(Originally posted on May 21, 2007)
Here’s a Bill story that I couldn’t tell at his memorial service.
When I was in the 11th grade, I went to P.K. Yonge Laboratory School. (I think they’ve since replaced “Laboratory” with “Developmental Research”; makes the kids feel less like lab rats.) My English teacher was a horrid troll. She was pushy, and perfectionistic, and bitchy, and I couldn’t stand her. She was the best teacher I think I ever had.
One of my assignments one time was to write a report on the religious philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson. The theme was to be what religion he was, why he chose that religion, and a little bit about the religion. My first stop? The PK library. Where I found absolutely nothing. Every book on Emerson was checked out. To this day I uphold that she had checked the books out herself, because every time I went to her to tell her I was having trouble doing research (this was way before the Internets, yo) she would swear up and down that those books were in the library and not checked out. I kept going back, the books kept not being there. At that time I was riding to and from school with someone else’s parents, and unable to stop at either the public or University libraries. We lived outside of town and the Stepmonster was unwilling to drive into town on the weekends just to take me to the library. So time was running out, and I had to write a few pages on something.
Enter, Bill. Savior of all questioning souls.
I forget exactly if Bill and Doris were living in the little stone house on 5th, that year, or if they were already in the house on 6th that I wound up renting a few years later. Either way, for some reason I was at their house. Bill knew just about every other random, esoteric fact that anyone could ever care to think about asking… so I did.
“What,” I asked, “was the religious philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson…?” Did he know? I had this report due, you see, and here’s why I’m having trouble finding the answer, and…
He gave me a long look.
“Well,” the answer was, “he was a lot of things in his life but for the most part he was a transcendentalist.” Bill proceeded to pull down two or three books from various overburdened shelves around the house, and handed them to me. They were old books, with that musty dusty smell that I love so much, and with them I proceeded to write a paper that snagged me an “A” from the wild-haired troll that ruled my class.
She was genuinely surprised that I was able to find that out. Hence, my belief that she had made sure there was no information in the library.
“How,” she asked as she gripped my report and twitched just a tiny bit, “how did you find this out?”
“I asked Bill,” I said, not bothering to explain to her who Bill was. There is no single word for a man who is as close to you as your own father, who is both father and uncle and friend, who is helper and supporter and finder of obscure information, who is always there for you when you need him but always content to be behind the scenes, never asking for thanks or acknowledgment but making sure that you know he appreciates you when you do thank and acknowledge him.
No, I take that back. There is a single word for a man like that. That word is “Bill.”