He always called me “coach.” For him this was a term of honor because he was a standout athlete in both high school and college. I had coached the women’s tennis team at the local university for 15 years and Bill read about our team’s ups and downs in the local newspaper. He was a stalwart supporter of everything having to do with sports.
We used to run into one another at the post office when I went to get the mail each morning and he liked to tell me about his experience on the tennis court. He took a P.E. class at St. Cloud State University and the instructor was the men’s tennis coach. He noted Bill’s athletic ability and urged Bil to try out for the team. Bill had never played tennis before, but he showed up one day and played one of the young men on the lower levels of the team and beat him. The interesting thing is that Bill never gloried in that victory: he felt bad for the young man he beat, because Bill really didn’t want to make the team; he wanted to play baseball — which he did. But he always felt bad for the poor guy who lost to the one-day wonder.
For years we would hear a knock on the door and Bill would appear with “road kill” — assorted vegetables he grew in his garden and wanted to pass along to people he liked. It was a privilege and we were always delighted to have the fresh vegetables and to chat with Bill about how things were going in his part of the world. This went on for a number of years.
Then the “road kill” started to be a bit strange — a single ear of corn with some overripe vegetables; a green tomato and several pale cucumbers; or a squash and three cherry tomatoes. His garden was close to a farmer’s corn field and Bill apparently collected some of the farmer’s corn in recent weeks thinking it was his own sweet corn and passed it along with his daily hand-outs — which explained the odd taste of the corn of late. The other day when we came home there was a plastic bag with a few cherry tomatoes in it sitting on a chair next to the door. It didn’t make much sense. Nor did Bill when I saw him and asked him how things were going. He kept repeating himself and wanted to talk about things like “poor Joe-Pa” who had botched things at Penn State. he felt sorry for Paterno and wished things had ended differently for him. So did I. But my wife and I started to worry about Bill as well.
Then very recently we heard that Bill has been diagnosed with dementia. I saw him just the other day coming out of the Post Office and he had no idea who I was. How very sad. He is fortunate to have daughters and a loving wife who can keep an eye on him. But he will soon be moved to a home, I suppose, as those men and women in our society are when they can no longer recognize their loved ones. Alzheimer’s is a terrible thing to be around. My grandmother had it late in her life and I saw her disappear behind a cloud of uncertainty and wonder, having no idea who we were. It left an indelible impression. And my wife and I saw this happen to Bill as well. We will miss him — and his road kill.