Saturday, January 05, 2013

For Bill

My senior year of high school, I got a job working part-time at a radio station.  I came in during the week for two hours each morning to intern with the news department.  I got school credit for it and got to miss first period every morning.  So, win-win.

During college, I continued working there, eventually moving up to a full-time on-air shift.  We carried local high school basketball and football games, and "Bill" was one of the guys who did play-by-play for our sports broadcasts.

Bill was 60ish.  Gregarious.  He had a zest for life, and people, and conversation.  And I never knew why, but he seemed to take a liking to me.  Just one of those people who's always genuinely happy to see you.  That's a great quality, I think.

Anytime I'm talking to someone who doesn't know Bill, my quick, go-to description of him is "the man who always used to find me tickets to Alabama games."  And anyone who knows me at all will know that that alone would put him right at the top of my list.

It was during my time at the radio station that this occurred.

A friend and I decided we'd try and start going to some Bama games.  This was the early 90's, so way before eBay and StubHub.  There were pretty much three ways to get tickets:  Buy some outside the stadium, check the classifieds, or word of mouth.

One Friday evening at work, I guess Bill overheard me talking about wanting to go to a game.  By that night, I had tickets to the next day's game.

From that point on, he'd always ask if I needed tickets.  For about three or four years there, anytime I was wanting to go to a game, I'd call him.  And I don't think there was a single time when he didn't manage to find someone who had tickets for sale.

Sometimes I wouldn't even have to ask.  He'd call me, just to check.  I still remember those brief but oh-so-important conversations: "Bone.  Bill.  You need tickets?"

It was like he had taken it as his personal mission to always make sure I had tickets.  I mean, who does that?  It was an act of kindness for which I never got to repay him.  But I will never forget it.

Eventually I started getting season tickets.  And after I quit that job, I didn't see Bill much.  Just occasionally at a basketball game or somewhere around town.  I specifically remember one instance -- some sort of community festival.  He had clearly lost a lot of weight.  I found out later he'd gotten the cancer.  But he greeted me just like he always had.  Smiling.  Genuinely happy to see me.

Looking back, I guess by this time he must have been in his early 70's.  But not to me.  To me, he was still the same age he'd been when I first met him.  I do that sometimes, especially with people I don't see very often.  I get a picture of them in my mind, and how old I think they are, and then they're always that age.

Until they're not anymore.

A few years ago, Bill started working in the clubhouse at one of the golf courses where I play.  I was surprised to see him.  It was a good surprise.  Gregarious as ever, he looked a lot better and I silently hoped he had beaten the cancer.  We would always share a bit of banter when I played there.  He still seemed happy to see me.  And by then, I was just as happy to see him.

When he wasn't there for awhile, I asked about him, and they said he was having some health problems.  I feared the worst.  But he came back to work and I thought maybe he was gonna be alright.

Then I started missing him again.  He wasn't there two, three, four times in a row.  I asked when he was coming back.  The guy got a solemn look -- one of those looks that completely and immediately changes your mood and you don't ever want to see from anyone.  He shook his head slowly and said, "I don't think Bill's coming back."

He was right.  Bill passed away on Christmas morning.  He was 82. 

Somehow I was still surprised when I heard the news.  And stupidly, I'd never gone to visit him.

I know he would've been happy to see me.

"My old friend, this song's for you / 'Cause a few simple verses was the least that I could do / To tell the world that you were here..."


  1. I'm so sorry, Bone...Bill sounds like one of the good ones. And I completely understand what you mean about getting a set vision in your head about a person. The years go by but you still picture them in that original way. Sending good thoughts~~

  2. I'm sorry, Bone. He sounds like an excellent person - and it's lovely that you came across him again. What a sad start to the year though.

  3. I'm so sorry for your loss Bone. Your tribute to him here has put tears in my eyes. I'm sure that there has always been at least one person in our lives who has been our "Bill." I'm also sure that Bill touched many lives and will be missed by them all.

  4. Sorry about Bill. 82, the same age as when my Dad died.
    I didn't know you were in radio.

  5. Well that makes for a crappy holiday. Bill sounded like a fun guy. On a lighter have quite the face for radio. I'm sure you've heard that one before. :-)

  6. I'm pretty sure I'm just in a mood today about such things, so take everything I'm about to type with a grain of "she's mad at herself"...

    I think that as a society, we should all go see people and do things that would make them happy while they're living.

    For instance, my cousins came to both of my grandparents' funerals, when several of them hadn't seen my grandparents in years before their deaths. My grandparents would have given anything to have them visit on a Saturday afternoon instead of having them show up at the funeral, when they couldn't enjoy them.

    I made a slideshow for my Grandfather's funeral - he'd have loved that. WHY didn't I do that before he died? I recently wrapped up a massive project for my other side of the family that was old recipes made into a cookbook with family photos - my Grandma would have cried looking at it. WHY didn't any of us come up with the idea then? When we could have talked to her about it? When she could have seen it?

    I think about the fact that I never went to see Mrs. Stout before she died. I should have. Even if she didn't remember people - me - I should have gone. I was stupid to have never gone to see her.

    And now that I've babbled on about my regrets regarding great old people who have died before I did anything smart while they were living... I'll just say Bill sounds like a great guy. And maybe instead of helping you find Alabama tickets, now he can watch over you while you're golfing :)

  7. You like football? I never knew that : )

    Another incredible Bone post that takes you inside Bone's head and also captures the man who got you tickets...

    This is for both you and TC: everybody has regrets after somebody passes. Everybody thinks "why didn't I do this while they were still alive so they could have enjoyed it?"

    People who are considerably older than you have those regrets too--and understand that you're busy building a life while they might be winding down their lives.

    Bone I guarantee he enjoyed bantering with you and that was enough.

    TC--your cousins might not get a totally free pass but you do

    Oh God I don't want to ever be a wise old person when I'm so immature

  8. Sherri - Thanks, Sherri. I've never come across a person with a single bad thing to say about him.

    J Adamthwaite - It was definitely a blessing to me that we reconnected at the golf course, if only for those brief conversations every couple of weeks.

    Renee - Thank you. I hope everyone has at least one "Bill" in their life.

    MarkD - Thanks. Yep. I've always meant to write a post or two about that job, but just never got around to it. Maybe I'll have to do that now.

    Murf - Yep, I heard that one pretty early. That seems to be the long-standing joke :)

    TC - we should all go see people and do things that would make them happy while they're living.

    I've had similar thoughts several times before, usually right after someone has died. And so then I vow that I'll do better, but eventually I slip back into the same old habits.

    I'm sure he'll cross my mind during the game tonight.

    Pia - I hope that was enough. I'd like to think so.

    I don't want to ever be a wise old person when I'm so immature

    Oh, no worries there. Kidding :)

  9. It takes something special, which you've got, to write a tribute in a way that's not sentimental or "trying too hard." When a remembrance of someone special is conveyed with restraint, even a tinge of regret, it's eversoeffective.

    You did Bill justice.

  10. A nice tribute, Bone.

    And I gotta believe he would have been proud of that whipping those 'Bama boys gave to the Irish Papists last night!

  11. ROLL TIDE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    But how are they going to do outdo themselves next year?

    I can't believe you have me watching football

  12. Jocelyn - Thank you so much for those super kind words.

    Sage - Thanks, Sage. I gotta think he loved that, too.

    Pia - I know. Now you are starting to understand what I go through every year, week day. There's no where to go but down. Or remain level. That's what we have to hope for! :)