Sunday, February 7, 2016

Death of a Good Old Boy

Life is uncertain; death is inevitable.

This was a bad week ror me.  I was depressed.  My brother Don is in hospice, living day to day since October.  Then last weekend an old man, of whom I was fond, came to dinner in the dining room of our retirement home, ordered a meal, and, when the waitress brought him his chicken-fried steak, he collapsed in front of his friends..He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. It was a shock to all of us.  

We all liked Walter.  I called him, “My good old boy.”  That’s a Texas expression to describe a person who cheerfully accepts whatever life offers. 

Walter grew up on a farm in Rockwall County – the county that my grandmother’s people established when they came to Texas in a covered wagon “in the days of the Republic.”  In case you have forgotten: Texas was an independent republic from 1846 ti 1855, the only state that joined the U.S. by a treaty between sovereign nations. 

The descendants of those early settlers maintain the mind-set of their pioneer ancestors.  They are the ones who walk into banks with guns on their hips.  They voted for Ric Perry -- another good old boy -- as governor four times. They elected Ted Cruz to the Senate, ignoring that he represents big business, not poor farmers like their families.

In his mind-set Walter remained a farm boy, even after he moved to Dallas and worked for 35 years in the machine shop at Texas Instruments.  He was 90 years old. He’d had a good job, been happily married for more than 60 years, and, now widowed, enjoyed loving grandchildren.  All his life he was a Southern Baptist, comforted in the conviction that he was “saved” by his belief in Jesus, sure that when he died, he would go straight to Heaven.

So why were we all devastated by the death of this 90-year-old man? .

One night, while I sat next to him at supper, Walter said, “Obama is the worst President we ever had.  He is stupid.  He is also a secret Muslim, who wants to turn the U.S. into a Muslim caliphate.”  Where did he learn the word “caliphate”?  He must have listened to all the far-right propaganda.  He said, “We must take back our Constitution.”

I could not resist telling him that he was wrong about Obama, who is highly intelligent, a Christian, and an expert on the Constitution.  Obama was a highly successful professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago.  After working as a community organizer, he ran for political office when he realized that was the only way to help poor people was through government action.  As President he accomplished little because he was blocked by the Tea Party in everything he tried to do.

Walter did not believe me.  He said, “I’m going to vote for Donald Trump.  He gets things done.”
He stood up, leaned on his walker, and said, “We’ll still be friends.  We just won’t talk about politics.”

After that, each time we met, Walter gave me a big smile, so sincere that I was convinced he was glad to see me in spite of our disagreement about politics. He greeted everyone the same way.  Everyone liked Walter, including me.  We will all miss his cheerful presence.

After moping about all week, on Saturday I did not get out of bed until 10:00 a.m.  I woke with an urgent need to talk to my brother Don.  Still in my nightgown, I went into the living room, sat on the edge of my recliner, and punched the speed dial on my cell phone which rang Don’s number.  When he answered, I said, “I just got out of bed.”

Don said, “I’m still in bed.”  His voice sounded as if he were gasping for every breath.

“I’ve been depressed all week,” I said to my dying brother.  “I called you to cheer me up.”

We both laughed at that ridiculous idea.  We talked for a while, agreeing that each of us had an incredible life.  We also agreed that neither of us could do anything to change the mess the U.S. is in now.  But that is okay.  We are both content.  After talking to Don, I am no longer depressed.  I cheered up and felt good all weekend. 

Life happens, bad times are followed by good times.  Death comes to everyone.   Soon it will be my turn.  So what!  Have I made life’s journey easier for other people?  I hope some will remember me as the old folks here at this retirement home remember Walter, who brought a little cheer to everyone he met..

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