It’s always been hard to say good-bye to a friend, whether the farewell comes from a change of location because of a career move or because of the most permanent change, death. One of the hardest-to-date separations for me came in mid-August of this year.
In my lifetime I’ve been blessed many times in many ways. I was fortunate to marry my best friend just as we were transitioning to adulthood in 1966, and although (perhaps because) we scrambled to make it economically, we had a good life together until cancer claimed her in 1991. That began a dark time for me, but it was tempered a bit because we spent five years preparing mentally and spiritually for her death. Though she bore her fate bravely, her physical suffering towards the end helped me think she has to be better off in whatever world she moved to.
Losing Jana and later Brandon because they were born too prematurely to be saved by medical efforts disheartened each of us temporarily, but we had each other to rely upon as we grieved together, and two living daughters who needed us to be together so we could meet their needs. Dawn was four, Jenni two when Jana lived for only 11 days in premature care in Springfield so neither sister knew much (and I hope remember less) about those days. Brandon lived three hours in Hillsboro Hospital two years later. As I remember, no one else from our family but me touched him before he passed. Sometimes I think of him and Jana, wondering what they would have become had they lived, but we concentrated more raising the living family we had.
My dad passed in 1965; he smoked two packs of Kools per day, and the lung cancer which that habit caused spread to his brain after he had a lung removed. He died at home, with mom and my sister Janet as his primary care givers. I took care of the farm as well as I could during his illness, but I wasn’t a care-giver. Doctors told me, my sister Janet, and little brother Dale not to smoke because the tendency for lung cancer caused by smoking could be genetic, but that was years before the smoking/cancer connection was well-established. The lung removal mellowed my father, but the two of us weren’t close even as we worked together on the farm as I grew. We were poor (most small acreage dairy farmers were in the 50s and 60s), and I resented the money he spent on cigarettes. He thought that was none of my business. Besides, in his eyes I was ball crazy and book crazy. A pragmatist, he saw no future in playing ball or studying when there was work to do–and always there was work to do. I realize now he was a man typical of his era, but that type of thinking isn’t typical of an adolescent. I know I cried when he died, but I suspect now it was more of an expected, reflexive action than it was from sincerity.
My maternal grandmother lived to be 107. She was very important to me when I was small. We lived in her house with her until I was ten or so when we moved into a newly-built house in the orchard of her farm, which dad bought five years before the house was built. After dad died, I was married and living in Illinois within a year, and my sister had moved to work in Washington, D.C. Mom had sold the farm; that was a bone of contention between us because 1) I wanted to farm (in retrospect that would have been a disaster) and 2) I sensed farmland prices were going to escalate dramatically within four or five years. As the decade turned, it would have brought twice as much as it did in 1965.
Grandma then moved in with my mom and brother and stayed until she died in 1985. She was able to hold both great granddaughters when we would visit Western Pennsylvania. Until both her vision and hearing deserted her in her 90s, she baked wonderful cookies. Although I didn’t return for her funeral (Judy had just undergone her first surgery at the time), I know I mourned her passing from afar. She taught me how to be a grandparent by her example.
After her death, mom moved to an apartment in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Brother Dale was married and mom felt the house was too big for her. After she was diagnosed with cancer in 1995, she moved to an apartment Dale and his wife Cindy built onto the end of his construction company’s garage/warehouse next to their house (Cindy became a caretaker/let-me-do-that-for-you type of person for mom as she lived out her life there. She also did that for my aunt by marriage, Helen, after Uncle Howard died in his late 80s. Cindy spent more time worrying about and looking after my relatives than I; she is a saint).
Mom died in 2000; I believe her funeral was the first I attended since Judy’s nine years earlier. I had been to visitations, but truthfully I’d avoided even those when possible. I don’t fear dying (although I can’t say that with certainty till I face that moment), but I do fear the pain I see in survivor’s faces. Dawn and Jenni went to their Grandpa Cherry’s funeral but I didn’t–I wanted to remember him as he’d been in his more robust, pre-nursing home days. Their Grandma Cherry passed in mid-winter when travel in Pennsylvania is dicey at best; I also wanted to remember her as she had been.
Then came this past August when the passing of old friend Houston Satterlee also called forth memories. Satt became one of my first acquaintances when Judy and I moved to Coffeen in the fall of 1967. She was teaching sixth grade at Coffeen Junior High; I was beginning my senior year at Blackburn and working weekends at the Phillips 66 station on Main Street. Harold “Banjo” Meyers didn’t pay much, but it was a good way to meet the natives. A group of older gentlemen would sit on upended soda cases to watch me work while commenting about that and other matters of the day. I found their witticisms both entertaining and insightful, more so than the literary criticism class I endured that semester. Russell Greenwood would cross the street from the bank occasionally, and kids I would know the next year as students at HHS would come in to gas up and snack after the bus brought them back to town. I remember meeting Ken and Stan Thacker, the Pugh boys, Kevin Neathery, and Tom Blackburn, among others and finally were the men who would become friends. Norman and LaMoine Blackburn and Houston were among them.
When I first pumped Satt’s gas, he was a draftsman at Hurst-Rosche; his mom was the office secretary at the school where Judy taught, and his oldest daughter, Vickie (now Lovelette) was in Judy’s class. We became friends quickly.
The next year I was hired to teach English at HHS and to replace Earl Meier as baseball (fall), basketball (winter), and track (spring) coach at Coffeen Junior High. Satt called to ask if I’d help him coach a T-ball team that summer, not because of my untested expertise but so I could become acquainted with the lads (it was before Title IX) that I would eventually coach. I remember Terry Bone as a member of the T-ball team and later as a dependable eighth grade athlete. I look back with fondness on those years. Eventually Bob Lentz succeeded me as the junior high coach, but I was asked by parents to coach the Pony League team Coffeen sponsored in the summer league. Those years were definitely fun for Judy and me and hopefully for the Coffeen kids as well.
When Dave Ball asked me to keep stats. for the varsity football team in the fall of 1970, I asked Satt to be my spotter. Especially on kickoffs and punts, I needed someone to tell me who caught the ball and on what yard line. It was my first year of writing about HHS sports for The Journal, so that’s why Coach Ball asked if I’d keep the stats. too. I found it to be challenging but enjoyable.
A big part of the enjoyment was the drive to and from away games with Satt. I did it partially because I was paid a bit for doing the work; Satt did it because he enjoyed going to all the games. We’d sometimes have someone else ride along, but often it was just the two of us, and the topics of our conversations were wide-ranging.
We had one perilous trip. At a freshman game in Nokomis, some local hoodlum, probably not affiliated with Nokomis High, started flinging clods of dirt from a nearby field. One of our parents, Joe Luckett’s dad, Larry, Sr., along with his elder brother, Larry, Jr., objected; and a physical confrontation began on the tennis courts. Reportedly young Larry grabbed a kid with long hair by his locks and began tugging. The kid threatened the Lucketts, saying he would return with friends and that the Lucketts would end the night floating face down in the pool.
Before long Mr. Ball appeared with the Nokomis head coach, an ex-NFL linebacker, and said, “Come on.” A line of young men were approaching with jagged-neck broken bottles and chairs; Satt, I, Coach Ball, a county deputy, and Nokomis police formed a line to face them down. My own thoughts involved my lack of physical height (compared to Coaches Ball and Jaynes and Satt). I knew where I’d try to find a place to break through if I were in the other line. Thank goodness a couple state police cars arrived to disperse the mob.
One of the state police vehicles escorted Satt and I out of town that night. I assume Mr. Ball had his own chaperone as well. At any rate, a night like that tends to bond people.
Houston’s wife Luretta took Dawn and Jenni into their house to watch them while Judy and I taught until the girls started to school; I remember Hugh taking them for wild rides on his Big Wheel down their hallway. After that they had little to fear from life. We visited often, at times spending Thanksgiving with them. Though I hate to admit it, Hugh beat me fair and square in a game of horse we played on the court Houston had poured next to his driveway so the kids in town would have a place to shoot when they wanted. (I hate to admit it because Hugh was a fourth grader at the time, and I thought I was a hot shot.) Satt took me to a Greenville College football game to see Hugh play tight end the first year GC had a football team. Ten years my elder, Houston was as close to an older brother as I will ever have.
Physically we hadn’t seen each other very often after his grandson Luke graduated from high school. Donna’s son, John Kim, caught for Litchfield High before he graduated, and Satt would come to those baseball games, aided by a walker. He’d lost his personal mobility and no longer would drive. Then Coach Ball called last December, before the COVID-19 virus complicated all our lives, and asked if I’d like to visit Satt and Luretta with him. They still lived at home, alone, although the kids visited often. Both used walkers, but during our visit I had the impression that Satt would have used his walker over my head had I suggested either needed to be in a home.
We stayed to chat for an hour or so; I’m grateful we went. Garrulous as I am by nature, I seldom take time to just visit with people, so I drift away from relationships that I’d like to keep close. It’s cutting off my nose to spite my face because if what goes around comes around, I’ll be a lonely old codger when I’m stuck at home by infirmities. I’ll deserve that.
That visit was the last time I heard my friend’s voice, so I’m glad I had the chance before the virus confined all of us to our houses. I admit to tears when Gary called to tell me his dad had passed. In the culture in which I was raised, men don’t cry; nowadays, though, tears come unbidden, almost unnoticed.
Coach Ball and I went to Satt’s funeral together; again I was glad I went because I did feel a lifting of spirits during Coach Ward’s sermon.
Rest in peace, Satt. Thanks for the memories.