Thursday, September 12, 2019

Another One Bits the Dust

John Hannum Tipton, U.S. Army Paratropper 1942

One of the most significant things about being as old as I am is that I get to experience the loss (deaths) of so many folks I know. Oh sure, all during my long life I have experienced death.

The first death I experienced was my Uncle John Tipton who died in 1961.  He accidentally burned himself to death at thirty nine years of age. His death was significant to me in several ways.  Of my father's ten brothers he was my favorite.  He didn't treat me like a child. He always had a friendly wink for me and smile when he saw me. Not only was he my favorite uncle but he was the favorite of all of my thirty-six first cousins. His death was ironic because he had survived World War II as a prisoner of war. He had escaped twice from a German POW camp only to be recaptured twice.  His mother (my grandmother) died two months before the end of the war thinking he had died in combat (he was a paratrooper).  After the war was over he was released from the Austrian castle where he and other POW's were held by the Germans. 

My Uncle John was a painter, a sign painter. He was working at Gindy Trailer's with my father and several of his brothers when a discarded cigarette caught his turpentine soaked overalls on fire. His co-workers tried to put out the fire by rolling my uncle on the ground but it was too late. My uncle didn't die right away but he had third degree burns over most of his body. I was in the Army at the time and on the firing range when I got to call to go home and see my uncle before he died. I remember visiting him at the Crozer Burn Center in Chester, Pennsylvania along with several of my cousins.  He was wrapped up like a mummy with only slit openings for his eyes, mouth and nose. I think he recognized us but he was so doped up with painkillers all he could do was moan. He died several days later. My two brothers and I, all of us in the Army at the time, were he pallbearers. 

I remember looking at his body in his open casket. First thing I noticed was his hair was combed wrong. It was parted on the side. Uncle John never parted his hair on the side. The other thing I noticed was even though there was this waxen body in a casket, it wasn't my Uncle John. "He" wasn't there anymore. There might as well been his overcoat in the casket because the warm, smiling Uncle John I knew he always gave me a friendly wink was gone. 

Since that September date in 1961 I have been to several more funerals. Some open casket (both my parents) and closed casket. I go to honor the deceased living survivors. The deceased is no longer there. Whatever spirit inhabited that shell of a body has long gone.  Who knows where?  Maybe we'll find out someday.

Lately, these past few years I have been experiencing quite a few deaths. The latest being the kind neighbor who lives several houses down from me who used to take me to the airport and Philadelphia.  His wife texted me Sunday night that he had passed away.  I knew he was deathly ill, because he had stopped taking me to Philly a couple of years ago because he was too ill from his chemotherapy treatments for his melanoma. I remember the first time he drove me to the Philly airport and he told me he was undergoing treatment for melanoma.  I  didn't know what to say.  He said "You don't have so say anything, it's just something I have to deal with."  In subsequent rides he would tell me of his treatments at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He was hopeful. Then last year he told me his cancer had spread to his brain. 

We didn't always talk about his cancer. It was just part of many things we talked about during our two plus hour drive to Philly, either the airport or Center City Philly.  "Bill" (his name, I will leave his last name out of respect for privacy for his family) was a retired music teacher, boys hockey coach and airplane enthusiast, although he couldn't fly anymore because of his cancer diagnosis.

Bill was great company plus he was an anti Trumper just like me. Oh God how I hate taking these drives with Trumpers, which I did once and almost asked him to let me out of his SUV when he started to rant on Hillary.

I didn't know Bill that well but I knew him enough to know that he was a kind and generous gentleman especially that time my flight was two hours late because of rain.  Poor Bill, riding around Philly airport having to pee so bad he drove to Newark Delaware just to relieve himself. I gave him an extra $25 and treated him to his favorite milk shake at McDonalds.

Bill, my ride to Philly

The last time I saw Bill he had lost a lot of weight due to his chemotherapy treatments. I kidded him that that was a heck of a way to lose weight. He said "I'm at my weight when I was a teenager."  

The next time I called him he was too sick to take me to Philly.  I occasionally texted him to see how he was doing but I suspected he was failing. I'm not good at knowing what to say at times like this but I did want him to know I was thinking of him which he said he appreciated. 

Still, when I received the text from his wife that he had passed a stab of sadness hit me right in the heart.  Bill was only sixty years old. Too young.

Tomorrow I call my youngest brother has been seriously ill for the past year.  I have to let him know that I am thinking of him. 

Since I moved to Delaware my best friend and the reason I knew about Delaware and moved to Delaware has died. His name was Bob. My lifelong good friend Ed died. Wayne "The Cajun" died. Other friends like Al, Jay and Bart have died. 

I miss them all. One day I will die and I will no longer miss anyone.  As my brother John said when he informed me of his health problems "We all get our turn Ronnie".  And indeed we do.

In the meantime I intend to make every day count. Next trip, Philly a week before Christmas with who else but Pat. Then in February we spend two weeks in Palm Springs. 

I'm older and stiffer and tend to fall a lot but as long as I can put one foot in front of the other and keep moving I intend to keep on living dancing.


VRC-Do You! said...

Sorry to hear about Bill. So young. One never knows what life beholds.

Have a great weekend.

Please stay upright.

pat888 said...

Hey Ron - we all hate losing people . I really didn't know your friend Bill apart from a few second on FaceTime on one of your commutes - and I felt a loss. And at the same time - no one wants to see another feel pain or sadness. And life is to keep moving. So that's why every day counts. Looking forward to everything going around in my neighbourhood today - and looking forward to our future trips to Philly and Palm Springs. And that's a great deal of life is all about.


Ur-spo said...

you will bury us all; I look forward in you burying me.

Ron said...

VRC-Do You!
Every time I go by Bill's house, which I do when I leave our development several times a day, I think of Bill. He suffered so much before he died too young at sixty. You're right, one never knows when our time is up.

Ron said...

So fortunate for both of us when you stumbled across my photo on the Internet six years ago and found my blog. You have enriched my life immensely since that auspicious day we met in the Hotel Blue parking lot and I thought you were a parking lot attendant going to give me grief. We've had many happy days since and hopefully many more in the future not only with our daily FaceTime calls but our quarterly get togethers in person. Live life to its fullest while we still have gas left in the old engine.