn’t we think of this before?” I asked. “I can’t believe we didn’t think of this.” She had tears in her eyes. “I know, this is our answer. Somewhere out there, we have a child.” And so with that answer to our prayers, and the understanding of her blessing, we marched ahead. The process is long and complicated, which it should be, because there is a life involved. Frankly, I think perhaps there should be some of the same scrutiny for everyone. There is a considerable expense and waiting as part of the process, so we started a baby savings account with a time line of four years to have it funded. Usually it took five to seven years to get a baby. One day, just about a year after we were approved, the attorney handling our case called me at work on a Friday morning. “You need a check to pay for the medical bills and adoption services by eight o’clock Monday morning. You and Jill are having a baby.” In today’s world of the Internet, twenty four banking, and home equity lines of credit, this is not a big deal. In 1980 youbanked from nine in the morning until three in
45 the afternoon, Monday thru Friday. There was no ATM’s either. So, we had to get a loan in one day, also not a big deal today, but then that just wasn’t done. If you were buying a car for example, you picked out your beauty, fell in love or lust, and the salesman said they’d get back to you in about a week if you are approved. And things were a lot tougher back then, as credit was not easy to obtain. Loan officers were careful and after them it went to a loan committee. It may seem archaic but we also did not have the massive credit meltdowns like we have today. That is just the way it was done. I called Jill, told her the news, waited until she stopped screeching and then crying, and told her to meet me at the BancOhio, later known as National City, Bank in Beechwold. We raced to the branch, by now it was about ten o’clock, and asked to see the manager. He was a very nice man but he followed the rules, and when I told him I needed a check before the end of business day he looked at me as if I just admitted to being a space alien. When I explained what it was for his attitude changed completely. He told us to go home and wait for his call. Jill reminded him that our future depended on the outcome of this transaction, and he said he would take care of us. Up to that point this was the longest day of our lives. Neither of us said muchthat day, and when we spoke it tended to be in a whisper. We filled the time with trivial things like Jill saying, “Do you want some lunch?” “I don’t think I could keep anything down,” I said truthfully. “Me too,” she agreed. “So what do we do?” “This is one time I don’t know,” I said. “I really just don’t know.” So we pretended to read in the quiet house, but I noticed Jill, just like me, never turned a page. Time crawled by, and every few minutes one of us would check the phone to make sure it was working. Around six o’clock, we were both crushed because it was after hours and we knew our chance had just been missed, the manager called and asked us to come to the
46 bank. The drive took only about five minutes, but it was the longest five minutes of our lives. We quickly decided we would not be upset when he told us it just could unfortunately not be done, because the impossible was what we had been asking. Perhaps we could get an extension or ask the attorney to allow us to pay whatever we had in our checking account and bring the rest when the bank loan came through. We arrived at the bank and the manager unlocked the door, locked us in with him and turned the alarm back on, then sat us in the bank’s conference room. Jill looked like she was going to be sick;I glanced around the room looking for a trash can to capture her stomach contents. I thought I would be needing it too. The manager smiled, I thought wanly but as it turned out he was just tired from working on our loan all day, and with a rather proud flourish handed us our finished paperwork. An hour later we exited with a check. He seemed a bit embarrassed when Jill gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, but the tears of joy in her eyes made his own sparkle with wetness as well. I don’t believe we slept all weekend, at least I can’t remember sleeping, but in fairness I don’t remember anything about the wait until Monday morning. I know we made some calls, that is after discussing the possibility that all sorts of things could go wrong, but that kind of news was too impossible to keep. I didn’t have any work to do in the nursery because that had been prepared months ago, from the baby wallpaper to the crib. Of course everything was perfectly color coordinated and could have been an ad in any child rearing magazine of the day. And everything was found at a bargain as well. I remember standing all day at a carpet auction waiting for this light green carpet remnant that Jill determined would be the perfect color for the baby’s room, and we got it for close to nothing. One fellow bid it up a bit, but it still was a tremendous bargain. There were several accomplishments I made because I had them saved in a folder and wanted to get them started as quickly as possible. They were a subscription to Parent’s Magazine, a monthly toy subscription designed to improve a baby’s motor
47 movements and increase the baby’s dexterity, and a book club for baby. Come on, this child was going to be the next Albert Einstein, even if his father was more like Albert Eisenhower. I waited impatiently for each issue of Parent, turning immediately to the baby is now section, each telling us at various ages where the baby’s progression should be. How amazing the accuracy of the experts, which I am sure just gave the typical progression of a baby. After several centuries of waiting, Monday morning finally arrived. It was my turn to feel like I was going to be sick, but by then Jill was fine because she was in Mommy mode. She was ready my friends, this kid was about to be in above first class hands. A car pulled into our driveway, and the attorney exited the driver’s side, moved to the passenger side, opened the door, and his secretary stepped out, holding a tiny bundle in a blue blanket. I remember it so distinctly because they didn’t use a car seat. She carried him in her arms in the front seat. I pulled the front door open before they rang the bell, and without fanfare or invitation they stepped into our living room. No one spoke a word; the secretary just moved immediately to Jill and gently placed the tiny bundle into her arms. The tiniest face in the world peeked from the blanket, that was all that showed at the time, and two huge dark eyes accented with full eyebrows peered at his mother’s face. The eyebrows crinkled in with skepticism, glared for a moment, then softened with acceptance. Those two fell in love faster than I did at fourteen with Jill. Then I think they both started crying in unison, with me joining next, and then I noticed the attorney and his secretary were wiping their eyes as well. We named our little boy, three days old and fresh out of Riverside Hospital, William Bradford Keller II. Please excuse my ego. Jill insisted on the second, she was not going to have her son known as Junior. Of course it didn’t matter that people call
48 children the name their parents use, so it made no difference, but the second it was and is. Remember, you don’t mess with Jill when it comes to her family. People don’t believe this, but honestly when we decided to call him Will it was not for the cohesiveness of Bill, Jill, and Will, although I do love it. We thought William was too pretentious, Bill too repetitive and confusing, and of course we’ve already ruled out Junior. Will just fit, so it was decided. Life suddenly became a revolution not of the sun, but of the son. And frankly, we absolutely loved it. There was diapers, formula, sleeping, diapers, formula, etc. I could fit Will along the inside of my forearm, his head cradled in my hand, and he liked this little perch. I also loved Saturday afternoons when I lay him on my stomach and we both napped in comfort and security. The perfect scenario was when Jill joined us and the three of us just snuggled in, and nothing in the world could hurt us. Will coming into our lives helped us to learn a valuable lesson. God was a lot smarter than us, and when he blessed us we sometimes did not understand. We knew from the day he became ours that we were blessed by never becoming pregnant. Typically couples that conceive children never think of or consider adoption. We knew that it was God’s will for him to be our son, and any other outcome would have likely thwarted that intention. We could not imagine a life without Will, and for that we forever thanked Heavenly Father and his wisdom. Will has an unofficial fan club, with Jill and Bill permanent co-presidents. Mormon’s believe in having a year’s supply of pretty much everything we might need; food, money, water, clothing, and of course diapers. We would look for specials, and Huggies became the diaper of choice, and then take a trip to the store. Two shopping baskets full of Huggies later, we would smile and wave at the looks and sometimes comments of our fellow shoppers. We got the same treatment when we bought formula too, and I am sure we had thelook of militia survivalists. We had fun doing it and we
49 were together, plus when people made comments that was an opportunity to talk to them about the Church. Jill was totally against day care, so she worked out a deal with Highlights where she would work a few hours a week in the evenings, leaving only when I was home. She always thought ofus first, putting up with lost sleep and no personal time because she was doing what she loved. Forever the amazing person full of love and sacrifice. We never looked at the financial sacrifices as being that; we did just fine and never wantedfor anything. There is more than one advantage to togetherness being contentment enough, because the price is right as well. When it came to doctors Jilllistened to the pediatrician, of course picking the one she trusted after doing a lot of research and deciding he was the best. He told us the healthiest babies were ones who were fed only formula for the first six months, then formula and cereal for six months, and then begin slowly introducing baby food, thestandard strained peas, apricots, spinach, and all the other putrid looking mush that passed for food. Jill held the line to his advice, although there wastimes she thought Will seemed hungry even after eating. At around month eleven, the doctor complimented her on Will’s weight and overall physical condition, but he made the comment that he seemed a little hungry. Jill told him her feeding cycle, and when he asked what she was feeding Will she said, “Well, formula and cereal mixed together of course. That’s what you said to do for the first year.” He said, “Well, that’s really great, and he’s healthier for it, but no one ever does it. Start giving him food.” Fortunately Jill was not a cop, because if she had been armed I think she would have shot him. A stop at the grocery on the way home and Will got the surprise of his young life that night at dinner. He discovered food! Jill had a food grinder and made a lot of her own baby food, being the thrift conscious person she was, but when she opted
50 for commercial food in the jar the only baby food that would do was Gerber. Will was soon eating like a king, in fact he was kind of on a throne when we ate. Jill put his car seat carrier, which was the center of the seat that disconnected and doubled as a baby carrier, on the table when we ate. It adjusted to an upright position and we alternated taking bites ourselves and spooning food into Will’s mouth. It’s a fond memory and definitely a Rockwell moment. We owned a Volkswagen Superbeetle when Will was born, and there was nothing better than to see them zooming around town, and Jill did zoom. She liked to get to where she was going quickly, and often the envelope was pushed. Cooke road in Columbus is a hilly, up and down road, and as a toddler Will, and then Jill, called it the Whee road, because it was a bit like riding on a rollercoaster when Jill drove. Will was a strong willed little rascal, and when he got something in his little mind it was not coming out. During potty training we had the typical little tyke pot with the lift out bottom to dump it after it was used. Of course at first it had to be saved until I got home from work, the prize deposited in the pot saved for me to witness. Jill absolutely sterilized the thing after each use, which one day came in handy. A trip to the store was needed, and Will decided he was not going unless he was wearing his pot on his head like a hat. Jill finally determined the fit he was throwing was not worth it and plopped the pot on his head. Will instantly calmed down and allowed her to strap him in his car seat. On the way to the store Jill was moving along at her usual fast clip, and suddenly the dreaded flashing red lights appeared in her rear view mirror. The police officer approached the car, ticket book in hand, and looked inside the car. Will sat in the rear, toilet seat on his head, a huge grin splitting his face from one ear to the other. “Is that what I think it is?” the police officer said, pointing to Will’s head.
51 Exasperated, worn out, and now not in the mood, Jill snapped, “He wouldn’t stop throwing a fit unless I let him wear it, so I gave up.” The officer burst out laughing, closed his ticket book and walked back to his cruiser. As he pulled away and went around them, Jill could see he was still laughing.
Summers were her favorite, as she took Will to Alum Creek to play in the water, even though she would complain about the dirty water. But Will took to water like a duck so it was a good place for him to play and splash. Church friends were important too, as they took turns driving and the children played together. Will still has good memories of the fun days they spent together, with the early nurturing being so important in developing a child into a man. Vacations were fun too, and we would go to Florida almost every year for a week, staying with my parents who were retired and spent winters there. We all became big fans of the Sunshine State, and the ever thrifty Jill liked the free lodging with my parents. And of course they snapped up any opportunity to spend time with Will.
52 Will had another little trick he reserved especially for Jill. When he became upset, he would throw a fit and hold his breath until he passed out. His lips would turn blue, his eyes rolled back, and he would lose consciousness. Of course at that instant his brain took over and he breathed, recovering quickly and with it the fit was over, but the process was not less than horrifying. It is amazing how at that tender age Will knew how to make his point, so he simply used the tools available to him. PoorJill totally freaked, which was probably why he gave the little performance. Remember, we inherit nervous breakdowns from our children. If there was a picture in Webster’s Dictionary under the word mother, it would be Jill. She looked for ways to introduce Will to new things, have great experiences, and bring him joy. She loved going with him to the park to fly kites. Many days and countless hours were spent with the kite flying high, Will holding on for dear life as the pull of the string almost lifting him off the ground. This excitement was a fairly regular outing, Jill spending her precious time to make Will happy. One day Will looked up at her, an imploring look on his face, and said, “Mom, can we go home now?” The great kite flying incidents were a source of fun and memory all her life, as Will and Jill remembered their outings that they both dreaded, but loved each other too much to say let’s quit. She would do anything for her son, and as it turns out the little fellow would do the same for her. Overbrook preschool was Jill’s choice to introduce Will to school. Overbrook Presbyterian Church ran the program and after exhaustive research it was deemed adequate for Jill’s son. It was indeed an excellent and very highly respected program that proved to be an excellent choice. Two days each week for four hours he had playtime in a kindergarten like atmosphere and he pretty much loved the experience. In fact he kept track of the days and got excited in advance, enjoying the give and take that little ones require of one another. One day when Jill walked him through the parking lot and they
53 neared the door, Will went nothing short of berserk. He screamed, cried, howled, and of course at the end held his breath and passed out. It was a classic fit of monumental proportions that was nothing short of world class. The director of the program came out, shocked and perplexed by his reaction, and after Will settled down she asked him if he wanted to stay. He calmly said he did so the director told an upset Jill that she would call her if there developed a problem. Jill exited and went to the home of a member of our church, a school psychologist. She was looking for the answer to his episodes, and in her typical kind and gentle way, Deanna explained. “Will is a strong willed little boy,” she explained. “You are very fortunate, because he will likely grow into a confident, secure person. But you see, as a little boy he needs to know who is in charge, and he will do his best to make it him. Of course that would be a terrible thing, because he needs his parents to be in charge, at least for a few more years,” she added with a smile. “Just let him throw his fits and don’t react to them. He will see it doesn’t work and they will stop.” “But I can’t help it,” Jill complained. “I get rally upset myself when I see him turn blue and his eyes roll back.” She paused; fighting tears, and shook her head. “Of course it’s hard,” Deanna said patiently. “But no one ever said it would be easy being a parent. You have to decide which is more important to you, being upset or helping Will get over these episodes and knowing you will protect him.” Jill told me later no better advice was ever given her, and although she might until reading this never have known, Deanna Horstmeier always held a special place in her heart. When she pickedup Will that day, he was fine. She said, “Honey, why did you get upset?” “I don’t know,” he said. “So do you think you will do it again?” she continued.
54 “No,” he said. “Do you promise to tell me if anything there, or anywhere else for that matter, frightens you or bothers you? “Yes,” he promised,and preschool trips never resulted in another incident. After that he had a fit two or three more times, but when Jill no longer reacted strongly or showed she was upset, the incidents stopped. It was hard for her, because she loved that little boy so much it hurt, but that very love is what gave her the strength to do what was best for him. He would pass out, wake up and look around, confused at first that she was not hovering over him, and just get up and go about his business. As promised, he gave that up and of course looked for new ways to try to get his way. Kindergarten came next, then first grade at Wilson Hill Elementary. Jill dropped him off each day and picked him up after school. When he came home from school that first day and they went into the house, Will climbed onto his mother’s lap and sighed. She hugged him and said, “How was school today Sweetie?” she asked. “It was so long,” he lamented, and sat for a long time in the comfort of her arms. Later that night when Will was fast asleep, Jill cried because she felt bad that he had been upset. But of course she waited until he couldn’t see her tears. Many mothers love their children, but Jill was blessed with something special to give her little boy. If anyone does not think so, just ask him. And of course he quickly took to kindergarten, despite its lengthy days, and adjusted well. We have always been a unit, not three distinct individuals. When Will was still wearing one piece pajamas, my favorites were the yellow ones that reminded me of a baby duckling, so I called them his ducks. Every night at varying times, I would be sound asleep and would awaken to three, always exactly three, soft slaps on my cheek. Lifting one eye open I would see those big dark eyes looking expectantly at me, his height at that time putting him at eye level with me as I lay in bed. I would grab the front
55 of his ducks, give him a toss into the center of the bed, and he would worm his way under the covers between us like a mole entering its burrow. We would wake in the morning like the three bears, lined up together, a perfect unit. Jill always said he traveled to Cleveland every night in his sleep, because he would flip and flop in his sleep and more or less kick us half out of bed. One night I awoke, wondering what was wrong, in my sleep induced haze knowing something was not normal. Suddenly I realized Will had not come in our room. I tentatively touched my cheek to see if I somehow was numb and had not felt his pats on my cheek, feeling the stubble of my beard at the touch. With my heart racing I rushed to his room, finding him sleeping comfortably in his bed, a cherub in sleep instead of my active little whirlwind of a boy. A wonderful time of our lives had come to an end, and Will simply slept through the night from that time forward. I was disappointed, and not a little bit depressed for some time. I don’t believe I consciously realized that I was sad because every stage of our lives has a beginning and an end, and in most cases it is the end of an era that hurts the most. A flurry of T ball, soccer, and swim lessons proved Will to be a very good athlete. He is left handed, a fact that helped later when baseball proved to be his favorite sport of choice. Jill leaped into the fray with treats after practice, bringing way too many bottles of water and orange slices, and having fun with the other moms as they watched us dadscoach and work with the boys. Another Worthington plus is its sports programs and the dedication of parents in the community to their children. We have films of the boys playing T ball, picking clover in the outfield and losing concentration as balls rolled past them. We progressed to dads pitch and then the boys’ skill levels began to show, because they had to keep an eye on the ball and hit a moving object. There was less daydreaming on defense then as well, and the development was a joy to watch. Soccer was a similar
56 experience, going from missing the ball when attemptingto kick it to ignoring it completely as it rolled by. The parents were the enigma, yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs as their little one stared at them in confusion, not knowing if they were in trouble or if mom and dad were just yelling for joy. And of course in the meantime the ball would sit benignly beside their foot. Travel baseball and travel soccer teams meant most evenings at a game or practice, and weekends at the ballpark. All of our time was taken with sports, and it was wonderful. Friends often grow out of our children’s friends, and we were no exception. Neighbors had children involved in sports and school activities, and just the fact that Will spent so much time with them resulted in us getting to know whole other families. The nice thing is that good people are pretty much alike, they have values and positive beliefs, making them individuals you want to spend time with. We have to this day those experiences to thank for many wonderful lifetime friendships, and love many of these people as our extended families. One vacation was especially memorable. Will invited Andy Schabo, a friend and neighbor he met at five years old when we moved to Worthington, to go with us to Florida. Jill and I made the mistake of buying a time share week which we used every year, but neither of us did a very good job of planning. Time shares are best utilized when you decide two or more years in advance what your travel plans will be. We never did a very good job in advance planning, so we consequently we had to take pretty much what was available. There were times, more often than not, when only destinations that were not wanted were what were available. On this particular trip we went to a Florida resort that boasted it was on the water, so we thought it would be a great place to get some fun on the beach. The resort was on a channel, which technically made it on the water, but there was no beach. In fact the only way into the water would have been a ten foot drop straight
57 down. Once in the water there would be no way to exit. The staff spoke only German, because as it turned out a German company owned the property and they provided accommodations for their employees’vacations. It was used as a special reward to take a trip it the United States for high achievers and their family. They had some vacancies depending on the time of year and the availability of travel, and so theyallowed excess units to be part of a time share network. The resort was not only substandard, in fact it took two tries to get a television that worked, and it was a fifteen inch model at that, but alsothe staff spoke only German. Any needs we had were expressed by using hand gestures and drawing pictures. We came to understand what it was like to be a stranger in our own country. The thing is, despite the difficulties, we had a great time. Besides the number of laughs we’ve shared in reminiscing with Andy for years, it was just fun making the best of a bad place. It was a good lesson that fun and joy came from companionship, not location. It is very difficult to be disappointed or too upset when Jill is involved. She infects a situation with fun. Jill was a person who accomplished things; she didn’t like to see projectsgo undone or jobs half done. Even on that trip to Germantown as we later called it; she found area attractions, organized picnics, and made us laugh. Her biggest complaint was wasting time, she knew how precious it was and wanted to use it wisely. There would not be a wasted week if she had anything to say about it, and she most certainly had plenty to say about this trip. Rob McCarthy went with us on one of our infamous trips. This was one time Jill was upstaged, and she absolute loved it. Rob and Will pretty much took over the resort, in a good way, and it was a ball. There was not too much to prevent them from running things, because there were not too many people there. The rooms were really nice
58 though, and the boys were excited that a large upstairs bedroom was theirs to do with what they wished. One of the infamous time share promises was free bicycles to ride around the resort grounds. They had perhaps fifty or so bicycles, all covered with rust and a handful with air in their tires. A trip to a nearby hardware store and an inexpensive tire pump later, and we discovered that so many of the tires were flat because they were rotted and would not hold air. I sacrificed my manhood and rode a girls bike because of the four closest to usable two were boys and two were girls. Another feature was a lake with paddle boats. The lake was coated with algae and smelled like a toxic waste dump, and the paddle boats were leaky and some of the paddles were broken. It was hilarious watching any two of us manipulating a paddle boat through the rancid water, attempting to compensate for the leaks and uneven paddles. Bingo was a major event for the activities planner, and it received a really good turn out. Midway through the activity Rob and Will went up front, told the lady calling numbers that she was holding things up, and announced that they were going to show her how it was done. And show her they did. The crowd loved them, the numbers coming fast and furious and a constant narrativekeeping the evening fun. When it was over the boys received an ovation, the loudest coming from Jill. Will and Rob, always somewhat quiet and reserved, could have started a career as the next Martin and Lewis that trip. Will reminded me of the great water skiing trip. Jill always wanted to learn, I couldn’t have cared less, and of course our young natural athlete Will always wanted to try new athletic adventures. Will went first, and on the first pull up he came and skied like a champion. We were not surprised, and he had a great time racing over the waves. I passed on a turn, so Jill took to the water. This was a bigger feat than you might imagine, because she did not swim and water over three feet deep terrified her. So here she was, life jacket holding her head above the water, sliding her feet into six foot long
59 water skis. She struggled, time after time failing to come up as the boat thrust forward. She was going to give up, fatigue and frustration overcoming her excitement and desire to ski. “One more time,” she yelled to the boat, and the engine roared to life again. Just as if she had been doing it all her life, Jill rose up and stood tall on the skis, bending her knees slightly and leaning back just enough to counter the pull of the rope. She was doing it! After several minutes of flying across the water, even getting brave enough to criss cross over the wake of the boat, she moved her hand back and forth under her chin to indicate she had managed to go left to right. The problem with that is the cut across the throat is the universal signal to stop, so the engine was stopped and she settled down into the water. “No,” she shouted, too late to reverse the action, “I meant look at how I was moving back and forth. Take me up again.” Try as she might, she could not get back up, and fatigue finally forced her to give in. The next day she was so sore she could barely, move, walking hunched over in crab like shuffles for two days. Teasing is an understatement, but she didn’t care. She had conquered a giant and was proud. That was her one and only experience with water skiing. As you might guess, she had to try snow skiing as well, and a school snow day gave her the chance. She and Will went with the Schabo’s to Mad River Mountain; one of two places in Ohio where there is a steep enough hill to ski. I passed again, preferring to save my bones from fractures. Again, Will went down like an Olympic champion, and Jill spent her day on her, shall we say, back. This time she was conquered, and never got down the slope without falling.
60 Neighborhood parties were a favorite warm weather pastime, and I was able to come up with one that no one but my Jill would have tolerated. I traveled to Portsmouth every June and bought fireworks for a neighborhood display. I went to Portsmouth because they had a two for one deal there, which increased my buying power, and because of the display I prepared I most definitely needed to increase my buying power. I never told her how much I spent, and she never asked. It wasn’t just too much, it was way too much. This became one of those very few things we just never discussed, because if we did I would have had to stop, and she knew I didn’t want to stop my shows. I brought home not only a trunk full of ordnances, but therewere also some major pieces. It was expensive and impressive. I must admit, those shows were a highlight for me, and Independence Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. We took the display to the street behind us because we live on a busy road, and of course private fireworks displays are illegal. Kate Schabo, Andy’s sister and “one of the boys” as they said because she was one of the few girls in the neighborhood, so she had to stay up with them just to protect herself, called my displays Red White and Bill, a play on Columbus’ Red White and Boom. Not only was Kate one of the favorite “boys”, she grew up to become a beautiful woman. Of course her high praise of my work mad each successive year even more important to create something that put the previous year to abject shame. The preparation was made about two hours before darkness, because I had to set up the display for maximum impact. Every performance artist was most meticulous in setting up his or her performances, and I was no exception. There were a lot of items to set up, and I carefully staggered the really good pieces to fit in at just the right times to keep the ohhs and ahhs coming. And of course there had to be a finale, as with all world class fireworks displays, which was clustered dangerously together.
61 Jill, the common sense to my insanity, insisted upon certain safety requirements. The children had to be on the grass at all times, one of the other men had to be a helper/backup to me, and I had to have a trash can with water in it plus a portable fire extinguisher to take care of potential problems. She also never really enjoyed the shows herself because she worried about them from start to finish. One year during the show a police car pulled up at the end of the cul-de-sac and just sat there, presumably enjoying the show. Things got really quiet for a time, but I figured any concerns were too late and just kept the show going. When the last rocket was fired and the neighborhood crowd gave me my cheers, the police car started and pulled away. I trust he enjoyed the show and actually it was good that he was there in case of problems. Another benefit of living in Worthington is that the police are more concerned with safety and quality of life than being hung up on every little nuance of the law. The thing that ended the shows was not the expense or the police. A new neighbor did not like our exploits, including our friend Tom Smith’s basketball court. Tom’s back yard was half blacktop and he put in a fiberglass backboard to make a first rate playing surface. He even constructed wooden bleachers to encourage fans for the games, and then had the neighbor boys over for games. He gave them pet names such as Claus Von Beulo, Harry and the Hendersons, and the Thrill, just to make the whole thing more festive. It is a wonderful memory of a great time. Often there would be members of Ohio State’s basketball team playing with the boys as well, because Tom was a long term supporter of OSU basketball. Those top class athletes drew the neighborhood children like a magnet to iron. Our new neighbor did not have the same viewpoint. She announced that her children were put to bed at seven o’clock and she expected the basketball to be put away at that time as well. This was a demand, not a request. Now, in case there are some of
62 you who have never heard of daylight savings time, in the summer darkness fell at around nine thirty, and if you pushed the envelope you were good until ten. I will give him this, Tom did not include outside lights reminiscent of an outdoor recreation center, so she should have been somewhat grateful. Actually, Jill said her vote would have been to install the lights and listen to the ball bouncing and the kids laughing until the wee hours of the morning. As for Tom, hewas not about to lose two to three hours of prime time kid fun every night. He announced to Ms. Grumpy Neighbor that he had no intention of suspending outside activities to suit her. In his opinion the matter was settled, but then that was just his opinion. Obviously he had the backing of all the neighbors, and I mean by a one hundred and ten percent margin, but she was not one who liked to hear no and as a result she looked for paybacks. She was not a very pleasant person in regards to anything and did not care that we all knew it. Honestly, I believe she enjoyed confrontation. One fateful July I was preparing for the celebration in my usual manner, setting up the display and effectively blocking the street, which as before mentioned had never been an issue. Neighbor McNasty came stomping out, demanding to know what I was doing and who gave me the right to block ‘her’ street. Not the shy one myself, I explained what Red White and Bill was all about and like Tom, I made no apology for my actions. McNasty said she was calling the police and stomped inside, turning and snorting like an angry bull before she disappeared inside her house. Soon thereafter Jill came by and I repeated the threat to her. She plopped down on the curb and motioned for me to continue. She smiled and winked at me and said, “Go ahead, set up. If anyone comes by I’ll handle it.” I continued, and McNasty came storming out of the house. Her arms were bent at the elbow and swung like a power walker. “Do you think I didn’t mean it?” she barked, rising onto her tiptoes to make her maybe five foot height seem greater. The muscles in
63 her jaw bunched and relaxed in a staccato that threatened to do damage to her expensive capped teeth. Calmly Jill rose to her feet, brushing the dust and grass clippings from the seat of her jeans, taking her time as she moved slowly with her back to me and standing toe to toe with McNasty. She leaned forward even farther, almost nose to nose like an Army drill sergeant, and spoke very quietly to our angry neighbor. After a long moment, the woman pouted, actually stuck out her lower lip and pouted, and went back into her house. This time she did not turn around and snort, in fact it appeared her shoulders slumped a bit as she disappeared through the door. Jill turned to me, smiled, and simply said, “I’ll be back over with the trash can for water and the extinguisher in a few minutes.” She gave me a quick kiss, patted my cheek affectionately, and walked away. I just stared at her as she walked away, for the millionth time amazed by this glorious woman, and could sense she was smiling. Whatever was said will never be known, and I never asked, but therewere no further outbursts. Still, if you will remember as I said when I first described this event, this was the last year for Red, White and Bill. The neighbors gathered, folding chairs, adult beverages, soft drinks, and all the trappings for a celebratory evening. The little children were running around with sparklers and squealing with a child’s delight, excited but not necessarily knowing why. The atmosphere was electric with anticipation, and I had prepared a show this year like no other before it. Money had been spent; two for one specials obtained, and you could almost taste the excitement in the hot dogs and hamburgers consumed by the gathered neighbors. At last darkness was upon us, an inky cloak that covered the display like a movie director doing a fade to black. I used a portable propane torch to light my pieces, and when I created the spark that ignited the gas it was the only light showing except for the red glow of three spent sparklers and the front porch light at the McNasty’s, which they
64 turned on just before we began, a feeble attempt to dampen the fun of the show. I could see them peering through the glass around their front door. The display was superb, but of course I am unfairly biased, however the crowd cooperated with their exclamations and cheers. There were some unusually loud and colorful pieces that year, some admittedly almost too powerful for the close confines I was working in, but making the display all the more beautiful. Way too soon I reached the finale, touching off around twenty big boomers as quickly as my torch would move. I actually singed some hair as I moved down the line, the rockets flashing too close for comfort to my face, but only I was aware of the danger. Then, just like the big displays, I paused atthe very end and then lit two last rockets as an exclamation point. The first rocket went up as intended, flying just the correct height into the air before bursting and showering the crowd with colorful ash. My heart quickened with pride because I had pulled of the greatest show ever, and I was an instant from accepting my annual congratulations. Life isn’t television though, so we must expect the unexpected. The second rocket lifted from the ground and just hovered in the air, hanging as if an invisible hand was preventing it from escaping. Then, as if on queue, the rocket turned exactly horizontal, in fact if I could have put a level on it my guess is it would have been a perfect right angle. It then escaped, its propellant streaking it forward, right in the direction of the McNasty’s. My stomach leaped to my throat. It was early July, still nice enough in the evenings to keep windows open and save air conditioning costs, and in retrospect I don’t know if that was good or bad. The rocket flew through the McNasty’s front window, maybe tearing a screen, I don’t know for sure because of the darkness. It flew through the house, I saw its tail burning as it flew through the darkened house and briefly illuminated a table and chairs. Then it barely missed a sofa and maybe skipped off the top of it, everything was so fast it was hard to be totally sure, thenexited through a rear window, landing in the back yard and starting a
65 small dry grass fire. I wasn’t sure if everyone even realized it had happened, although I certainly knew the McNasty’s had to know, but since there was nothing to be done after the fact I just ignored it. I did notice they never left the windows around their front door, stacked up according to height, and although I know this must be my imagination because there was surely no way to really see this, I swear their mouths were gaping open. All I do know for sure is nothing was ever said, the police never came to our door, and I still have no criminal record. The only backlash was Jill’s comment, much more important to me than a visit by the police, which was simply, “Red White and Bill is formally retired.” That was it, but as I have said before, don’t mess with Jill.
SEVEN As life progressed, and it is now amazing to me how fast it went and I often wonder why we did not savor not just each day but indeed every moment, we saw things float along as if on a cloud. We were very fortunate;because other than bumps and bruises we had no scares or tragedies, save as mentioned before Jill’s dad passing. Life was blessing us, and except for activation for a truck driver’s strike when my National Guard unit was sent to Barberton, near Cleveland, for a week and two consecutive years of activation for Ohio’s famous blizzards, we just moved through time. Will and his neighborhood friends spent every waking childhood moment playing, and although towards the end of adolescence the dreaded video games and brain numbing
66 nonsense like Pac Man, Frogger, and then the one that really got the craze started Super Mario Brothers came onto the scene. Until then it was play outside, no matter what the weather. I understand today’s worries regarding children and health, because those children in our neighborhood never sat still until their heads hit their pillows, and then they were asleep in seconds. A giant elm tree sits in our backyard; I would guess it has to be close to a hundred years old, and its limbs stick out like low hanging stair steps, inviting the Tom Sawyer in all boys to climb its powerful frame. We could look out the bank of windows into our back yard and see children speckled throughout the tree at various heights, looking like ripe fruit just waiting to be picked. For some reason, I guess because we could see them and also because it was so easy to climb and maneuver, we never worried about a fall or injury, and that lack of concern turned out to be correct as there was never an accident or incident. The children also never used the tree for horseplay, they just enjoyed the climbing and sitting on the limbs. Looking back, since our own memories shape us in many ways, I am a bit surprised I didn’t worry about the tree, as when I was about the age of our young tree climbers, I fell from one at my Grandma Stoner’s house, hitting my head on a wagon tongue parked under the tree in their barnyard. That tree was old and inviting as well, and who would expect me to fall at that exact moment on the day that particular wagon was parked under the tree. Certainly if the situation was available, I would find it. My brother Rick went screaming into the house, “Billy is dead! Billy is dead!” I can see why he thought he was not exaggerating. My mother and grandmother were doing dishes, and in those days almost all work was done while wearing an apron to protect the housedress, which may have been one of two that were owned. As my mother tells this story, they both ran from the house, throwing dishes into the barnyard and tearing off their aprons as they ran, tossing them
67 aside as well. I was lying on the ground, my head resting on the wagon tongue, my head totally drenched in blood. I recall some things about the incident, but I don’t remember if I was unconscious nor do I remember pain. In those times you rushed to the doctor’s office, not the hospital, so off we went, screaming and crying hysterically, to Dr. Lacock, the old country doctor that everyone placed their lives and futures in. If you had a cold or some ailment that enabled you to sit in a chair and not lose consciousness, you went to the main waiting room and did what the name implies, you waited. No appointments, just a first come first serve basis, and no take a number systems either. People knew in what order they came, so they waited. And don’t think a certain day or time of day madea difference, because it did not. Every day the waiting room was jammed, and no one appreciated emergencies of anything that would circumvent their place in line. The place had a prison infirmary atmosphere and you ran the risk of getting shanked if you ditched in line. If you felt you had an emergency, you went around to the back and banged on the old screen door. Doc would come out, his stomach larger than a beach ball and his pencil thin mustache twitching in frustration and fatigue, and then peer at the patient over his half glasses resting precariously on the end of his nose. He would make a quick assessment, and if in his opinion, and none other mattered, you had an emergency, he would bring you in and treat you immediately, even if someone else was being examined at the time. If he thought you could wait, he sent you to the waiting room and you saw him three or four hours later, all the while subjected to the glares of the patients who almost saw you get ahead of them in line. My mother drove the car right next to the back door, bouncing through the ill kept lawn, dust and tiny stones flying as the tires kicked them up, the whole cloud of debris catching up and hindering visibility as the doors flew open and I was carried, now chocking a bit from dust, up the steps. The old screen door almost fell from its hinges as
68 my mother and grandmother simultaneously pounded the door. Doc was there in an instant, his girth aside proving he was deceptively catlike, although his feet were splayed to each side and he tilted back to prevent himself from falling over like a top heavy bulldozer. He was about to bark at them for driving on his grass, such as it was, and almost tearing down his door, such as it was as well, but before he could speak he saw me. My head was completely soaked in blood, giving me the ghoulishlylook of a strawberry blow pop, my lower body serving as the stick. In today’s world I could have been a performance artist, titling my show ‘The Sucker’. He grabbed me from my mother arms as if she had kidnapped me and he was saving me from her and rushed into an examining room, chasing out the half dressed patient he had been working on at the time with a raging bull bellow of “Get out of here.” I was by then screaming at the top of my lungs, probably from fear at everyone’s reactions more than anything else, which added to the chaos. I wonder what the waiting room full of people must have been thinking as they listened to the commotion. We were told some bolted for the door, preferring to go home and try some home remedies than to later face what must happen to people after they were taken into the dreaded back room. Others I am sure were just angry because they knew another delay was taking place, and perhaps the dreaded rush to the hospital was coming, at which point they would have to go home and come back tomorrow. That was the worst case scenario, and they could feel it coming. Doc Lacock was a rough person, a good doctor but not one for nonsense and probably felt he had no time for it either. He pushed my head roughly face first into a pillow, that action forcing me to stop kicking and screaming because I would have suffocated, and finally he was able to examine my head. “Oh for crying out loud,” he rasped, “it’s just a cut. The head bleeds like a slaughtered pig so it looks bad, but the boy just cut his head.” He grabbed a bottle of antiseptic, poured some on with a satisfied
69 grunt, and which to me felt like he had just doused me with battery acid, and then for good measure dumped some more on the cut. That started me screaming again, so he pushed my face into the pillow again until I stopped. When I was finally silent and quit kicking and squirming, he let go and jerked me to a sitting position like a rag doll. “Now get him out of her and take him home. I’ve got sick people to treat.” “That’s it?” my mother asked incredulously. “Well, I’d give him a bath and get that blood off him, it might draw bees and he could get stung. I don’t want to take any more time today for a sting.” Without another word Doc moved like a bull elephant toward his now terrified patient from before and waved him back into the examining room. Despite this traumatic memory, I was never concerned with the children hanging from our tree. I knew where they were, they were having fun, and it was wonderful watching them. Besides, Doc Lacock was long gone and if there were any medical emergencies they would be handled much differently. Life was good. Jillloved hearing the ice cream truck, the annoying music it played reaching our ears from a distance away, coming like a pied piper and gathering children. It made no difference what was in our own freezer; it could have been stocked to bursting with ice cream treats, popsicles, and even Graters half gallons. The summer visits from the Good Humor man were not really about buying ice cream or even eating the frozen delights, it was a vital social evening event. Kind of like going out to eat when there is plenty of food in the refrigerator, just because it’s fun. You save money and the home prepared food is actually tastier and healthier, but going out becomes an event. The ice cream truck was a five star ice cream restaurant. Will always heard it first, his young ears not saddled with the years of noise that begin eroding the clarity of sound for adults. Jill would see his head jerk up, her signal that our little sentry was alerted like a guard dog reporting an intruder. She moved
70 toward her purse with the precision of an athlete before he could react, giving him however much the overpriced treats cost, laughing as he tore across the back yard as if being chased by a dog and vaulted the fence to get to the cull de sac. How I loved her laugh, and any time she had joy in her heart brought a flush over me and left me wondering what I could do to make it permanent for her. I unfairly prayed that I could keep that with her constantly, and made it my mission in life. The children lined up in an awkward type of order, sort of a snake line because each one wanted to see what was coming from the truck. After all, part of the fun was trying to best the other junior consumers and make them envious of the prize you were smart enough to choose. The system seemed to workbecause ultimately everyone had a snow cone, a drumstick, an ice cream sandwich, or the infamous rocket bar, the biggest treat on the truck, but actually nothing more than a Popsicle in the sort of shape of a rocket ship. Although it probably cost the least of all the items to produce, it was a very popular choice foryour average eight year old consumer. What the children didn’t gulp down summer’s heat made short work of, melting down little hands and arms and finally dripping off elbows onto the sidewalk, creating colorful little puddles that drew swarms of flies and armies of ants. Since sugar was the main ingredient in all of these treats, the end result was a sticky mess. Jill waited patiently for Will to come bounding back over the fence, even at that young age showing the athlete he would someday become as he effortlessly came over the top like a young deer bounding past an obstacle to get to his destination. She met him on the back patio, a bath towel soaked in warm water, the warmth releasing the fabric softener’s fragrance, covering her precious child’s arms and dissolving the sticky mass before he could touch anything in the house. Just watching her face as she cleaned him off, listening to his excited explanation about his treat and why it was the best. The love she had for him was so strong it was a physical presence, and I never tired of watching it at work.
71 Jill was not fastidious, and by that I mean she did not insist that everything was in its place exactly just so, because a house had to be a home, and a home was to be lived in. Still, she kept a neat house, and in this era of equality and sharing of all responsibilities, which I did and do totally support, the home and its reputation was hers. She more allowed me to help with cleaning and laundry that wanted it, a toleration born of the appreciation of my desire to assist, and often I would see her going over some of my cleaning jobs again because it just did not suit her. It never angered me because I knew she felt strongly about the condition of her home, and I just smiled at the thought she was holding her tongue and not telling me I was doing more harm than good. The outside was a different story. I worked at a nursery garden center when I was growing up, so landscaping and exterior design were mine. I learned from the best landscaper in Lima, Earl Lockwood, and toward the end of my time with him he allowed me to run jobs and do some designing. In a use it or lose it world I am not as good as the old days, but I was still the best we had. I can safely say Jill did not like outside work, because if she did despite my skills I would not have been the boss there either, because the outside was an extension of the inside. All of that was perfectly fine, in fact in retrospect maybe she made some decisions because I preferred to let her have or do anything she wanted. Jill could do no wrong with me, and I didn’t care if it mattered or not. She was the expert when it came to flowers, and we got a lot of compliments with her yearly plantings. She typically put out ten to twelve flats of annuals every year, and we had a colorfast. We had such a great time when Will was in High School. He competed in a Division One school, which was the biggest and most competitive schools in Ohio. Athlete’s had to be really good or else be part ofintramural activities, because it was just very difficult to make the teams. Will played varsity and earned a letter in his junior and senior years at Thomas Worthington High School. He had the prettiest, most level swing
72 I have to date ever seen. It reminded me of Johnny Bench, the all star catcher for the Reds, except from the left side of the plate. We traveled everywhere back then, and even when we would see the grass at home looking like it should bailed instead of mowed, we didn’t care. Those really were the days. Perhaps the highlight of watching Will was a trip we made to Toledo. A game was lined up with Toledo Start, at that time one of the top rated schools in the country. I think the team expected to lose, this was truly and amazing team, but we were anxious to see how the boys performed. Will came to the plate three times in a five inning run rule rout, and he put the ball in play all three times. He grounded out, flied out, and hit a single. We had a great day. I was co president of The Diamond Club, the baseball parents support group for the team, when Will was a senior, and that made Jill’s burden heavier. She did all of the administrative work and saw to it that we had food for the concession stand, printed flyers for spring flowersfund raising sales, and reminded me of meetings I dared not forget. There could not have been a more impressive Donna Reed show episode written than our life at that time. EIGHT When Will was little, he once asked me how many years he would have to go to school. Without hesitation I told him nineteen, which covered him from kindergarten through grad school. I remember it so distinctly when he asked, and the number came out without any thought or mental addition. I guess it was always there in my subconscious. As important as school is, in today’s world a graduate degree is as important as was a college degree when I grew up. Every parent wants their child to have a good life, better than their own no matter how good that was, and we were in agreement that Will needed school and then more school.
73 Jill had a rule when it came to college; a hard and fast decision that was never open for discussion. Will would go, and unless he came up with a wild plan such as attending a state school out of Ohio that cost twice as much, or if he chose a college with no accreditation, we would pay for it. “I am not going to listen to people who say it builds character to pay your own way through college,” she said in her best Daniel Webster oration. “All it teaches them is how to be in debt. There will be enough of that in his life too soon as it is. When it comes to grad school we will help, but that’s when he can teach or something as he goes through.” As for me, I’m going to argue with Jill? Actually, we were of course not perfect, no couple that is actually real ever is and when I disagreed we had a discussion about it, but I did buy off on this one. We were just so attuned together that there were very few things we had a problem with. Will actually thought he might get a part time job for the extra income it would provided during his undergrad work,and that was just not going to happen either. He was going to school, work would come later. We did the college visitation circuit, which was a big family outing and a load of fun in itself. Will even put up with a visit to Wilmington College, my old alma mater, even though we all knew it was not in the running. It was still fun to roam the campus and show him the various haunts that first just I enjoyed, and later with his mother. We drove by the old apartment and stopped in the United Dairy Farmers for ice cream, even though we could always go to a UDF in Columbus. Jill’s favorite Wilmington stop was Vic and Mom Cassano’s pizza, and that one was hard to find. It was a favorite when we were there and we made sure the trip included that stop. We even visited with Wilmington’s baseball coach and Will was very gracious about the whole thing. One small school wanted him to play baseball for them, but he decided he wanted to be a student and have some fun, not just being relegated to nothing but practice and
74 playingball. Of course that was not my choice because I loved watching him play, but a well placed kick in the shins from Jill under the table closed my mouth. Ultimately, he decided on Bowling Green, a large state school but not as monstrous as Ohio State, plus it was away from home, and the time was right for Will to spread his wings. Two weeks before he was to leave his wisdom teeth were removed, leaving him looking like a chipmunk with its cheeks filled with nuts. This was the thing to do at that age, and most of his friends either mirrored his look or had already been through the process recently. But the soreness and swelling soon passed, Will said his goodbyes and made his final preparations, and off to BGSU we all went. Jill rode with Will, who was taking his Chevrolet Beretta we bought when he was sixteen. It had just under a hundred thousand miles on it when we purchased it, and he had driven that car for two years. I was a Chevy man since my youth, so Will had to suffer through my return to youth since I bought the car. It was not in good shape when we bought it, but it was a good little car in its day. We replaced a lot of light bulbs, all the belts, hoses and fluids, and then the tires. Statistically speaking he would wreck it in short order anyway, but to our pleasant surprise he had no mishaps. Will may be the most honest person I have ever known, incapable of lying or being deceitful. We could always tell if something was up because he would just remain mute when direct and difficult questions were asked, preferring silence to telling a lie and knowing the only words he could speak would be the truth. One evening he came home and without as much as a hello he said, “I got picked up by the police tonight.” This without the slightest emotion or as much as a blink. Jill was accustomed to Will’s limited communication so she didn’t react until she had the whole story. A simple “What happened Honey?” sufficed.
75 “I stopped at a four way stop sign and he said I didn’t come to a complete stop. There was no other traffic and I turned to the right. I think I was stopped, he said my wheels were not stationary long enough.” Now I was a bit worked up, but not at Will. “He gave you a ticket for that? We’ll be fighting that one in court.” “He didn’t give me a ticket,” Will continued. “I just got a warning.” Jill smiled now and held up a silencing hand before I could reply. “I wouldn’t think you should get a ticket for that and you are a good honest person for telling us. You didn’t have to and we appreciate it. We’re glad everything is alright.” She patted his hand, and using the “we” and “us” words made it clear that the subject was closed. The key to this is it turns out Worthington sends a letter to parents of a minor when even the slightest violation occurs. If Will were not so completely honest we would have received the letter without his warning. He is in short just an awesome young man. I could see them in front of me for the two hour plus trip to Bowling Green, and neither one stopped talking for the entire trip. I enjoyed watching their heads moving and the hand gestures as they talked and talked, the mutual respect and love they shared a touching sight. We stayed until quite late, checking every square inch of the campus, not wanting to give up and ending the day. Finally heading for home and leaving, for the first time in our lives, one third of our unit in another place, Jill’s tears started before we reached I 75, and had not stopped by the time we reached home. All of my words of comfort did no good as she was just too upset. Fortunately, Will forgot something he needed, now what it was has been long forgotten, but it was deemed important enough at the time thatwe drove back to Bowling Green two days later. Jill had been inconsolable, crying most of the time and not listening to reason when I told her she needed to get control of herself. She settled down
76 when we got near the campus, knowing she would see him shortly. The instant we saw Will we both knew something was wrong; his cheeks looked full of nuts again, the swelling distorting his handsome face. A call to the dentist confirmed our suspicions;he had an infection sometimes called dry sockets as an aftermath of the wisdom teeth extraction. He had to go back home and be treated for the problem. A bad experience for Will, a needed one for Jill. She had him home for a couple of days, and as he recovered things were normal again for a bit, but in the long run it didn’t work, as when we dropped him off with a full recovery it was a rerun and shebegan crying again. This went on and on, and finally after two weeks of this, I had reached my limit. “Look, here’s how it is,” I said, one of the few times I was irritated with her. “Either you stop this or one of two things is going to happen. We quit our jobs and move to Bowling Green or Will comes home whether he likes it or not. You make the call and I’ll go along with your decision.” No one was any more amazed than me, but it worked. Jill stopped crying and accepted her baby’s growing up, but the beauty of it all is he will always be our baby, no matter where he ends up in life. He might not like it, but that is the way it is. Anyway, I kind of hope he maybe does like it. We got some visits on weekends and of course there also was summers. He loved BGSU and did well;majoring in business despite the fact it was considered one of their harder courses of study. We agreed that being on his own had moved him along in maturing and his development as a man. He had done well and we were proud of his accomplishments. The old Beretta was becoming a problem, finding a mind of its own and tending to stall out at very inopportune moments. One day when Will was at home for a visit his car was in the way, so Jill grabbed his keys and borrowed it for an errand. About an hour
77 later our phone rang and it was Jill, sitting on High Street in Will’s car, the engine refusing to run. That cantankerous old car had just made a mistake. It gave out on Jill. It reminded me of an old rooster on the farm I grew up on. It ruled the henhouse with a vengeance, protecting his turf from animals and humans alike. He would attack my brother and me, and even my mother was not exempt from his wrath. The only exception was my father, who had never had an altercation with the bird. They seemed to have some sort of a gentlemen’s agreement to not include one another in the macho wars that were going on. I don’t know if the rooster forgot, no longer cared, or in his arrogance finally decided that he was in charge of everyone, but he finally made the mistake of his life. One Saturday my father grabbed the egg basket and headed for the henhouse, whistling tunelessly as he crossed the caged lot that contained the hens and of course the old rooster. Like a scud missile the bird attacked and struck from behind, sinking his talons into my father leg and then pecking at him violently. Roosters also use their wings as weapons, beating them against their opponent with the capability of doing some damage. The scud missile rooster met a patriot missile in my father, and we all know how those matchups went. The attack happened on a Saturday and we had chicken for dinner on Sunday. So it went with that automobile, except in this case it ran into the entire First Army. Will and I drove down High Street and found her near Clintonville, about five miles from home. I put them in my car, got behind the wheel of Will’s Beretta, and of course the engine started instantly. We arrived at home, Will said his goodbyes and headed back to school, and Jill sat quietly for the longest time. When she became silent it either meant we were having an argument, which we weren’t, or she was making a decision that was not negotiable. Finally she announced, “That car goes. And I don’t mean later, I mean it goes now.”
78 Within minutes I drove to Jack Maxton’s Chevrolet, my dealership of choice because I am a Chevy man and they have the best people in the business, and picked out a new Cavalier. It was black with a black interior, two door and sporty. Jill was sold on the spot and of course Will couldn’t be too upset because he had a new car. It really was a safety issue and the right move to make. The next day we took it to Bowling Green, brought back the Beretta as an unseen trade in to Maxton’s, no issue because the old car was next to worthless by then anyway, and just that quickly the great car incident was over. The entire transaction took place in a matter of two days, a record even for a car buff like me. Despite these little blips of problems in our lives, we had very little to complain about, as Will graduated from Bowling Green with an excellent GPA, he was moving ahead with his life, we were all doing well, and then reality set in again. Jill and Jan’s mother, Marva, passed away. We had to endure the ending of a household, putting aside things that were kept for years and keeping things that were, are, and always will be precious. We cling to those we love and resent their loss to us. We all had a hard time adjusting to her absence. Life gives us joy and pain, sometimes in unequal proportions. We lost Uncle Buzz Kaufman, and his dear wife Betty had passed away some years before, and then we lost Aunt Avis. Love is a blessing, and the pain of loss would never be there without love’s precedence. It takes us back to the promise we have of eternal life, and the promise of restoration and reunion. I live on only because of this great promise, and I know it is true. Life continuedon, as it does, and lived our lives. Will was working in Columbus with BMW Financial Services, but he was not satisfied. He wanted a Master’s degree, and decided he would pursue his options. He sent letters to universities nationwide that
79 offered work versus education benefits. The process was a lot like being a writer, lots of query letters and an equal number of rejections. Because he was persistent and also a sharp person, Will beat the odds. He got a response from Wagner College on Staten Island, New York, a Division 1A school with a beautiful campus. A ferry ride from New York City, the incredible world of Manhattan was at his fingertips. They were looking for anequipment manager for the athletic department, and in return offered grad school tuition, room, and board plus a monthly stipend. A day long interview process was followed by an offer and he took it without hesitation. This was a major undertaking, and Will attacked it like a tiger. New York City was our favorite destination for vacations and long weekend getaways, and is the world’s capital for the publishing business, which was near and dear to my heart. Jill never tired of Broadway shows, musicals being her favorites, and we would typically see nearly every show that came and went to Gotham City. And Broadway was the place to be for shows, along with cultural events and some of the best restaurants in the world. There was a magic to the experience that we felt could not be replicated anywhere else, and I cannot imagine any city in the world that could come close to its splendor. We knew we had been to the city enough times to not be considered tourists when one day a befuddled looking man stopped us and asked for directions. To both of our amazements Jill knew exactly where he was going and gave precise directions to his destination. Remember the ad campaign with people singing I love New York? Jill should have been in that one wearing the I New York sweatshirt with a giant heart in the middle. The Service Merchandise diamond had adorned her finger for a lot of years. On one trip to the city we walked to the Diamond District, an amazing place that contains what appears to be thousands of individual booth style stores. The number and cost of
80 the diamonds are immeasurable, with the several blocks of merchants all wanting business. We found I.D. Jewelers, a wonderful family who owned one of the many booths that adorned the crowded area. We replaced her ring with a new engagement and wedding band surrounded with diamonds on a band of platinum. I always thought the set was extraordinary, but Jill was so beautiful it made them look ordinary, as anything would compared to her. She found a set of rings at Tiffany’s and chose the rings I.D had that most nearly replicated them. I also years ago bought her diamond earrings that were not very high quality, so those too were replaced by our friends at I. D. Jewelry. Jill’s other favorite jewelry maker was David Yurman, and his headquarters store in New York City was another popular spot for us. She was ‘decked out’ as they say, but then she was very much worth every piece she received. She received great pleasure in the baubles but not half the pleasure I received in getting them for her. Our trips were always pleasurable and fun, until we received a call one morning just before we headed out to work. It was Will and the conversation went something like this: “Hey, how’s it going?” “Will?” I said, knowing it was his voice but surprised he was calling so early. He didn’t respond to my question, instead he said, “Now, everything is fine, I’m alright. I don’t want you to worry.” Of course instantly my blood ran cold. “Will, what’s wrong son?” I asked, trying to be calm and not get as hysterical as I was now feeling. Jill, because she’s a mother and had an intuitiveness for us anyway, narrowed her eyes and started poking at me, mouthing “What?” “I don’t know, it’s Will,” I said, “just a second.” “Dad?” Will asked, this three way conversation getting stranger by the second.
81 “Okay Will,” I said, “I’m all ears.” “Now, everything is fine. I’m okay, and I …” “You already said that,” I interrupted. “What is going on?” “I’m in the hospital,” he blurted. “The hospital!” I barked. “The hospital!” Jill shouted. “It’s alright, I’m fine.” “Will, if you say that again I swear I’ll strangle you through the phone,” I said. “Okay, okay,” he quickly said. “I was in an automobile accident last night and I broke my arm. I’m in the hospital here on Staten Island and they want to operate right away.” I felt a terrible pain in my left arm, was it a heart attack? A stroke? No, it was Jill’s grip on my left bicep coming close to tearing it away from the bone. “Okay,” I said, feeling a little bit better now because at least it did sound like he was going to live. “I’m going to peel your mother’s hand off my arm because the blood supply has been cut off and then I’m handing her the phone. Tell her what’s going on.” While Jill was talking I grabbed my cell phone and called Delta Airlines. They had at that time the most direct flights to New York, and I explained to them it was an emergency and we needed to get to New York within hours. They had a flight that we could make if we packed virtually nothing and bought what we needed while there, and then they were very helpful with our dilemma by charging us just over a thousand dollars for two tickets that would have normally been around two hundred. So much for the brotherhood of man. Jill hung up and turned to me, her hands shaking. “He was in an automobile accident last night and his arm is broken. They said he needs surgery right away because
82 his arm is so swollen it could cut off the circulation and could cost him the arm.” She started to cry and I took her in my arms. “We have a flight to catch,” I said, pulling her toward the door. “We can buywhat we need there. Forget everything, toothbrush, makeup, all of it. We’ll worry about those things after we take care of Will.” Jill came along, shock making her compliant. “Do we let them operate on him?” she asked, ignoring my speed as we flew out of the garage and hit the pavement in front of our house. The Impala’s tires screamed as they bit deep and we defied police and gravity as I quickly ate up the few miles to the airport. I parked in long term, the most expensive way to leave you car, without having any idea how long we might be there, but it got us inside, through security, and to the gate much quicker. “I don’t know.” I said truthfully. “Right now we just need to get there, but if they say his arm isn’t getting blood they may have to do something right away.” After we rushed to the airport we then waited impatiently for our flight. As we sat in the uninviting chairs at the gate and prayed it would quickly be time to board, my cell rang and I grabbed it. A voice I had never heard was on the line. “Mr. Keller, I know you don’t know me but I go to school with Will. I was raised in New Jersey and have livedaround here all my life. I’m calling you because Will is my friend and I wanted to tell you do not let these people operate on him.” My silence might have seemed to be dismissive to him, but actually I was dumbstruck. I didn’t know what to say or how to respond. “I’m sorry,” he continued, “I didn’t mean to upset you. I should have kept my opinions to myself.” That uncorked my tongue. “No, no. I just was surprised and didn’t knowwhat to say for a moment. What do you think we should do?” Something told me to listen to this voice.
83 “A friend of mine works for a surgeon in Manhattan,” he continued. He was measuring his words slowly, not wanting to say anything that would cause me to ignore his advice. “He’s world renowned and only works on arms. For real, he operates from the shoulder to the wrist. This guy only takes celebrities and very wealthy people, and he is impossible to get an appointment with. I called my friend and she said if Will goes to his office, he will evaluate him and help him if he can. And Mr. Keller, if this doctor can’t help him no one can. He’s probably the best in the world.” I quickly updated Jill and she said, “Let’s get him to that doctor.” “Can you get him there?” I asked into the phone. “I can take him there now. They promised to see him as soon as he gets there.” “Put Will on the phone,” I said, my decision made at that instant. “Hey Dad.” Will’s voice sounded tired and in pain. I fought to keep my voice steady. “Son, this is going to be difficult, but I need you to do it. Press the call button for the nurse. When he or she comes in, tell themyou are leaving. They’ll more or less freak out and tell you that you can’t do that, but tell them you are going anyway. You will have to sign a document that says you are leaving against medical advice, and they may even try to scare you and tell you horrible things are going to happen to your arm if you leave. What’s worse is we are going to be on an airplane in a minute and for about two hours we won’t be able to talk to you so you will be on your own.” They called us to board the plane and I quickly said, “Then,go see that surgeon. We are going directly to his office from LaGuardia, and we will meet you there. Do you have all that?” “Okay, I have it,” he said and hung up. It felt like I had just abandoned him in some foreign country.
84 Jill and I talked nonstop on the hour and a half trip to New York, this time to stem the fear and concern. “Is this the right decision?” she asked. “I don’t know Honey,” I said honestly. “This all happened so fast we haven’t had time to thinkabout it. I felt right though about trusting that young man, and we have to listen to someone don’t we?” “What is this doctor isn’t any good?” she continued. “What if he’s a quack?” “I doubt he’s a quack,” I said, “but we’ve had no time to research him that’s for sure. We’re going on the word of someone we’ve never met, but I don’t think it’s logical for a friend of Will’s to intentionally steer him wrong. I guess when we get there if we’re concerned with this guy we can always go to another hospital. I don’t know, this is one time I just don’t know, but we will do everything we can to make sure he gets the best care. And you know we’re going to do what we think is right, and in the end that is all anyone can do, so let’s just keep praying and help our son.” After what seemed like forever the plane landed and we grabbed a cab to Manhattan. Traffic wasn’t as awful as usual and we made decent time, probably a New York City first, arriving at the office of Dr. Raskin in fairly good time. We ran to the check in window and Jill said to the receptionist, “We are here for Will Keller. He came in with an injured arm from Staten Island.” “Sorry, there’s no Keller here,” she said with a smile. Did we have the wrong office? The wrong doctor? I wrote it all down when I was on the phone, but maybe in all the excitement? We looked at each other in confusion, not knowing what to do now that we were at the party and our guest of honor did not show up. At that moment the outside door opened and in came Will and another young man, and it appeared they were refugees from a circus. For a moment we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Will was wearing shorts, hospital shoes, and a hospital
85 gown. He was naked from the waist up, except for the flowing gown, and his right arm was in a sling. He looked positively horrible, pasty white and obviously in pain. “I would guess this is Will,” the receptionist said. “Come with me,” she said, and whisked Will away before we had a chance to say anything to him, his hospital shoes whisking as they scraped along the tile floor. We turned our attention to Will’s benefactor, the friend whose voicenow had a face that got him out of the hospital and into the hands of Dr. Raskin. He had an easy smile and a confidence about him that made you immediately at ease. “I’m Bryan Gallagher,” he said, offering his hand which first Jill and then I took. “I can see Will has a very good friend,” Jill said. “How can we thank you?” “No thanks are needed,” he said with that easy smile. “Will is a friend, and I know he would do the same for me.” “So this doctor is really good?” Jill asked. “We haven’t had time to check him out or anything.” “This man is considered the best arm specialist in the world, and I truly mean the world,” Bryan said. “He doesn’t even have to travel much. They come to him.” “Bryan,” Jill said, “we never asked. Do you have any idea how this accident or any of the particulars?” He nodded and said, “I sure do. First of all, Will was not driving. He was in the front seat and there were threepeople in the back. The driver lost control of his car on a rainy road and they hit a telephone pole. There was no drinking or anything bad involved, it was just an accident. Will said he saw the pole coming and he braced his arm against the window post. The collision broke his arm. One of the people in back has some jaw and teeth damage, I would guess that was from the seat back, and other than that everyone is alright.”
86 “We were so worried that we never even asked the particulars,” Jill said, “not that it matters,” she added. “All we care is that no one was killed and hopefully in the end everyone will be alright.” A young girl came into the room and went immediately to Bryan. “Hey Bryan, how’s it going,” she asked. She was a pretty girl with a bright smile and, like Bryan, carried herself with a quiet confidence. “Great,” he said, and they hugged. His face showed an obvious likeness and respect for the girl. “Gina, this isWill’s mom and dad. They got here just a few minutes ago from Worthington.” “Mister and Misses Keller,” the pretty girl said, turning to us and putting a comforting hand on each of our arms. “I know you’ve already had a tough day, but let me assure you that Will is in great hands. Come on back, Doctor Raskin is ready for you. You’re going to like him.” She turned to go and gave a little wave to her friend Bryan as we followed her. Bryan moved toward the waiting room but I waved him back to us. “Come on back Bryan, you’re part of this now.” He smiled and nodded. “Thank you sir, I was hoping you’d include me.” He fell in step beside Gina and we followed them down a hallway with multiple closed doors along the way. We went back to a tiny room barely large enough for one person, and Will was sitting on an examination table, his back propped against the wall andhis feet stretched out in front of him. His arm was in a sling and appeared tight and swollen, but he looked better than before and his color was back. He still wore the hospital gown. We went to him and patted his good arm; he smiled wanly. Crammed in like circus clowns in a tiny car, Jill and I joined Will with Bryan and then Gina. In a moment a man in a white lab coat, perhaps fifty years old with movie star
87 looks, joined us as well. I swear he looked like the sixties television character Ben Casey. “Hello all,” he said in a booming voice, “I’m Dr. Raskin. I have some films here and we’ll all just take a look together.” He put x-rays on a screen and flipped on a light. Will’s damaged arm sprang up on the screen and the break was obvious even to us. My stomach sank as I saw the separation of the bones. “Well, look at what we have here,” he boomed. “This is a broken arm I do believe.” He turned and smiled then, almost like he had shown us a secret that he was pleased with. He looked at us and winked. “I’m not too sure we can help you with this, you see we need a donor arm and,” he paused and grabbed Bryan’s arm. “Wait a minute, this will do,” he laughed. Then he dropped the arm and the smile and turned to us;suddenly all business. “Will has a very bad break,” he said, now in a serious tone. “But I am going to fix it and when we are done he will never have another minutes trouble. We will put in a titanium pin, the most expensive material used in surgeries but that’s because it’s the least likely to cause a problem later in life.” “So he will be fine?” Jill asked. “Better than new,” he said. “That arm will be stronger than before, because that piece of metal will strengthen it. You are fortunate Will came to me, because a lot of surgeons would have messed this up, but I assure you I will not. He’s a challenge,but I know he will be perfect. You see, we will have to make sure we get this spot here just so, and actually there needs to be a centimeter gap right here,” he pointed to a spot at the break, “and then it will fuse together like new.” He slapped his hands together when he said fused, and the last part he seemed to be saying to himself, making plans in his mind and for the moment forgetting we were there. “So does he have surgery today?” Jill inquired. Her comment brought him back to us in the little room. “What was that, today? Oh my no, we have to let the swelling go down first. Maybe two or three days.”
88 “But the Staten Island hospital said he needed surgery today or his arm could be permanently damaged,” she insisted. “Hah!” he roared, throwing his arms into the air for emphasis. “You see, that’s why you need to be here, because it’s just the reverse,” he answered. He looked very pleased with himself. “If the swelling doesn’t go down first we can’t set the arm perfectly straight and it would be, well, crooked,” he finished with a smile, holding his own arm out at an odd angle to show his point. “We will put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and we will do it right. And we want you to be able to play concert piano, which will be a really good trick since you never played before.” He guffawed at his humor. Sometimes it is hard to explain, but we felt comfortable with this man. He was very confident in his ability and was not hesitant to show it, but it didn’t come across as arrogant or self serving. He was just simply confident, and he spread that feeling over us. His humor was a form of relaxation for our benefit, and it worked. “What do we do now?” Jill asked, because it appeared there was nothing else to be done there at that time. “I would suggest you get a hotel room, take Will with you, and keep him as comfortable as possible for the next couple of days,” the doctor said. “I need to see him daily, so don’t stay too far away, and when the time is right we’ll fix the arm. Gina will keep a daily open slot for me at University Hospital so we have no delays when the swelling goes down. He’ll be on some pretty strong pain medicine, so after you see he doesn’t have any bad reactions to them, just enjoy the city.” He then turned to Will. “And take the pills,” he said with a sternness that demanded attention. “It you wait until you feel pain, you’re about a half hour before the next one kicks in and you will think your arm is going to explode. You’re going to more or less sleep for the next few days, so just face it and get and know you’re going to need some time to get better. It won’t be fun, but you will at some point be back one hundred percent.”
89 And that was it. We checked into a Marriott near his office and watched Will sleep. Hunger would occasionally waken him and we ordered out, then the pain pills put him to sleep again and we renewed our vigilant watch. Obviously this was the strangest New York trip we had ever taken. For the first two days we sat in the small room, reading and worrying, rousing Will from his drug induced sleep long enough each day to make the five minute cab ride to the doctor’s office. The swelling diminished considerably, the puffiness replacing itself with first an ugly blackness and then adding a blue hue to itself. As for Dr. Raskin, he was pleased with what he saw and voiced his encouragement, then told us to come back tomorrow for another look. On the third day, the arm was still too swollen to operate, and I think Will grew tired of our attention so he said, “Why don’t you two take a walk. You’re making me nervous.” So we did, and we probably were hovering over him too much. Walking in New York City is a joy asthere are constant sights and just the overall atmosphere is amazing. David Letterman’s show begins with ‘From New York, the greatest city in the world’, and in our opinion that is true. We were still concerned, but the stroll hand in hand did help relieve some tension. Central Park is glorious during the day, with street vendors everywhere and many want to be artists selling their wares. Just strolling along hand in hand calmed my fears. Finally, after what seemed to be hundreds of years,the arm was ready and the operation was performed. Just as with all such events, we paced around the waiting room, wishing it were one of us going through the procedure, and praying he would be fine when the day was done. After what seemed a lifetime Dr. Raskin came out to see us, swaddled in his sterile surgery clothing. “Everything went great, just as planned. He will be in recovery for about an hour then to a step down room. In three hours or so you can take him back to the hotel, and then I want to see him at eight A.M. every day for a week. We’ll put him ina cast and get him a device that holds his arm out in front of his body. It
90 will be annoying and his friends will probably tease him, but it will heal faster that way. And he will have to move his shoulder every day, because we don’t want it locking up on him, but I’ll do that for the first week. After that he’ll have to get some help from his friends.” “Will we get some kind of written instructions to know what to do as time goes on?” Jill wondered. “Good question” Dr. Raskin said with a shake of his head. “We will give you very detailed instructions, and at some point he will have to get physical therapy to rehab the arm. But for now just get him settled in and keep pain medication in him, because without it he will hurt like, well, he will hurt. And this pain will make what he had before seem like nothing.” So that was that. Will began his recovery, a slow and painful process, and the beginning of it involved using this large Styrofoam prop that held his arm about head high in front of his body. The worst of it was he was in school and still had his responsibilities as equipment manager to the college. They were very good about helping him, in fact they assigned a student assistant to him which helped some with his duties, but we had to go home, because our jobs were waiting as well. Of course that started a fresh chorus of tears, and I nearly had to repeat my Bowling Green speech with Jill to calm her back down, but she soon leveled out. She remembered that he needed us in other ways then and that helped her. One wonderful thing about the experience is Will found he had some really good friends at Wagner. Of course Bryan has been mentioned, and although there were many more who helpedhim along the way, Gina really took him under her wing. This is not the same Gina from the doctor’s office, who was so wonderful in getting Will in with a world class surgeon; this Gina was a Wagner friend. She drove him around, took him to physical therapy
91 appointments, and made sure he was taking care of himself. She has remained a friend he corresponds with ever since. When the physical therapy began, Will called me with a concern. As a parent advice given to a child is more important than anything you can do, so it must be correct, as difficult as that sometimes may be. Will was going to a therapist who manipulated his arm and was pushing it toward normal range of motion. The doctor chose her so we accepted his judgment as to her skills. He told me the pain was so intense that he took remaining pain pills left over from his post surgery recovery and even that was not keeping him from being in agony. His arm would be swollen and sore for days following her manipulation, and just as it began to recover he had another session and was back to square one. I listened to his dilemma and gave him my counsel. “Will, sometimes when we’ve had a bad injury, the rehabilitation of that injury is the worst part of the process. You probably have to take the pain to get well, even if it is bad. Pain today may give you a lifetime of normalcy for your arm.” “It hurt so bad the last time I almost passed out,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when these pain pills run out.” “I worry more about the pills,” I said truthfully. “If you take them too long you can become dependent on them. That is not something I would ever hope you had to go through.” “Well, I have no choice,” he admitted. “I understand, you have to get relief. I think you should call Dr. Raskin and go see him before your next scheduled appointment. Ask him for pain medicine if it’s safe and see how he thinks the arm is doing. Tell him everything about the terrible pain and see if he can help.” “And what do I do in the meantime until I get in to see him?” was Will’s question.
92 “Son, I think you have to take the pain, even if it’s that horrible. That therapist knows what has to be done, so if she hurts you it’s to make you better. That’s what I think. And tell her too how long it takes for your pain and swelling to go down. Maybe she can let up a bit.” “I have told her before and she just says it needs to be bent as far as she is going,” he said, “but I’ll tell her again.” “Call whenever finish a treatment and we’ll see how it’s going,” I suggested. He did, and nothing seemed to make it better. It was two more weeks before Will got in to see the doctor, and he had at least three more sessions with the therapist. He called me when he left the doctor’s office. “Well, he looked at my arm,” Will said. I winced on the other end of the phone, imagining that the doctor explained that he was going to have to endure the pain. “What did he say?” I asked. “He was really angry,” Will replied. “He told me she was doing more damage to my arm and I should have no pain or swelling when I get done with these treatments. He called another therapist and I go to him tomorrow.” My heart sank past my toes. I had given himadvice that was not only wrong, it had hurt him. It is a terrible thing to do anything, even though it is unintentional, to hurt your child. I felt terrible, and have never forgotten the experience. I know, I was giving advice based on love and what I thought was best, but my best in this case was not good enough, and fathers don’t like to fail their children. As you might guess, Jill came to the rescue like a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. I admit I cried when I hung up the phone, imagining the grueling sessions Will had suffered, and if only I had told him to stop until he saw the doctor. I couldn’t get the picture out of my brain of him writhing in pain. “You love that boy more than your own life,” she said to me as she stroked my hair. “I have never known you to do
93 anything that would intentionally hurt him and Will and I know you would never mean to cause him pain as well.” She paused to move in front of me, kneeling down to look me directly in the eyes. She took my hand in hers and squeezed hard. “Giving our children advice is part of being a parent. We are not perfect, we are not soothsayers. We don’t know all, we are not experts in all things, but what we are is a mom and a dad. Let me ask you something, would you give your life for Will?” “Without hesitation,” I answered, looking at her with my tear distorted gaze. The film of moisture made he face look like a Picasso painting. “Then you did what we are tasked to do,” she said softly. “You gave him the best advice you could and it was advice from a loving, caring parent that you believed was good and sound advice. Will has a father, and a good one, and I will not allow you to forget that or question it, ever. Now pull yourself together.” She grinned at me. “Oh, that’s yourline to me isn’t it. See, I learned from you as well. Let’s see now, how does that go? Stop this or he has to move back home.” We laughed then, together. Jill the rock, the lynchpin, the cornerstone of my life, giving me the perspective I needed to move on.
We originally moved to Worthington for the excellent school system and its proximity to so many things. A home inside the outer belt, Interstate 270, is a plus, and being in the actual city of Worthington doubled the advantage. The city was founded in the eighteen hundreds by Thomas Worthington and has the flavor of early America. No
94 place on this earth is perfect, but Worthington works hard to come close and it is fair to say that is its goal. We have an excellent city government, absolutely terrific support employees, and a top notch police and fire/rescue division. A first rate staff keeps the city clean and well maintained, and they offer little services such as allowing residents to drop off lawn waste at a city facility. It is small town America at its best and because it is connected to a large metropolitan city you have the best of all worlds. After a few years we tend to take it for granted, but in reality huge amounts of work go into making things look easy. With Will out on his own and Jill and I beginning the ageing process in a two story home with the bedrooms upstairs, we decided perhaps it would be best to look for a ranch style home for our future needs. We love Worthington and so our first line of defense in the search was looking for a home in the city limits. Because it is landlocked and has been chartered since colonial times, that did not leave too much land to choose from, and what land came available tended to be very pricey. Most of the current homes are older and ranch styles were not as popular, again limiting our search. Jill is the expert when it comes to homes and decorating, as our home’s interiorwas becoming a showcase as time went on, but again we knew a ranch style home would someday be best for us. Room by room she remodeled, stripping wallpaper, removing dated half walls between the family room and dinette, and changing carpet styles to the latest patterns, then painting walls accented to match. We replaced all of the hollow doors in the house with six panel solid pine doors, painting the woodwork white and updating hinges and door handles with new brass accessories. Even wall hangings received her attention, as she added a combination of original oil paintings and classic prints that fit our décor to perfection. I realize I am extremely biased, but she gave us a home that is in amodest price range that looks like a top
95 professional decorated it. A top decorator did, it was Jill, but as mentioned before she was unfortunately not a professional. The search began for a new home, and I must admit, which may be a surprise to the alpha male contingent, I enjoyed the hunt. It goes without need of saying Jill loved the process, in fact I believe she enjoyed the hunt more than the prospect of finding the new house. Her other problem was in doing the math regarding house payments and property taxes. Owning a home is, in short, expensive,and as we get closer to retirement you begin to consider other things as well. Besides making house hunting our Saturday entertainment, we watched the King Thompson home show every week on television. They list available homes and their addresses, with a very well done video tour and narrative of each. Open houses are noted and we would pick those of interest and see them. We expanded our search, albeit reluctantly, outside the city limits of Worthington, because as before mentioned there was just a lack of available properties. Remember our criteria was a ranch style in the more modern open floor plan, and we needed to find this in a small community that has been around for a very long time. It proved to be a daunting task, but we determined we were up to the challenge. It helped that we were not pressured to make a move, and when the time came, if it did, we would make our move. We found a lot of promising homes, most at least close to the border of Worthington, but we never made the move that would take us into the purchase. I sometimes believe Jill did not really want to move, or perhaps she did want a new home but did not want to leave the history of the home Will grew up in. I was no help, because I definitely felt that way, thus my attitude toward a new home was one of ambivalence. In that regard I would have gone pretty much wherever, but I wasn’t much help in deciding how to get us there.
96 Twice we were prepared to sign the paperwork that would have put us into a new home; in fact the closest we came was driving to a builder’s office to sign the paperwork. As we approached the office I glanced over and saw tears running down Jill’s cheeks. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked, thinking perhaps she was a bit overcome by the excitement of the transaction. It was a nerve wracking thing to do as new homes were a big commitment and more than a little frightening. “I can’t do this,” she said, her voice catching in a sob. Startled, I pulled into the builder’s parking lot, parked away from the front of the building, and turned off the car’s engine. We were going to be late, but suddenly I did not in the least bit care. “You can’t buy this house?” I said, despite the obvious I needed to make sure I understood. “I can’t do it,” Jill repeated. She was sobbing now, her shoulders shaking as her hands covered her eyes. “I just can’t make myself do this. I am so sorry, I am so sorry,” she cried. My first reaction was to ask her why, but as quickly as that thought came I pushed it aside, because it made absolutely no difference. Jill being happy was all I cared about, and I didn’t care if this place was the Hurst castle and was ours for free, if she did not want it, that was that. I pulled her to me, which made her cry harder, and not knowing what else to do, I patted her arm. “You sit still, and I will go in and take care of this. I’ll just be a few minutes.” I gave her arm a squeeze in an attempt to be comforting and kissed the tears from her eyes. “Take care of what?” she asked, her voice hitching between sobs, but she lifted her head now and looked at me. I could see the hope of a solution in them, because Jill I believe knew she could count on me.
97 “I am going to tell them we changed our mind and we won’t be signing any paperwork,” I said. “It will just take a minute.” Again I turned to the door handle, and again she pulled me back toward her. “But wait,” she said, grasping my hand and locking her blue eyes on mine. “This isn’t just up to me, you want this house.” “Now that’s where you have this all wrong,” I answered. “I don’t want this house or any other house. I want you, and I want a happy you. This decision is the easiest one I’ve ever made. Now, I will be right back.” I turned away again, and still again she pulled on my arm. She pulled me to her and kissed me, hard. “I love you,” she said, those eyes melting me like butter in a microwave. “And I love you,” I echoed. “That is all I ever did want or will ever want. I’ll take a cardboard box if you’re curled up in there with me. Be right back.” “I’m going with you,” she said, the tears gone now. “You shouldn’t have to do this alone.” I winked at her and smiled. “Come if you want, but there isn’t anything anyone can possiblysay that means more than you to me, so this is really easy.” She still came inside with me, I explained our decision, and within five minutes we were on our way. Actually it was pretty painless, they were very nice and did not hesitate in releasing us from our agreement. I think the closest Jill came to overcoming her hesitation regarding moving was looking at a model of a Schumacher home. That one really did her in as it were. The perfect floor plan, the ability to change things exactly as she wanted them, and a very professional staff sold her completely. This builder puts their home on your lot, so at that point we started searching for land. This was fun as well, looking for the perfect spot that would suit our needs and fit the house. We had perhaps found the perfect lot, sporting a
98 ravine and lots of trees in the back, plus a very nice residential neighborhood that seemed friendly and inviting. My emotions waver between being glad we did not buy it to wishing we did so she would have known her new home was coming. Either way, it was not to be.
Will was having a great experience at Wagner, earning his MBA, showing his maturity by mastering the equipment manager’s responsibilities, and taking part in activities that are wonderful opportunities. One of his favorite professors was an attorney turned graduate school professor. Professor Moran approached the field of education as an adventure that equaled excellent learning experiences, and he was not afraid to allow his students to have fun during the process. He offered a trip to Hawaii as one of his courses and without hesitation Will signed up and went. He loved theexperience and the opportunity, and we loved his experience. He brought back a favorite picture of mine, Will sitting with his arm around a carved wooded sea captain. It sits on my desk in my office. Nearly a year after that trip and long after we stopped discussing it, lightning struck again. He called during a semester break and gave us some exciting news. “Professor Moran has asked me to go to Hawaii again, this time with a group of undergrads. He wants me to be a grad student assistant and all I have to do is pay for my flight. Room and board included, and I drive a rental van to businesses we will visit.” “Wow,” Jill said, excited for his opportunity. “Are you going to do it?” “I told him I would if you and Dad can go for the same price as the students. It’s about half for the plane fare and hotel room, which is a resort on the big island. He said it is alright. Of course, you have to go because it’s all approved.” Jill was momentarily speechless, only because she was excited and couldn’t believe we were actually going to Hawaii. Will misunderstood her silence as disapproval
99 and said, “So you don’t want to go? I’ll have to let Professor Moran know right away because he’s going to order tickets and reserve rooms.” “No,” Jill almost shouted, “don’t do that, I was just too shocked to speak. Let me tell Dad and I’ll call you back.” “I’ll wait,” Will replied. “I’ve got to cancel you out right away if you’re not going.” I could tell she was excited, not upset, so I was enjoying watching her reaction. “It’s Will,” she said. “He’s lined us up to go to Hawaii with him and a class from Wagner and he wants to know if we’re going.” “Of course we’re going,” I said. “Tell him yes.” Her eyes sparkled and she squirmed with excitement. “Don’t you want any details like cost or when the trip is or how long or anything?” “Nope,” I simply said. “Let’s go, we’re in.” Almost as if she wanted to react before I could change my mind Jill turned back to the phone in an instant. “We’re going, just get us details when you have them.” “Are you sure you can go without any details?” Will inquired. “Dad says we’re going, so that means we are going,” she said triumphantly. “I can’t imagine Hawaii, who would ever think? Will, this is so awesome that you thought of us too.” Who indeed, but go we did. United airlines took us from Columbus to Chicago, then non-stop to Hawaii. That was the longest eight hours ever spent, although they made things as comfortable as possible with oversize seats, movies, and plenty of attention. Still, that is a very long time to be on an airplane, but at least the weather cooperated and we had a smooth flight. Hawaii was a dream; or rather a paradise as people say, and this was indeed a trip of a lifetime. Will was busy, but not so busy that we didn’t get some good quality time
100 with him. The three of us shared a room, and although that made the bathroom a very busy place we saved some money. It really worked well and was no problem. Willgot a day off and we went island hoping, visiting Pearl Harbor and the monuments there and also taking a helicopter ride over an active volcano. The weather is always close to perfect, and the sunrise and sunsets are totally incredible. It was something I will always cherish. It was a vacation filled with things to do and yet it was lazy and relaxing. And of course as great as it was home started to sound really inviting. I chose to get involved with the school excursions, with Will as a driver and Professor Moran taking the students on educational junkets, and he said there was room for me so I jumped at the chance. We went to a honey bee farm, where a man owned a grove of trees that are found only on the big island of Hawaii, and his bees fed from those trees, creating the most amazing honey I have ever tasted. We sampled various types of honey and, as I am sure they expected, a lot of jars were sold to take home. This was before the restrictions on taking things on planes. Another trip was to a coffee plantation, Long Ears Coffee, and it was fabulous as well. Even as one who does not drink coffee it was fascinating to see how they prepared the crop and ran the business, doing all the work there on the plantation. We also went to a pig farm, which although it sounds disgusting was really quite fascinating. Nothing in Hawaii goes to waste, and the farm picked food waste up daily from the hotels and resorts, heating it in large barrels to prevent contamination, and then feed it to the pigs. All a very I help you and you help me process that eliminates waste. Jill went with us on an underground tour of the resort, which is a completely different world, a labyrinth of tunnels and huge storage rooms beneath the resort. Workers whisked about in golf carts from place to place, covering miles of distance, all below the guests, and unobtrusive entrances to the surface world were strategically placed around the resort, so service was expedited without workers scurrying about and
101 getting in the path of guests. It gave us a new perspective as we roamed the huge expanse and watched these golf cart size electric carts appear from nowhere, having popped from an underground entrance, and delivered supplies to restaurants, room service personnel, and then carrying away trash. We also went to the preparation of a luau, watching the chef wrap the pig in leaves and then burying it, after which hot coals are shoveled on top and it slowly roasted to perfection. He explained the process and when it was completed he stayed for some time, talking and answering questions regarding the preparation of the resort’s food and what it was like to oversee the cooking for thousands. Another rewarding thing about the trip was meeting Professor Moran’s mother, Rita. A delightful lady, she accompanied him on the trips and was a great help with the students. Rita was like a housemother, and the students loved her, as did we. She had a friendly and outgoing personality and was fun to be with. Professor Moran and Rita came with an overabundance of suitcases, and although I didn’t notice, they mentioned they purchased them at thrift shops and yard sales. The reason was as they wore clothing, they laundered it and then gave it away. Hawaii has a large population of poor people, and missions there are grateful to clothing items. As they emptied suitcases they gave the clothes and the suitcases away, and by the end of the trip all they had remaining was what they were wearing and a carry on bag. Truly generous and kind people. Hawaii ended much too soon, and at the same time it was good to go home. The thing we learn in life is that there is nothing like home, and that is an instinct within us placed there by Heavenly Father. We get a taste of what it is like to be away from Him, and our desire to return to Him is nothing short of intense. We came home and lived our lives as many people do; just moving along and watching time slide by. We had four main circles of influence; our church friends, our
102 neighborhood friends, our work friends, in Jill’s case former work friends with the Highlights girls, and our family. Tragedy struck us again, as life does not let us wax complacent, when my father died, three weeks after his birthday. My mother reminds me that the experience is no less than horrifying for a very long time, then time, the great healer, makes it tolerable. We never get over it, we always have “meltdowns” as I call them, but we survive, mainly because we must.
TEN Neighborhood friends arecultivated like a field of soy beans, handled carefully and with caring, careful not to tear out tender root systems as we keep out weeds and foster growth. After you show you care, eventually the field becomes strong and fruitful, and you have something that results in great value. Our children seem to be a major influence in how we develop our friends, and our neighborhood was like a stocked fishing lake, full ofchildren around Will’s age. Because he spent so much time with the neighborhood children and they with him, you just automatically got to know them all. Over the back fence was Clay Smith and his sister Kelsey, and at an angle to our left as we faced the fence was Kate and Andy Schabo. It was Kate that named my
103 fireworks display Red, White and Bill. We have a picture of Will, Clay and Andy standing together on their first day of kindergarten, and another picture of them at their high school graduation ceremony, standing in the same positions as before. Tom and Cathy Smith and Pete and Kathy Schabo will always be close to our hearts. Just down the street from the Schabo’s live Nick Trusch, and his parents Bill and Nancy have been friends for years as well. Will has always been an excellent judge of people. It isn’t an accident, because from the early days in Worthington he gravitated to quality people as friends, and by that I mean friends who were looking to have fun, but not the kind of fun that involves the police. The reason I know it was no accident is he continued the process at Bowling Green and again at Wagner. He associates with quality people who have his kind of values. Two excellent examples are Rob McCarthy and Aryn Benjamin. Rob played football and Erin was a lot like Kate Schabo, a beautiful girl who was just “one of the guys”. But the key here is they have class, which is the best way I can think of saying it. They are decent, quality people from excellent families that raised them well. When he went off to Bowling Green, Will cultivated a circle of friends that stay a part of his life until this very day. In fact, a Bowling Green buddy, Rob Price, introduced a friend of his then girlfriend, now his wife Laura’s, friends to Will, and that is how Abby came into our lives. But more about Abby shortly. At Wagner he had friends who cared enough about him to help him get the best surgeon after the accident and then made sure he was able to get around during his recovery. Top quality, wonderful young people who have a sense of values and live by them as well. We have had the best times at cookouts, Christmas season dinners at upscale restaurants, and countless team manager opportunities. Tom Smith was the basketball
104 coach, Pete Schabo the soccer guru, and I handled baseball. Whoever was the head coach in their season, the rest of us helped as assistants. Tom was handling a youth basketball team at the YMCA with Clay, Andy, and Will on his team. There was no scorekeeping as the goal was just team building and fun, going up and down the floor with abandon. Of course that was how the program was structured, so of course I had Jill keeping score on the sidelines. You do not participate if you are not trying to win, and it didn’t take long to see that the other teams were doing the same. Clay was a basketball phenomenon, so when time was running out and the game was tight, as the assistant coach I called a timeout and said, “Now here’s the deal. Get the ball down the floor as fast as you can, then throw it to Clay. When you get the ball Clay, you shoot. No one but Clay shoots for these last two minutes.” And then of course the team won, and only at the end was it a one man show, a small price for the win. Now on to sport number two, which was soccer. Andy was the soccer star so Pete coached the soccer teams. Will often played in goal, and his athletic prowess kept a lot of shots outside the net, feeding out to Andy so he could weave his way in and score. Jill could be heard yelling on the sidelines her favorite nickname for Andy, “Way to go big A,” she would shout, and Andy’s grin would be the biggest thing on the field. Will’s sport was baseball. As mentioned before, he lettered his junior and senior years in high school, and chose to forego a college scholarship to play ball. He still plays some softball and to this day has impressive skills. I originally was not going to coach, choosing to enjoy his little league experience from the bleachers. My majors in college were English and Health and Physical Education, so I had coaching courses, but I still thought I would set this one out. The first game began, and Will trotted out to play shortstop. Will is left handed, and the only positions a left handed person can play is outfield, first base, pitcher, and on
105 rare occasions catcher. A lefty has to turn his back to the field of play to throw the ball to first or second if he is at third, short, or second. You never play a left handed player at these positions. After the inning I waved him over. “Will, tell your coach a lefty can’t play shortstop and suggest outfield or first base.” “Okay,” he said and ran to the manager. When the next inning started, he was playing shortstop. I waved him over again. “Did you tell him about left handed people?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “He told me it doesn’t make any difference.” That evening I called the commissioner of the youth booster program and said, “Are you still looking for team managers?” “We never have enough,” he answered. “We had to turn some kids away because we just don’t have enough managers.” “If I can have Clay Smith, Andy Schabo, and my son Will, I’ll take a team.” I was going to tell him I had training to teach the boys, but I didn’t get the chance. “You’ve got it,” he said. “Get something to write with and I’ll give you the names and numbers of the rest of your team. These kids will be really excited that they can play.” So, I became a reluctant team manager and did that until Will started playing travel baseball. And of course Jill made it all possible, making the calls, getting equipment when we were short, making sure snacks were provided after games and practice, and being our number one fan. She was so much fun to watch and listen to, jumping and cheering like we were in the middle of the world series. She kept my charts and graphs in order as well, because there were guidelines regarding number of innings each boy was to play in the field. I always played each one more inning than was required, because I wanted them to have a good experience.
106 Of course it proved impossible to keep everyone happy, and I had many instances of complaining parents and often used my inning by inning reference sheets to verify who played and when. Jill was so fiercely loyal and protective of me it made my heart melt when we would go home and she waited until we were in the house before she said anything. “I can barely stay out of it when those, those, people,” she almost spit out, “come up to you and complain. You put in hours and hours and make sure every player gets more field time than the rules demand, and they have the nerve to yell at you. “ I smiled at her anger, her cheeks crimson, nostrils flaring like a thoroughbred horse after a race. Jill watched out for the two men in her life, and standing on the sidelines was hard for her to do. She tried then not to smile and failed. “Well,” she said, turning with a flounce so I couldn’t see her grin, “it is just maddening that you have to take that.” And that would get her going again. “I see you working on your lineups and bating order, tracking batting averages and all the things those other managers don’t even know how to do, and I want to tear into them.” I moved over to her and put my arms around her from behind, nuzzling her neck and listening to her squeal with delight, knowing that my kissing her neck always gave her chills. I was bemused that I was the one who was berated and yet I was comforting her. Although her anger at the treatment of her husband was all the comforting I needed, because her wrath was one of love for me. She turned with the smile showing now, and simply said, “Well.” “I know Honey, I just ignore them,” I lied. “They don’t bother me in the least.” Actually it did, because I knew I was being fair and was disappointed that someone would think otherwise. “Well, they bother me,” she said, trying to pout.
107 I truly enjoyed working with the boys, teaching skills I had learned in college. I also came up with my version of motivation. I told the boys that whoever hit a home run over the fence, not an error ridden inside the park job but an honest to goodness over the fence variety, would get a new car. Well, that got their interest. When the first ball cleared the fence, the fame was halted as the boys all rushed over to me to see the presentation of the car. I was prepared, reaching into my pocket and handing over a new Hot Wheels die cast car to the home run hitter. They loved it, and my home run cars became the thing to win, the boys demanding their prize with each ‘dinger’. It was great fun, good motivation, and wonderful memories. So I understood her anger when selfish parents thought of no one but themselves and their own desires. I just kissed her lower lip and she grinned again. “Let’s go out on the swing,” she suggested. One of my favorite summer things was our swing on the deck. We have a lot of vegetation out back, and we just anonymously listened to the sounds of the neighborhood as we rocked gently back and forth. It was easy to hide from the world back there when everything was out in leaf. Squirrels jumped from tree to tree, birds flitted about and sang their songs, and we held hands. Will would be somewhere in the neighborhood playing, we could hear his voice or his laughter drift over from time to time, and we often just quietly talked. Jill and I talked incessantly; it was so easy because besides being my lover she was my very best friend. We talked for hours about important and mundane things, all of it important and vital because it was a conversation with her. When the mosquitoes drove us in the house, and every night during inclement weather, I took up my position at the endof our sofa and Jill took hers, supine and with her feet in my lap, positioned so that her knees were on my lap as well to ease any strain on them. Some nights she would fall asleep, and often ultimately so would I, and we
108 would awaken at two or three in the morning and stumble up to bed. Other nights she would reverse herself and I would play with her hair until she fell asleep, then we would repeat the process. I am a left side sleeper, Jill a right, and the most comforting thing in the world to me was going to bed and feeling her nestle her back against mine. She would wiggle a bit until it was just so, fitting like two pieces in a puzzle, our bodies sculpted to perfectly fit in placelong before we ever knew that they would. I produce a lot of heat, so we turned the furnace down in the winter and the air conditioner up in the summer to accommodate. She called me her “little Bunsen burner,” and if our bond was broken at night I would immediate awaken. When Will came in as a little tyke, only he could pry us apart, and then only because he was the superglue that held us together. When I would be away with the Army Guard and later when I traveled for my job, I discovered as we talked that she would not go to bed at night when I was away, but would instead sleep downstairs on the sofa. Since she has been gone, at least at the point of this writing, I have not slept upstairs either, instead taking up residence in her leather chair and sometimes sleeping at the end of the sofa, praying for a dream with her in it. I sometimes awaken and for a moment all of this is not real, but it lasts for just an instant, because of course it is too terribly real.
Another necessary event that happensin life is replacing the family car. Not unlike most men, that is a highlight of my existence, and not unlike most women, it is something to be avoided like a world war. I am a Chevy person, and as mentioned earlier my dealership of choice is Jack Maxton’s. I was there picking out a car for work, for at that time I drove a lot and tended to wear out cars quickly, and Jill and Will were grudgingly with me. They knew they were in for a marathon. As I haggled and argued price, having a wonderful time, Jill and Will went wandering.
109 She came in some time later and her eyes were as big as saucers. “I’ve got to show you something,” she said. “Okay, I’m almost done here,” I said, only half paying attention. “No, I mean now,” she said. Will’s head was bobbing up and down affirmatively. I excused myself and they drug me, in tandem, over to a car. Itwas an Infinity J30, sitting in a lineup of used cars. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she said. “I want to drive it.” “It was traded in by a young man who’s getting married,” the salesman said. “He wanted something smaller and this has a V8 engine, so it takes premium gas and the mileage isn’t so good.” “I want to drive it,” Jill repeated. “I’ll go get the keys,” the salesman said obligingly. After he was out of earshot I said, ”Don’t act like you want it, because that makes the price go up.” “I want that car,” she said, ignoring my advice. Back the salesman came, and soon Jill and Will were off, almost tearing rubber in front of us all. She came back lit up like the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree, and I tried to glare at her because she was not following the plan. “How much will you give me for that car?” the salesman asked. That was perfect, because it put me back in control. “Twelve thousand dollars,” I replied without emotion. “Where did you get that number?” the salesman asked, the surprise showing on his face. I reached into the air and pretended to pull something out with my thumb and index finger. “I got it, hold on a second,” I looked in my hand, smiled, and nodded, “right there.” The salesman sighed. “Man, that’s less than we paid for the car.”
110 I shrugged. “So, you guys overpaid on the trade huh? I hope you made up for it on the new car deal.” “Well, we can’t do it,” he said with a note of finality. “Okay, no problem,” I said. “Let’s just finish up my car and we’ll forget this one.” Of course Jill wasin a near panic, and I just reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze. I was desperately trying to get her to play the game and get the price we wanted and needed. When we had finished the paperwork on my car we stood to go. By now Jill was angry and not uttering a word, which was fine. I could fix that later, and for now the salesman took her anger as resignation. In my perfect Columbo impression I turned back at the door. “You know, you guys might want to ask yourselves something,” I said. “What’s that?” he asked. “Well, you’ve got a J30 sitting on your lot and you’re trying to get people excited about buying a Cavalier. I can get that thing out of here and it won’t compete any longer. Think about it.” I gave his a wink and a wave and gently pushed Jill and Will out the door. We went home and although it’s just exactly a mile and a half from our house, Jill never quit talking. “I really want that car,” she said. “I’ve never fell in love with a car before, but this time I have. Bill, I want that car.” “And you’re going to have that car,” I promised. “They will call shortly after we get home.” I was wrong; the phone was ringing as we walked in the door. It was the salesman at Maxton’s. “I tell you what. Make it twelve thousand five hundred and we’ve got a deal.” He sounded very sure of himself. How could I say no for a measly five hundred dollars? No one could turn that down. “No, I don’t think so,” I said slowly. “I’m going to stick with twelve thousand.”
111 “Okay, well, I tried,” he said. “Have a nice day.” The phone went dead with a click, and I smiled. “What did he say,” Jill asked, excited now. “He said twelve thousand five hundred. I told him no,” I replied calmly. I thought for a moment she would grab me by the throat. Her eyes were like blue dinner plates, shock stealing for a moment the power of speech. “For five hundred dollars we’re not going to take the car?” “We’re getting the car,” I said patiently. “I already told you we are getting you that car. He’ll call back in a bit and we will save a couple of hundred dollars.” She opened her mouth, decided not to say what was in her mind, and closed her jaw with a click. The phone rang and I smiled again. I let it ring four times before I picked up. “I can do twelve thousand, two hundred and fifty,” the salesman said. He didn’t bother with a hello. “I’ll be right over,” I said, “draw up the papers.” Jill was jumping up and down, clapping her hands. “We got it?” “We got it, and I just saved us two hundred and fifty dollars,” I said with pride. “You are truly amazing,” she said, but not with cynicism, she really meant it. That meant more to me than the money I saved. I returned to the dealership and sat down with the beleaguered salesman, feeling just a bit sorry for him, but not that sorry. He gave me the paperwork and I looked over the numbers, and then I realized it was wrong. With a small smile I signed the agreement with a flourish. “You might want to look at the agreement,” I suggested. “The numbers are not quite right.” “How’s that,” the salesman said warily. “You wrote it up as twelve thousandeven,” I said with an open smile now.
112 He snatched up the agreement and poured over the tax, title, and of course the purchase price. He groaned and shook his head. “I need to redo this,” he said. “Let me ask you something,” I said calmly. “Do you really want to try to convince me to sign a new agreement or should we just stick to what we have?” He tore off my copy and handed it to me. “Enjoy your car,” he said with a resigned smile that said, okay you win. Jill drove that car for years, through a replaced transmission, two sets of tires, and several expensive repairs. The thing that did me in with that car was the airbag system went out and the only way to fix it was to replace the system. The Blue Book value for the car was a thousand dollars at that time and the repair would have been just over three thousand dollars. It was time for the car to go. “But I love that car,” she insisted. “I really don’t want a new car. Let’s just drive it without airbags.” “Absolutely not,” I replied, and no persuasion in the world would do. I was one to let her have her way with most things, but when it came to her safety I had no problem drawing the line. “The car goes,” I said firmly. “I’ll start the research.” She made a face. “I hate this,” she complained. “And I love it,” I laughed. “I’ll compare cars and give you some to choose from, then you can pick the one you want. If you don’t want any of them, I’llgive you another list. But before you even start to think about saying no to all of them so you can keep the J30, forget it.” She giggled, showing that I just spoiled her plan. I came up with a Jaguar, a Mercedes, and an Infinity. My research determined all three were good choices and would make her a safe and decent choice for transportation, plus in all three she would look hot. Of course, she looked hot anyway, so a twelve year old Gremlin would have
113 looked good with Jill in it. But I also wanted her to have a nice car, because she deserved it. She was somewhat conflicted, and finally did what she always did with car choices, except when she found the J30, she asked my opinion. “Which one do you think?” she asked. “My vote is for class,” I said, “because you are absolutely super high class, so my choice is the Mercedes.” And so it was. Upon delivery it became ‘Jill’scar’, and she indeed looked like a star when she drove it. But then again, as before mentioned, that would have been the case no matter what she drove.
114 After a long two years Will finished his MBA and Wagner was conquered. He knew the big cruel world awaited, and he wanted to have a last fling before it began. He scheduleda trip to Europe, a month long tour that sent him to multiple countries and many sightseeing opportunities. About a week before he left, his friend Rob convinced him to go out on a date with his Laura’s friend, Abby Reed. Laura, Rob’s wife, and Abby were close friends and she had been talking about Will to Abby. Finally the pieces fell into place and they all went to dinner. And then, as was planned, Will went to Europe for a month. Still, the work was done, and when Will returned he and Abby started dating and soon were, as it is said, an item. Life has so many ironies, and this one was not an exception. A lifelong resident or Worthington, and Will had been in the city since five years of age, Abby went to Worthington Kilborne, the new high school, and Will went to Thomas Worthington, the old high school. Neither had met. Because Will and Rob were friends at BGSU, that friendship continued after college, and Rob found employment at CBCS, where I have worked for, at the time of this writing, thirty seven years. Without the Will and Rob connection, and without the Abby and Laura connection, and then without the Rob and Laura connection, it is unlikely that Will and Abby would have ever happened. Just like a crossword puzzle, all the correct answers fit together and made it work. Steve Reed, Abby’s father, is a veterinarian who specializes in horses. He worked for The Ohio State University for years, and then became a partner in a clinic in Kentucky, thoroughbred country. Karen, Steve’s wife, is a nurse practitioner. Abby also has one sibling, a brother named Nick. Besides all of them being wonderful people, again Will is very good at choosing friends, including the female ones; Abby is both beautiful and brilliant, and a very special
115 lady. She earned an MBA as well and is a school psychologist. One day Will asked me, “Dad, how were you sure Mom was the one.” “Well, first of all I knew the instant I saw her,” I said, “but let me ask you some questions. When something good happens, even if it’s a small thing, who is the person I immediately call or go to see because I can’t wait to tell them about it?” “Mom,” he said. “When I make a big sale at work, and I leave the customer’s office with the deal in hand, out of everyone I have to tell, to notify, and make sure that things are in place, which number do you think I call first?” “Mom’s,” he said with assurance. “If I can’t reach her, I wait until I tell her before I report in at the office,” I said. “She is always first with every single thing.” “And if I have a bad day, or something stressful happens and I need some comfort, who do I think of first to get some comfort?” “Mom,” he replied again without hesitation. “And who, above anyone else, do I prefer to be with?” “Mom,” he said, grinning now. “And when I see her, no matter how often, what does my heart do?” “It speeds up,” he said. “And could I go on with life if she were gone?” “No,” he said somberly. “Well, I can’t speak for you forty six years later like I can myself, but from the moment I saw your mother that’s exactly how I felt, and that feeling has done nothing but multiply itself over the years. She’s the first thing in my mind and heart in the morning and the last thing when I drift off to sleep, and I dream about her nearly every night as well, so I’m not even away from her then. My heart still pounds when I kiss her, and it
116 aches when I’m away from her. Everything that I do I think of how it will affect your mother, and will it be good or bad for her. It it’s bad, then it’s out. She is the most important human being on this planet, with you a very close second. When she is angry with me, I’m a mess until she forgives me. If someone upsets her, I am likely to tear them limb from limb. If that’s how you feel about Abby, then I think you know the answer yourself.” Will nodded and in his wonderful quiet way just smiled. Will and Abby are going to be married June 13, 2009. The excitement in Jill was electric, it was a presence of its own, a physical entity. First of all she dearly loves Abby, because she allowed us to be a part of her life from the beginning. Since Jill never had a daughter, here was the opportunity to gain a daughter instead of losing a son. We talked often of Will and Abby, and I remember Jill saying, “Besides being smart and beautiful, she treats us like a second mom and dad instead of the dreaded inlaws. And she’s fun too, I just love being around her.” “If I would have been the one to choose a wife for Will, she’s beyond any question the one I would have picked,” I agreed. “He’s one lucky young man.” “Yes he is,” she agreed. “And it’s so wonderful, Abby is including me in all the wedding preparations. I even get to go with her shopping for her dress. And Karen too, she’s letting me be a part of all this which is really generous.” “I’m not surprised,” I said. “I see us having a lot of really great times together, all six of us, and that is part of the reason why Abby is so special. She’s been raised by really wonderful parents.” “She has, and I think we are going to have great times too. We are really fortunate.” “That we are,” I agreed.
117 Jill was totally on top of her game. She was excited, happy, thrilled, and so prepared for our new extended family and of course grandchildren. Then, like a thief stealing your most prized possession, Jill died.
I am not going to speak volumes of details about her passing; it’s too soon, too painful, and just way too difficult. Suffice it to say that my darling, the girl I have held in my arms innumerous times, ended her life on this earth exactly where she belonged, in my arms. I am both comforted that I was there to be with her and haunted by the experience, but she is much more important than I, so I am glad I was there to help her as she passed through the veil. Jill is in a place of comfort and peace, she will never again know fear, sorrow, or cry a tear. It is left up to me to cry an endless torrent of tears and to feel my heart torn from my body without an instant of relief. She awaits my coming to be with her, and we have the opportunity to be husband and wife for eternity, and Will will be our son for eternity, and Abby will our daughter in-law for eternity. These things are eternal promises that I know are true. Does that make my heart mend? Not yet, because now is my reality and the Holy Spirit of promise is yet to come. It makes it tolerable, because soon I will hold her again, but the absence makes me cry out in anguish, which in my solitude I truly scream in pain and suffering at her loss to me on this earth. I still reach for her at night, dream of her when I sleep, and when I first wake in the morning just for the briefest moment I know this didn’t happen, that she’s there. I hear a creak in the house and I pause for an instant, waiting to hear her footsteps upstairs. When something good happens, my hand reached for the cell phone clipped on my belt, preparing to call her and tell her the news. When I leave the parking lot at work, I begin my swing from the lot to the right instead of the left, because I initially am headed to the
118 county building to pick her up from work. She is everywhere withme. I hear her voice whisper in the breeze, I see her just outside the peripheral vision of my eyes and swing my head around, always just too late to see her, and I have this profound aching in my heart that refuses to go away. So you see, I wait. I process each day as it comes, trying to function as best as I can, knowing that in the time of the eternities this is but a blink of an eye, and at the end of my blink I will be with my soul mate again. But as each day comes and goes, it feels like a thousand, and will always seem that way until I kiss those lips again and look into the most beautiful blue eyes God has ever created, once again. I so love you my darling and always will. I will come to you quickly, and we will again rejoice in our love. THE END EPILOGE I began this tribute to Jill very soon after her passing, and much of it has been very difficult to put down on paper. People tell me that time will heal me, at least to an extent, but the general consensus is you are never the same after this kind of loss. To date there has been littlechange, my agony is still as intense as at the beginning. This situation is totally intolerable, but I am pushing forward with the help of grief counseling and prayer. Beyond a doubt I do not have a patent on losing a spouse, it happens often and to those much younger than I. And this book is for Jill, not me, I wrote it to help others know her and maybe have a bit of understanding why my heart aches and my soul cries out in pain. There are things I can no longer do, restaurants I can no longer frequent, and even television shows that I cannot watch because they
119 were our favorites. As of this writing I cannot sleep upstairs in bed, instead I sit in Jill’s chair to sleep and sometimes park myself at the end of the couch and pull a pillow against me to simulate her presence. Every so often I will stand at the base of the stairs and command my feet to move, go upstairs and lay down on the bed. Not to stay there, not right away, but just to lay for a minute, maybe thirty seconds, but my feet refuse to move, planted in their place like the cornerstone of a building, and finally I move back to the family room and her chair. Most nights she is in my dreams, and we do things as mundane as shopping to as exotic as traveling to other countries. I love the dreams as for a short time everything is back to where it belongs again;I can touch her and kiss her again. Her closet with clothing, shoes, and purses remains closed as if it’s a vault that has no combination, and I slowly am cleaning out drawers with makeup, hair products, and woman’s razors. Some things are still off limits, like her basement sandals that she slipped on when she did laundry, her glasses in the living room, and some towels in the linen closet that were folded with her hands. We live in this world, and for now I am here with you, a reluctant prisoner of life and separated from Jill. I have responsibilities, and I accept them, to comfort Will and be a part of his life, but I cannot escape feeling guilty that it is I that am here instead of Jill. I think about what I do now, wanting to make sure I live my life deserving of her, and pray daily that I will be worthy to be with her for the eternities.
120 I discovered how many people loved Jill and love me, and I have countless instances of kindness that have been shown me and are still done for me every day. My neighbors, church, friends, and coworkershave hovered over me as well, their love showing at every turn. They are truly wonderful in so many ways. Cards and letters flooded our home, and some many wonderful things were said about my Jill. I also haveto thank Jan, Jill’s wonderful sister. I feel guilty because I was such a wreck that Jan had to prop me up instead of grieving herself, and I saw that process delayed for her because she was taking care of me. She came home with me and helped with all of the terrible preparations I was forced to take care of. As you can see, she is just like Jill;she cares for others more than herself. And my nephew Michael, Jan’s son, was broken hearted as well. He knew how much his Aunt Jill cared for him and misses her very much. Dave, Jan’s husband, owns a funeral home in Lima and handled many of the painful things for me. He was forced to be professional and grief-stricken all at the same time, and he was so helpful. His boys Brian and Tom, and Brian’s girlfriend Emily, have shown me kindness and understanding too. My mother was wonderful as well. Without hesitation she called 911 immediately when she saw Jill was in trouble, and ran next door to get a neighbor who is a paramedic. She did so much to try to save Jill. And after, she knew what I was going through and said the right things, and didn’t say the wrong things. She has just been a mom.
121 Will has hovered over me, which just shows me what I already knew, he loves and cares for his dad. And then there is Abby. She took charge of Will and me, making sure we were okay and not hesitating to move us in the right direction when it came to making decisions and doing things. Once again, good choice Will. I try to fill my time productively, striving to get back into my work, doing more Church activities,and attempting to keep the house as Jill would want it to be. I also discovered Facebook, finding classmates from my high school days, and sharing messages with Will’s friends as well. Sleep comes slowly, and diversions are important. I turn the television on as soon as I walk in the door, not for the shows but for the noise. The loneliness is overbearing. Last, I want to remind you that Jill is okay. She is a wonderful woman who loves our Savior, and she awaits me in Paradise, where all spirits that lived righteous lives await the resurrection. Without that knowledge I could not have survived this experience, truly without the love of Jesus I would have perished. I am a Latter Day Saint, a Mormon, and we are taught that our families are forever, including our marriages. I believe this, indeed I know this, and although I struggle with my grief and her absence, I testify to you that soon I will be with her forever. So this has been her story, this is my Jill, and her physical absence from this world has made it smaller, less significant. For me personally the daylight turned to darkness, the joy to grief. But every instant I spent with her was precious and wonderful, and I would give
122 not one second up for anything the world could ever offer. I pray everyone might have what I had, for I am blessed.