You may recall my short essay about my two teenage buddies, Bud Kistler and Bill Klingaman, and how Bud convinced me there was such a thing as a woodle bird [http://rtberner.blogspot.com/2009/04/woodle-bird.html]. Alas, when we went our separate ways, I never saw Bud again, but Bill and I did stay in touch and when Paulette and I were in our last months in State College, Bill and his wife, Libby, visited us.
Bill and I have a long history. By some coincidence, we ended up in first grade together even though I did not live in the same ward as the school. We shared, first, second, and sixth through 12th grades. We graduated in 1961.
We also shared membership in the American Hose Company of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, otherwise known as The Hosie. (I count membership in the Hosie as one of the great experiences of my life, and I know that Bill and I spent many a night there playing pinochle and drinking beer and occasionally fighting fires.)
Bill was a very intelligent person. He inherited his father’s business savvy and his mother’s intellect. He never went to college and, except for military service, never left Tamaqua. He and his brothers took over the family business from his father and ran it successfully. They had two good role models in their parents.
He served on Tamaqua Borough Council and when he decided not to run again after a couple of terms in office, a newspaper story recounted the time he served as chair of the council’s street committee. As each committee chair reported information in great detail about his domain, it got to Bill.
“The streets are still there,” Bill replied. End of report.
It was always difficult trying to extract something from Bill. It wasn’t because he didn’t know. Rather, he chose not to fill a room with rhetoric. He knew when to speak and when to remain silent, a lesson for all of us.
I remember when Bill was courting Libby. He could be subtle—and, we already know, laconic. I recall that he would show up at the Hosie and ask me if I wanted to go to some bar down country. Turns out, Libby had a singing gig there and that was the real reason he wanted to go. But he didn’t quite lay it out so clearly when he was asking me. Just, do you want to go to …? (I went. Only after we arrived did I put two and two together.)
About 18 months ago I learned that Bill had cancer, halted in one organ but showing up in another. Time was short, I was told. When we visited Pennsylvania in 2008, Bill and I tried to meet, but he was at his favorite vacation spot in the Poconos and I was locked into a schedule that did not permit me to get there. At least, though, he seemed to be beating the odds.
This week we’re headed for the Region and I tipped Bill and Libby that I was coming and would drop by to see them. I gave them my cell phone number.
One of Bill’s sons used it to call me with the news that Bill’s days were numbered.
He died at home on Monday, July 13. He was 66.
I did get to Bud’s funeral and I will be at Bill’s on Friday, filled with the memories of a great lifelong friend.
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