Old friends mark October’s bright blue weather

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Daddy turned 90 on October 30, 2009, and my brother and I took him out to Calhoun’s at the Ft. Loudoun Marina for lunch. We were joined by his friend Bill Beeler and his daughter, Vikki.

We chucked Bill’s oxygen tank and Daddy’s walker into the trunk of Mamma’s big Merc (as a full-time caregiver, she had begged off the trip in favor of a few quiet hours at home) and set off for Lenoir City. The drive was just long enough to let us take in the scenery without making Daddy and Bill too uncomfortable. Bill was looking forward to some fried catfish.

It was the kind of perfect fall day that always makes me think of a poem I had to memorize when I was in the fifth grade called “October’s Bright Blue Weather.” It’s come back on me for 50 falls, so I’ve long since abandoned any hope of shaking it:

O suns and skies and clouds of June,

And flowers of June together,

Ye cannot rival for one hour

October’s bright blue weather.

Bill had been a scoutmaster and Daddy his assistant while their boys were growing up. Two years ago, Bill found out that Daddy’s World War II medals had been lost when our house burned down in 1969. He not only worked with Jimmy Duncan’s office to get the medals replaced, but made a shadow box to put them in – all without Daddy knowing a thing about it.

Bill wore his dress khakis when he and his wife, Anne, showed up at the house with the medals. As a member of the Veterans United Honor Guard, his job was to fold the flag and present it to the family at military funerals. He still cut a splendid figure – white gloved, blue-eyed, slim and straight – as he made a formal presentation from Sgt. Beeler to Sgt. Bean.

Anne died the following year.

Bill was a member of the Hourglass Division that fought from the Aleutian Islands all the way through the South Pacific to Okinawa where he was seriously injured. A bona fide hero, he was awarded 15 medals but for years never talked about what he’d experienced.

We got to Calhoun’s and were seated at a big round table in the middle of the room. Bill had catfish and Daddy had ribs. They talked about food and friendship and Bill gave Daddy a birthday present that he’d made Vikki sneak into the restaurant.

After lunch, the wait staff set up a portable ramp so we could go down to the deck and throw bread to the carp that boiled up in the water behind the restaurant.

Bill needed his oxygen tank for the trip home and grew very short of breath. I took a picture of the two of them when we got to his house.

We said goodbye and I thought about the end of that poem:

When springs run low, and on the brooks

 In idle golden freighting

Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush

Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,

By twos and twos together,

And count like misers, hour by hour,

October’s bright blue weather.

Bill died six days later and was buried two days before Veterans Day in the uniform he’d worn when he gave Daddy his medals. My father, Albert Bean, died in 2011.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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