Monday, November 9, 2009

Glad to Know You

Every Tuesday for the past 15 years, a tall, (6'4") lean man walks into my kitchen and asks,"What you know good?" His nickname is "Bones". His Mama named him Reggie. He is as southern as they get, including the Rebel Flag in his front yard. But to him, that flag represented a symbol of southern pride, not the horrible racist rag it would one day come to symbolize to another generation. Reggie heads up the Kitchen Committee for my Senior Center, meaning he lets me think I am in charge. With a perpetual grin and a quick wit, you'd never suspect he turned 80 in August. He still rides a motorcycle for heavens sake. Someone ran a red light 3 years ago and tried to make him a hood ornament. Broke his collar bone but not his spirit. He may have shed a tear over the bike he loved, but he went out and got a new one. And STILL refused to wear a helmet. You'd think a man who was a Volunteer Fire Fighter for 40 years would be more safety conscious. But no, he like to feel the wind in "what little hair I have left."

If there was an award given for the ability to "Tease with Tongue Planted Firmly in Cheek", it would go to Reggie. I tease him that if he'd strap a coin changer to his belt, he could charge for those shoulder massages he offers to anyone willing to stand still. Stand still...they practically stand in line for his gentle, soothing touch. This Tuesday, however, will be different.

We buried him this afternoon.

It's still hard to think of Reggie in the past tense, as in "he was". Reggie was the kind of guy who walked into the room and it filled with good hearted kindness and joy. And laughter. LOTS of laughter. He'd gone to school with one of the ladies since they were about 8 or 9. Every week she walked in he'd yell, "Hey Buzzard!" and without missing a beat she'd yell back, "Hey ugly!" Then they'd hug heartily as the new people in the group looked to me for an explanation.

Reggie loved to laugh and yet he had that southern gentleman thing going so that if he told a joke, it was one you could tell in mixed company with the preacher standing by. Sure, they were often corny but they were funny. Sometimes you'd groan, sometimes it was a good belly laugh. Always there was a twinkle in his eye.

A couple of months ago, Reggie had gone out to supper with friends that he and his wife ate with weekly. His wife hadn't been feeling well and stayed home. Reggie called me that Monday to let me know he was going to be late for lunch because he had a doctor's appointment. Asking if I had the time, he told me of his "odd episode." After eating dinner with his friends, he explained that he remembered stopping to get gas, but he didn't remember where. Feeling odd, he went inside and asked the Clerk, who was filling up a cigarette machine, where he was. The guy, without looking at Reggie, muttered the name of the city where he'd had dinner. Reggie's a laid back kind of guy so with a smile I'm sure, he admitted to the guy he was a little confused. Turned around. Wondered if he maybe had a mini-stroke. Could the man please tell him exactly where he was?

Without looking up, the man merely repeated the name of the city, as he continued his task. Reggie got disgusted and walked out. He said he didn't really panic until later on, when his truck's side view mirror broke. He was driving down a road which had one lane blocked due to construction. Because he wasn't sure where he was, Reggie was driving slow and the driver behind him began to angrily flash his lights. When he glanced in the rear view mirror, he swerved slightly and hit one of the large, orange parking cones marking the lane. It flew up, hit his rear view mirror and the glass flew inside the truck, across his lap and onto the seat. Reggie said it was as if someone had flipped on a switch in his head. He pulled off the road and looked at the shattered shards on the front seat. He'd said he never rode with his window down but that night he had. The light glinting off the flying glass had, woke him up, as he put it.

Looking around he found himself on an interstate highway, headed north. He lived south. And two hours had passed.

Reggie said he didn't remember even getting on the road but he found his way back home. The doctor wanted to run some tests and he'd try to get to lunch before it was over. I assured him everything was fine.

When he came to lunch the next day, I asked how he was and he replied fine. Then he started with, "The weirdest thing happened to me Sunday." Silly me, I butt in and offered, "Yeah and if we ever figure out what gas station you went to, I will go have a word with that idiot who ignored you!" He looked at me oddly, asking if his wife had told me the story. When I said he'd told me on the phone the day before, he didn't remember calling.

A chill ran down my spine.

Over the next few weeks he'd have one more mini-stroke that put him in the hospital for a couple of days. I'm thinking his crankiness at being in a bed for so long got him discharged early. He said there were no clots in his brain but that a carotid artery was being treated by medication. He grinned, saying he'd won at least one round with his doctor. "She told me I couldn't drive for 6 months. I told her fine, I'd just ride the motorcycle. She shook her head and said, 'No driving!' to which I looked at her and said, 'It's not driving, it's RIDING.'" With a wink, he left the room with me grinning ear to ear.

And last Tuesday he was in my kitchen. When he finished his prep work, he'd go and sit in the recliner in my office. We had a deal: he could "exercise" the recliner if he promised not to snore. He always kept up his end of the bargain. He asked what time to put in the biscuits as I tried to co-ordinate another event. I knew that if I wasn't finished by noon, he would carry the food out to our buffet table, say grace and get the troops moving. As always I thanked him and he thanked me for fixing such a good meal. "And anyone who doesn't appreciate your cooking or all you do for us can answer to me!" he added, just loud enough for the complainers to hear. I can honestly say Reggie has often been the reason I haven't thrown my hands up in the air and walked out the door. He was my weekly hug and encouragement. All he charged was a smile.

Friday afternoon there was message on my home answering machine,"Reggie's dead."

Unexpected deaths, even in older folks, are often shocking. In fact, it is THE worst part of my job; getting close to people that begin to feel like extended family, then losing them. Reggie was so full of life, always helping others, that I had to play the message again to make it even begin to feel real. And yet at his funeral there was lots of laughter. I think he planned that somehow, making us laugh so regularly that it's the only sound we associate with him. One lady spoke of all the pranks they'd played on each other over the years. "I loved Biker Week and would ride down when he went down there with his wife. My birthday's then. He bought me a pair of yellow underwear that 10 women could've gotten in at the same time. I took them and ran them up the flag pole in front of his daughter's house. The next year he got me a pink pair....and put my name on them so I couldn't give them away." And with that, she opened a box and pulled out the biggest pair of hot pink panties I've ever seen and the crowd roared with laughter, shaking the rafters of that country church. I swear I could see Reggie sitting in the rafters, smiling.

The kitchen won't seem the same tomorrow. I even went ahead and set the tables today so I won't have to think about him not being there to do that for me. And yet, I'll still hear that ghostly laugh and cheerful greeting,"What you know good?"

My answer will be, "You."

Reggie last year at our annual Halloween Costume Contest.
His mask is laying next to his plate.
The mug is a skeleton one I got him that year to reflect his nickname, "Bones".
He liked it so much he insisted on drinking out of it every week.
He even took it home and "doctored up the eyes" by adding red to them.
I think some of our newer members thought both of us were nuts, but he enjoyed the joke.


mapstew said...

Oh hope, my heart goes out to you.
It's heart breaking to lose a friend. He will be with you every Tuesday I think!

Much love my friend.


Bill ~ {The Old Fart} said...

Sorry to read about the Loss of your Friend. Reggie sounded like such a Wonderful Man. You will have many happy memories to think back on.


Janie B said...

Such a great loss...I'm so sorry. But what a great friend he was to you, and what great memories you will have forever. Keeping good thoughts for you tomorrow.

Jimmy Bastard said...

Remember him the way you have written about him here. With affection and pride.

Anonymous said...

I'm sort of with Jimmy here. I never knew the man, but I get a feeling you've done him justice.

hope said...

Thanks Map. It is tough, but I think you're right. He'll be in the kitchen, silently reminding me of what I haven't yet done while trying to do 10 things at once. When I walked up to his daughter yesterday after the funeral she grabbed me, hugged me tight [she's almost as tall as her Dad!] and said, "I love you! I love you because I knew you'd be here." It was like having Reggie standing right there. :) xx

Thanks Bill. Reggie was a character. Thing I might miss the most is him asking the group to quiet down before we ate. We have an old gong my husband's family got when stationed overseas. When he hit it, I think they heard it all the way back to Japan, from where it came. :) And instead of asking folks to quiet down for grace, he start with a good natured, "If you old people would shut up, I can pray and we can eat." :)

Thanks Janie B. I'm going to try to remember to giggle and not be sad.

Jimmy, I think if you'd met Reggie, you could've talked him into having a pint with you. ;)

Thanks Matthew...that makes me feel better. To think you got a sense of Reggie's spirit of fun and kindness. Several people spoke at his funeral yesterday [standing room only] and the resounding theme was, "He was always ready to help...and make you smile." Can't leave a better legacy than that, huh? :)

Dan. said...

I read this about four this morning, and have come on to read it again. I echo what everyone has said. There was no a more perfect a way to sum up somebody, Hope. I'm sure he is looking down with pride to have been described by you the way he has.

shug said...

Very sad, and beautifully and tenderly told.

Susan at Stony River said...

Oh Hope. I'm in love with Reggie. and dammit, I made it through your post ok until that last line before the photo!

We lost my father-in-law to a series of small strokes; the doctor sent him home and he died in bed a week later. You're right, even with warning the shock is awful, to suddenly have a void where once there was so much that was good and warm and wonderful. And I hate to think that you're losing someone who helped you get through your workday, as well as a good friend.

RIP, Reggie. God Bless, Hope.

hope said...

Thanks Dan. {I do seem to be saying thanks alot, huh?} Makes me feel good to know you got a glimpse of a really nice man in my post. They joked at his funeral that when he was born, God broke the mold. Then the speaker added, "But when his daughter Margaret was born, seems they found it again." :)

Coming from you Shug, I take that as the highest form of compliment. It means I did Reggie proud.

Thanks Susan. Today was somewhat odd, even though all of us were talking about him. At one point I looked at a large pan I'd put in the oven, then turned around. Suddenly it hit me I can't ask Reggie to lift the big stuff for me any more. So I muttered to myself, "Well then you'll just have to help me do it!" Oddly enough, the pan came out with no trouble. :)

Dr.John said...

What a great tribute to a great man.

debra said...

life is bittersweet sometimes, isn't it. I lost my Dad to a stroke. so sorry for your loss...

enchantedoak said...

They live on in our memories as often as we let them in and dwell on the joy they gave us. I've lost my best friends, once in 99 and another one in 08. Takes a long time to make a best friend. Every time we laugh about the memories I feel they're close again.

savannah said...

what a lovely tribute, sugar! i am sorry for your loss. xoxoxo

hope said...

Dr. John, debra, enchantedoak and savannah, I appreciate your kind words.

Reggie was one of a kind. Ironically one of the members was pointing out a picture of him on our bulletin board and asking who the woman was with him. I told them she had been one of the original members but was in a nursing home. She died the next day. Maybe Reggie went on ahead to get things straight. :)

the broken down barman said...

wonderful tribute. really. not much else i can say, that hasnt been said before x

Peggy said...


I have not been keeping up with my log firnds very well these past couple of weeks, my bad for sure. After I am done with my next round of tests, I promise to be back full time.
I saw this post on your friend Reggie and I just cried. I cried for you on the loss of your dear friend and I cried for myself on never having met him in person. Thanks to you and your post, I feel like I know him a little and that's your gift to me!
Reggie is probably looking down now and asking you.."what you know good"

hope said...

Thanks would've liked his sense of humor. :)

Ah Peggy, didn't mean to make you cry. The most uplifting thing was how many times we laughed at his funeral. In fact one of the people said, "If we act sad, he's coming back to get us." :)

The kitchen felt oddly empty last week but time goes on. Tomorrow I have one turning 99 and he's coming to lunch. ;)