Usual readers-- both of you, and a few relatives who sometimes read to see if I “got it right” --may remember that a month ago, I decided to put my “quill back in the goose” until September.
A few cool days in New Mexico beckoned, and off we drove to the Land of Enchantment, neither footloose nor even close to fancy free, as it turned out.
Brenda, my wife of 57 years joined me, along with Sailor, our beloved rescue dachshund who was also invited by our longtime friend--retired educator Delnor Poss. Delnor masqueraded as a basketball official for colleges and universities throughout the land for several decades.
A widower for more than a year, he welcomed us to his inviting three-story home that he largely constructed himself over a couple of decades, starting with a modest A-frame structure.
At age 88, he’s still doggedly determined to “get it right,” just as he did as a game official. Long-time golf coach and athletic director at Midland College, he can’t abandon the work ethic he learned early in his hard-scrabble life. Now, he’s a consultant at Eastern New Mexico’s Ruidoso campus, down the mountain from his Alto, NM, home that features breathtaking balcony views in all directions.
We “yakked” for two nights, recalling specific hills and valleys of our lives. The short time there was golden, and then.
The second night, a phone call at an unseemly hour bore sad news. Gone from this life was a close friend of some 30 years. Caleb Pirtle, 82, who wrote more than 90 books, was the best author I’ve ever known.
Vacation thoughts dissipated. We began the 550-mile drive home the next day, my mind whirling with brief stories I might share a few days later at his memorial service. He always wrote “just right.” Compared to his writing, my words--written or spoken--didn’t have a chance.
Ever modest, Caleb called himself a “used word salesman.”
Then, another call was equally unwelcome. A friend from college years, Ray Hildebrand, also 82, had passed in Kansas City.
He was to music what Caleb was to journalism. Ray, too, was in a league by himself.
Though best known for writing and singing “Hey, Paula”, a #1 song on secular charts in 1963, he was a consummate composer of contemporary Christian songs. He was a forerunner of this genre, differing from most composers today who are given to repetition(s). Of the some 500 songs he composed, more than half have been published, many of which even old-timers sing, not knowing they sprang from his creative mind.
As sportswriter Blackie Sherrod once said of daily columnist George Dolan, before God made George, he broke the mold.
Friends joke that fun-loving Ray, too, may have been made in a broken mold.
Due to an earlier commitment to speak at the Brownwood Kiwanis Club’s 100th anniversary dinner, I was unable to attend his Kansas City funeral the same day. Three hundred others did, though. They “open-miked” through a memorial service of more than two hours. Everyone loved Ray; many spoke.
We watched the streamed service, awash in tears interspersed with laughter of bygone days.
One friend told of Ray’s erratic driving habits, explaining that his speed was determined by the tempo of music from his car radio.
He said that if “Old Man River” were playing, Ray might be driving 30 MPH on a freeway, backing up traffic for miles. “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” however, might mean he was pegging 95 MPH on a country road, passing all vehicles with abandon.
Rare talents both, they were model Christians, and memories of them are cherished.
The month of “column silence” is one of two such respites in two decades, both in August.
The other was in 2020. A few days into “vacation,” Julie Choate, our oldest daughter, died suddenly at age 50 of a pulmonary embolism. Perhaps future column lapses won’t be announced or won’t be in August.