Thursday, April 22, 2010

Willie Carroll

Some days you're just bone-tired, dragging feet weary.  Today is that kind of day; the kind of day when all you can think about is being at home, resting, relaxing, worry-free until the alarm clock buzzes in the morning...  But this made me think about an incident that happened in the early '60s. My Daddy worked at Garco - aka Raybestos Manhattan- and we lived in the Mill village of Dewey Hill. All of the residents worked at the Mill so it only made sense that the men, and women (very few) were not only co-workers, but neighbors and friends as well. Daddy had two good friends- Willie Carroll and Guy White. The three of them often fished together - none of them were hunters. Daddy had a boat that he built, and Mr. Guy had a boat, and they took turns taking one of them out on fishing trips. Daddy was supposed to go fishing with Mr. Guy one day but for some reason he did not go. Mr. Guy and some other friend went instead. I remember it got later and later in the afternoon and when Mr. Guy didn't come home his wife was getting really worried, and so were the rest of the grownups. Someone, I don't remember who, went to where he usually put the boat in, but it was capsized. They were never sure if a big wave turned them over or if it was something else... but both men drowned, and they didn't find them for a week or so. It was scary and I think I have always kept a great respect for water since then. Daddy and Willie went fishing months later in the same place and Daddy's boat, the Sue Ellen, sank. Daddy and Willie managed to hang on long enough to be rescued, but that section of the Intercoastal Waterway almost claimed them too. I think this strengthened the bond between Daddy and Willie. I know Daddy loved him like a brother and I think Willie felt the same way about him. Willie got extremely sick one day... he had a major heart attack.  This was devestating news back then because there was no unemployment, and I am sure there was a waiting period for any kind of temporary disability to kick in. When you make less than 60.00 a week, every penny has a place to go and not working for weeks has a huge negative impact on a family. There were 4 people in Willie's family. His wife, a son, and a daughter, and himself. It was terrible to hear his wife crying in our kitchen, worrying about how to pay bills, how to buy food - there was no government assistance, no food stamps - Not that we knew about, anyway. Daddy just went to bed a little earlier than usual and the next day, came home 3 hours later than he usually did. And every day for the rest of that week, he worked 3 hours longer. When he got his paycheck, and Mama went to the Mill to pick it up, he told her to cash the check like she always did, to take his 65.00 out, and to take the rest of it to Willie. For 4 weeks Daddy worked like that and gave every penny of overtime to Mr. Willie... and if he hadn't, I can't imagine what would have happened. I'm sure the Mill saw what Daddy was doing and knew why and so they authorized it. But that was the kind of man my Daddy was - If I tend to make a hero out of him, it's because he was. Mr. Willie recuperated and went back to work for awhile but eventually had to retire because his heart was so bad.
10 years later Willie had another heart attack and the doctors thought they could do open heart surgery and repair the valves in his heart, but sadly he died on the operating table. That was November, 1974.
Daddy got sick in February of 1984. It was cancer of the lung - caused by asbestos. In June I had a dream. I dreamed that I was visiting my parents and when I drove up to the house, I saw Willie's old Sea Green Ford pickup truck parked out front. I thought that was weird because the truck looked brand new, and I knew in my dream that Willie was dead. But I went on inside and Daddy was in his chair and Willie was sitting in Mama's chair and they were talking and laughing like they always did. Between them, on the floor, was a large trunk. I asked Daddy what was in the trunk - I'd never seen it. He told me that he had a few things he wanted to take along. I asked him where he was going... and he said that Willie and he were going on a trip -  that he was going to go off with Willie. I asked him where he was going, but he said he didn't know, and Willie was silent and smiling, and never spoke to me. I asked how long he would be gone, and he didn't know. I told him I would go into the kitchen and fix them some lunch - as if they were going fishing together again... but Daddy told me not to, that they wouldn't need lunch... and I accepted that. I told him to be safe and to enjoy himself and I must've woke up. I told people about that dream because it was one that seemed haunting somehow - it had a strangeness to it that clung to me and never let go. Well, Daddy died on a November morning and after things settled down some, we were sitting in the living room when Willie's widow came through the front door. Someone had called her to tell her of Daddy's passing. When she came in the living room, she looked strange and was crying, and was oddly excited... She grabbed my Mama and hugged her and then said " Helen, do you know what today is?" and my Mama shook her head no, she wasn't sure what importance the day held... and Willese (that was Willie's wife's name) said " Today is ten years to the day that Willie died... He's been dead ten years today, Helen... and he came back to get Tucker!"  I was sitting, and it's a good thing. I felt ice water run through the muscles in my legs and arms... Willie sure enough had come to get Daddy, in his Sea Green Ford, and they'd gone on together.

I'm not so tired now when I think about how hard Daddy worked, how tired he must have been and how he found a little more of himself to give, not just for his family, but for his best friend...