Monday, October 13, 2008

The Things You Pick Up Along the Way

Every once in a while, I will sit down and write about things that have absolutely nothing to do with the CJC. Kind of self-indulgent topics, I suppose, that I'm not really thinking are relevant to what I usually write, but I just need to get off my chest. I'm not looking for commentary really and I'm not thinking it has anything to do with our jobs . . .

I just want to write them.

And so I will.

I grew up in a relatively small town. It had it's advantages and it's disadvantages, and it had many small town stereotypes that it lived up to -- some negative and some positive. One of the positive stereotypes that Small Town Life embodied was that it fostered some very close-knit relationships that I have carried with me throughout my life and have been very happy and proud of.

My family friends growing up consisted of about five families where all the Dads had gone to high school together and their friendship had carried on into their adult years. They were all friends. Their wives were all friends. Their children were all friends with each other. In fact, my best friend in the world came from this great part of growing up. I was Best Man in his wedding, and he's been a groomsman in a couple of mine!

When I was a little kid, it was just assumed that every Saturday evening we would be at the home of one family or another. The kids all playing together while the parents talked, laughed, and drank wine. Many of my most vivid memories of growing up go back to those Saturday nights. Thinking about them now still brings back a smile and thoughts of a much more innocent and naive time.

Out of our little group of families, the children were taught to be respectful. The parents were usually called "Mr." or "Mrs." by the kids.

The exception to this, was the one dad that I think was the leader of this little group of friends -- to everyone, even the kids, he only answered to "Buzz".

In high school, Buzz had been the good-looking, witty, and cool guy. As a parent, he was the absolute favorite of all the kids that were running around his house on any given Saturday night. While the other Moms and Dads would be having a drink and watching the football game, Buzz was the one who would come up to make sure the kids hadn't set anything on fire while they were all playing together.

He'd check in on us, and he usually stayed awhile. He took a lot of joy in what I like to refer to as the Majesty of Being a Child. He easily held the status of "favorite parent" from the group -- I know he would have won that title if only the kids had voted, but I'm pretty sure he would have won it if the adults had voted too.

In the late 1970s, Buzz developed testicular cancer and it was supposed to kill him. All of us kids were between eight to twelve years old, and I don't think any of us had ever dealt with the concept of death before. We suddenly had it rushing at us in the most heartbreaking of all forms. The thought of losing Buzz was about the most devastating thing you could put on a ten-year-old's agenda.

Buzz, in typical fashion, soldiered through it like the Fighter and Man that he was. He endured brutal chemotherapy and radiation to the degree that the doctors just told him it was a race between him and the cancer to see who the treatment killed first. He threw a huge "going-away" party for himself at the local country club, assuming his estate would ultimately be covering the bill.

But then something happened that was the origin of my personal belief in miracles.

Buzz beat that goddamn cancer. And he beat it completely.

Buzz went on to watch his daughter and son grow up into successful young people. He got to watch them marry and ultimately give him three grandchildren. Hell, he even finally paid off his "going away party" some time in the 90s, I think.

He got a second lease on life, and he savored it. Not only was he a good parent to his own children, he was like a Dad to the rest of the kids that they grew up with.

The first time I ever went hunting, it was a trip that Buzz had organized for the fathers and sons. I remember how he solemnly told us kids that we'd have to drink the blood of the first deer we shot. I think it was when I was starting to turn green at the idea of that thought when he finally started laughing and admitted he was kidding.

When I graduated from college, Buzz took me to lunch just to talk about what my plans in life were. He wanted to know and the reason he wanted to know was that he cared so much about his friends and their families.

A couple of years ago, Buzz's son got married, and all the fathers and sons went to Las Vegas for the bachelor party. It was a reunion of family from across the country, and for one fantastic weekend, it was like being kids again. It was truly an awesome experience.

It's kind of a funny thing between fathers and sons, in my opinion. I think as boys grow into men, they end up imitating their fathers -- their mannerisms, the way they talk, their attitude, and often times, even their general outlook on life. I told Buzz once that I knew the kids in our group all imitated our fathers, but upon further reflection, our fathers were all just imitating him.

He was single-handedly the coolest person I ever met in my life.

He was also the Origin of the compliment of calling someone a Good Man, that I've mentioned here before.

Because God knows if there was ever a Good Man on this Earth, it was Buzz Hamilton.

The wisdom and the values and the lessons I have learned from that man could fill volumes, and he taught them all to us by example, not lecture.

Twenty five years after they first met, that goddamn cancer came back for Buzz.

And he fought it just as hard as he did the first time.

But, I learned at 3 a.m. this morning that the cancer won the battle this time.

Buzz fully appreciated every minute of his life on earth. He celebrated in it and basked in it. He had a beautiful wife, beautiful kids, and beautiful grandchildren. He was a devoted family man and a cherished friend.

Last Monday, my Dad and I went and had the opportunity to say goodbye to Buzz at MD Anderson, and I don't think I could ever adequately describe what that was like. All I can say is that I'm glad I got the chance to tell him how much he meant to me.

So, in memory of Buzz, I'd like to pass on a couple of things that I've learned from him. I may not have been able to follow all of the advice as well as I wish I could have, but these are the things that I learned from knowing the Ultimate Good Man:

-Celebrate every moment that God has given you to spend on Earth.
-Always keep your word.
-Repay every debt you ever have, and don't complain about it.
-Be the kind of person who would get up in the middle of the night, at the drop of a hat, and drive across the country to help a friend.
-Don't brag about yourself.
-Listen and let other people talk.
-Hear the whole story before weighing in with your thoughts.
-Laugh and smile every time you possibly can.
-Learn to separate those things in life that don't matter away from those things that do.
-Be the most intensely loyal friend a person could ever have.
-Love truly and love deeply.
-Always cherish the Majesty of Youth. Spend every minute that you possibly can with your children.
- Never miss an opportunity to tell someone how much they mean to you.

I don't think of myself as a particularly religious man. But I thank God for knowing Buzz. I thank God for the extra 25 years we all got to spend with him. I pray that I don't turn into a blubbering mess at the funeral. I pray for Buzz's family and friends.

And I pray that some day, maybe I might have just turned out to be a Good Man, too.


Anonymous said...

You have. You have, indeed.

There are no words...

TxGoodie said...

Good list to live by. If I may, I'll add two of my own learned the hard way: say goodbye like you might never see someone again and if you love someone, tell them before it's too late.

jigmeister said...

Beautiful sentiments. I am so very sorry. It really is much like loosing your father or a best friend. Reading your story reminded me of the very best times with my father. We all need reminding occasionally.

Anonymous said...

Your words are beautiful and ring so true for anyone who has experienced a special bond with a Good Man. Mine happened to be with a Fisher of Men and I was just reminded of all that he taught me.

Please carry my thoughts, prayers and love to all in our small town Texas.

Anonymous said...

would be the perfect post if the g-d's were removed. There's just nothing to be gained or proved by using that term.

My condolences on losing a Good Man.

bettingonalice said...

And, if you have ever told somoene they are a "good man," you will see what it means in their face. Had this experience with my husband of 5 years a week ago, and wish I had said it to him earlier.
It is epic. Like they have finally reached their father's status. So sorry for your loss, but joyful that he got that extra quarter century.

Anonymous said...

"would be the perfect post if the g-d's were removed. There's just nothing to be gained or proved by using that term."

Way to be a turd in the heartfelt sentiment punch bowl. Nice work.

Anonymous said...

This was one of the most beautiful posts I have read in a while...You are very lucky you got to say your final goodbyes. I was 12 when I lost my grandpa to cancer, and I was still too young to understand what really happened. I never got to say goodbye to him and it's been 10 years and it's still just as painful to think of him now as it was then. I just lost my grandma this year to MRSA/Staph and I was with her through her whole battle. I told her every night how much I loved her and when she finally passed, I was sad, but more at peace than anything.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and all the lives of the families that this Good Man has touched.

Anonymous said...

You are a Good Man and I love you.

Anonymous said...


I am saddened by your loss, but also grateful that you were able to spend so much time with someone who meant so much to you. Please accept my condolences to you, your family, and the family of your friend and mentor.

You may think it self indulgent to write such an article. Its not. You may think it has nothing to do with your job. It does. Maybe not directly, but it does. Because it is exactly these types of relationships in our lives that comprise the person we eventually become.

You are blessed to have known and been close to such a good man, and it is obvious to me that he had such a positive impact on your life, that a small part of him will live on in you.

My father passed away when I was six years old. So I know how important a father figure is to a young boy. And I've tried to live my life in such a manner that I might be a positive influence on not just my own son, but others as well. That I could be someone's "Buzz."

You are blessed, for although your friend as passed, you have a lifetime of memories left to share. And you can share with others what a wonderful role model this man was to you...and inspire them to also become someone else's "Buzz."

You have my contact info. If I can ever be of assistance, just let me know.

-Mark W. Stephens

Anonymous said...

Bravo. Well done.