Eulogy for My Friend
We met at the NCO Club at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo TX in February 1981. Recently arrived on base, Bill got talked into going to a retirement ceremony that day, a ceremony that my organization played a part in. He would tell the story many times over the ensuing years, always emphasizing that it was the skirt and my legs that attracted him first. He also enjoyed telling the story of his proposal a little over a year later, in which he always claimed to have not asked me to marry him but having merely inquired as to my interest in marriage.
In spite of what his children think, Bill loved to tell stories. His favorite place in the world was holding court in a corner of the kitchen with beer and cigarette in hand, and an attentive audience to hear his tales (especially an audience of women). Many of us can recite some of the stories verbatim; for example, the one that ends with “Trail? What trail? Pilot, this is the Navigator. Expedite 180.”
We married on his birthday in 1982, a date he picked so that he wouldn’t forget his anniversary. This was a good plan since he wasn’t very good at all about remembering my birthday, but always had a good sense of humor when I would pick out a nice present for myself. That said, from the time we were married, he never denied me anything I wanted. I learned to be careful about admiring things, because we couldn’t afford everything I wanted!
Let’s be clear, I was not such a good catch. I came with a past and a ready-made family, including a very active little boy and a daughter with significant physical and mental disabilities. Bill’s mother was more than a little concerned! The wedding gave him another of his favorite stories, that of Josh pulling the fire alarm in the base chapel just as we were ending the recessional. It became part of the family lore.
When we married, I chose the song “Whither Thou Goest (I Will Go)” from the book of Ruth. It goes, in part, “Whither thou goest, I will go. Wherever thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people will be my people, my love. Whither thou goest, I will go.” It didn’t quite go that way. We were both, after all, in the Air Force. Within two years, I was on my way to Korea for a year and Bill went straight into single parenting, never missing a school event the entire year and ultimately being recognized as Father of the Year by the Child Development Center on the base.
Bill was my biggest supporter. He never stopped believing in me even when I wasn’t too sure about myself. He made it possible for me to be a wife and mom and have a career that I can be proud of, and he did it at no small personal sacrifice. When he retired from the AF in 1986, following the birth of our baby Emily, he was on track to be Chief Master Sergeant; instead he left the AF so that we could stay together as a family on one continent with no threat of long separation.
Bill always thought that he had rescued me from myself and a grim situation, and as I look back now, I have to admit that it was true. Like any rescue, I came with baggage; and we spent part of our lives dealing with the contents of those bags and of course the ones he’d brought along on the journey, until we realized it was mostly stuff we didn’t need anymore and we began traveling a lot lighter.
Life has a way of teaching you what is important and what isn’t, and Bill was a quick study. He didn’t waste time on things or people he wasn’t interested in. To some, he came off as antisocial, and he did not suffer fools gladly, but anyone who ever heard him laugh or saw his smile knew the warmth of his heart. He was also generous to a fault, and wouldn’t hesitate to donate to a friend having a hard time of it.
The last few years weren’t easy. Losing his leg in 2007 was life-changing, but not life-stopping. In spite of the challenges, I remember these last years with fondness and gratitude. Camping in Colorado, California, Texas, and Florida allowed us to recapture some of our favorite times on the road again and visit with family and friends across the country one last time. We looked forward to going back to Costa Rica one more time, where Bill could revel in a paradise where he could be warm all the time, wear very little clothing, and watch the wildlife while he worked his crossword puzzles, with the ever present beer and cigarette close at hand.
I miss my friend. I miss his company over coffee in the morning. I miss fighting over which one of us gets the newspaper first. I miss his reminders to “let it go” or to “get down off my high horse” when I start getting wound up about something. I miss his skinny legs, and that lock of hair that would never stay where it belonged, and his beautiful hands that would get so banged up in the winter weather. I miss the ringing of his laughter and the twinkle in his eyes. I miss the kisses for good morning and good night and hello and good bye. And when this grief of missing him breaks through with a vengeance, I miss the way he would hold me when I cried until his shirt was wet with my tears. Most of all, I miss knowing that he was always there, and that he would always be there, because that’s the kind of guy he was. The kind of guy I always knew I could count on. I count on him still, to keep watch over us until we are together again.