Our Friend Bill
I don’t remember the first time we actually met. He was our neighbor.
We had certainly spoken by September 2003 because his wife called and apologized that she hadn’t gotten Chuck and me a wedding present. I laughed, thanked her and said, “We eloped. It’s not required.”
The next time Bill came on our radar screen was in 2004 when we had a fundraiser for the F-104 monument. I was wandering around the reception and came upon him sitting by himself. His wife was not there. We chatted a little and I moved on to other guests.
They just were respectful of Chuck’s privacy and a bit shy I think – which was very kind.
A few months later, at the Nevada County Fair, Chuck and I had gotten some veggie tempura and were looking for some empty spots at the picnic tables to sit. I spied several open seats and asked the people if those seats were taken. I then focused and it was Bill and his wife. “Oh! HI! How are you?”
We sat, chatted, and ate. Bill’s wife said: “We’re fixing our culvert and are pulling out your trees. We know they’re yours as they have the blue mark.” (We had done a program to remove excess trees that were fire hazards).
My immediate response was: “Oh, I’m sorry. What do we owe you?”
She was speechless. Bill said, “Nothing. It wasn’t the trees.” They could not believe that I took responsibility. I guess especially since, we learned later, that our other mutual neighbor did not. Paul refused to pay his share. In the end, after a lawsuit, instead of 1/4th, he was ordered to pay half but not ordered to pay Bill’s legal bills.
As we got to know Bill, he very kindly would check on our place when we left town and feed our cat. We loaned him our ATV to do it which he enjoyed. It became a friendly joke. He was Chuck Yeager’s cat feeder.
When Paul was moving, we made it clear that any new owner could not use the corner of our property which Paul had paved over. We called the broker and made it clear. Paul contacted us to smooth things over. We said we’d do a land swap – he could have that area if he gave us another area of our contiguous properties. He refused and said he had rights to use our property. His broker clued him in.
Paul then tried to seduce us. Let’s all be good neighbors. We said sure, we might give permission revocable at any time. First, reimburse Bill for his legal expenses.
Never heard from Paul again.
Somehow Bill and his wife found out. They were again stunned but less so – they were getting to know us.
After I got my pilot’s license, the first passenger I took was Bill. He’s a calm guy, a retired airline pilot and had flown small aircraft. He felt confident he could land the plane if I had a problem.
Chuck flew Bill’s cousin and Bill flew with me as I flew on Chuck’s wing. We stopped at an airport an hour away for lunch. Then we flew to Oroville, visited with a friend. Chuck took off first and I had to speed up to catch up. Then of course slow down before I passed him so I could fly his wing. So I called out whooa! where are the brakes????
I liked flying with Bill. He never screamed.
When we got back safely, my landing was a bit of a clunker but not bad. I apologized to Bill and said I could do better. He very graciously said: “I thought it was a good landing.” I told him he could fly with me any time!
A story Bill used to tell was: he was driving with Chuck in the right seat on our way to dinner. Chuck turned to Bill and told him that the speed limit was 55 mph. Bill said, “Of all people, I would not have thought you’d ever say someone was going too fast!”
We met his grandkids and son and daughter-in-law. It was fun.
Bill and his wife had become Jehovah’s Witnesses in their 30’s. So his wife would answer my questions. They had been Methodists but found that group too hypocritical.
One year I gave them some Christmas goodies. Bill’s wife reminded me that they don’t celebrate Christmas. I noticed she had Christmas cards. She said I can’t stop people from sending them. So I had an “aha” moment: “I know why you don’t.” She was surprised: “Why?” Me: “So you can receive presents but don’t have to give any.”
It took her a little bit to see the humor.
Bill also would let us know when he and his blue machine were going to the trash dump. He’d pick up our trash and stuff it in. He hoped the truck would make it. And, as importantly, make it back!
We invited Bill and his wife to Chuck’s big birthday celebrations but JW’s don’t celebrate birthdays or military. Bill would break ranks sometimes to join us.
When we needed a landing spot for a helicopter picking us up to go to a charity event, Bill let the pilot land on his property – ours did not have a safe approach. I told him it was mainly in case we all needed to be evacuated. As we took off, I thought, I wish there was a seat for him – he loves to fly.
Later he told us they got many calls asking who was being arrested – the helicopter was a sheriff’s helicopter.
When she got cancer, it was the same time as Chuck’s 1st wife’s cousin once removed’s wife got breast cancer. Roberta, the cousin by marriage, had the greatest attitude regarding the invasion of cancer. She truly believed her faith and had a great sense of humor. Bill’s wife got depressed and frightened. Roberta lifted her spirits greatly.
I got both of them laughing dogs. You can’t help but laugh when you turn these on. It was interesting: Roberta died. Bill’s wife survived. (Which shows that attitude does not necessarily impact survival)
Occasionally we would go to breakfast together. And often we would have neighborhood dinners – we’d go to a restaurant that would cook our elk and everyone would chip in for the expenses. Easier than inviting people to your house and they reciprocate and…
We’d stop by now and again and knock on their door bringing them elk or salmon or lugs of fruit or a book or just us. They’d invite us in if they were home. We tried to time it for dinner – Bill’s wife is a good cook.
She and I would engage in philosophical discussions.
It was so nice and so relaxed. Both had a great sense of humor. And they laughed at my jokes. He was a young 75 year old.
Then Bill got liver cancer. He did very well for several years with the radiation inserts. We’d kid about not hanging out with him when he was glowing. Seriously he was not supposed to be around people for the first 1-2 weeks. He’d be tired during those weeks.
Two years ago, against my protestations, they put their house on the market. I told them I was going to put up signs saying we’re bad neighbors so no one would buy. We told them to move into our guesthouse. They did not but moved into a friend’s guesthouse. The friend kicked them out for remodel a few months later. They moved to another rental. Then they finally bought a small property.
He was still a young 78 year old.
Then a year and a half ago, the doctor made a mistake. First he urged another go-round a bit early. Then the doctor put the pellet in the wrong place. The radiation caused other organs to collapse.
Bill eventually felt well enough to go out to breakfast with us. We always penciled it in to be confirmed if we all showed up. We always did. That first time though, what a difference. Bill reminded me of how older people looked when I was 7 – gaunt, their teeth are too big for the face, old. What a difference. He suffered from various issues due to the destruction of his organs. They were coming back but…
Bill battled the destruction for a year and a half. We’d have breakfast every month or two. He had become, in a year and a half, an old 80 year old. As usual, I had hopes he’d make a full recovery and become a young 80 year old. I’d tell his wife what homeopathic stuff worked for me with the disclaimer that I was not a professional.
Every morning we were home though, Chuck would ask me: “Do you think Bill died?”
Except for one time, each time we saw Bill, he’d look a little worse. And would speak a little more slowly. I did my best to ignore what I could see and to give a normal face.
Swinging on the porch, I’d reply to Chuck, “No, I just called – we’re going to breakfast tomorrow if all feel like it.” I felt like we were slowly saying goodbye.
Or over the month, I’d reply, “No, I’m sure we’d have heard.”
Sure enough. Bill’s wife called us two weeks ago and left a message: “Bill died last night after five days in hospital and then 5 days at home with hospice.”
I called her and we chatted. We laughed. We cried.
She left a message when the funeral was. We tried to go but just couldn’t make it. Chuck has been to too many funerals and won’t go to any more. I was curious – I’ve never been to a JW Hall. New experience and could meet his brother and her sister. Bill’s wife been trying to introduce me to the Hall and would invite me to go when Chuck was on boy trips. I just never did – I was afraid I’d be hit by lightning as an interloper. Just kidding. Or trapped.
On Sunday, I left a message saying we could bring some pizza for her and her family.
I called her today and said I’d stop by after all the guests had left in a week or two. She understood re not attending the funeral.
Someone once clued me in – it’s nice to show up for the funeral. But even greater to stay in touch after all the supporters are gone, back home and the widow is alone. Really alone. She said she’d appreciate it very much.
I miss Bill. I miss them as neighbors and the ease of just walking up the hill or taking the ATV and just stopping by to visit. Only once did they ask me to do something for them: make sure the automatic watering system came on when they were traveling. I made sure I got it done. Thank goodness it was working – not sure what I would have done if it wasn’t.
Like Chuck, Bill always had a clever, different take on life that had me laughing and lifted my spirits when I needed it.
God bless you, Bill. And thank you!