Friday, July 27, 2007


Having lived almost all of my life in the same general area, seeing people I know is taken for granted. When I walk down the street of any of the neighboring towns I expect to see a few old friends and acquaintances. But not as many as there once were. The years have a way of taking care of that.

In early May, my brother-in-law, John Dale Harris died. At the age of 65, his passing seemed too early. I knew Dale for at least 50 years. It's difficult to believe that his soft voice is silenced. And that his slow, jolly smile is gone forever.

Over the past half-dozen years or so, if I wanted to see an example of perseverance, all I had to do was look up the street. My neighbor Louis "Gene" Werner had been the victim of a damaging stroke, but he was determined that it was not going to completely rob him of the use of his legs. So, daily, he walked a determined course, back and forth, up and down his driveway. And whenever I started to mow my large lawn, I could expect to see Gene and his John Deere lawn tractor coming down the street to help. The stroke had severely limited his ability to do a lot of tasks, but that tractor made it possible for him to still do a "days work." After many years of hard toil, it made him feel good to be able to do something worthwhile. And to help a neighbor.

In June, another massive stroke put Gene into the hospital. And the next one did more damage. He died on June 27. I will miss him.

Late June also brought the death of another old friend. Russ Nash was a writer, poet, retired college instructor, sociologist, etc. to name but a few of his many activities and achievements. But his life was cut short. He died on June 25 after a mercifully short bout with cancer.

Ruth Nash decided to turn the planned tribute into a memorial service for her late husband. The lobby of the Dubuque Museum of Art rapidly "filled to overflowing," with a long line of visitors still remaining out on the sidewalk. People of all ages and walks of life came to pay their respect. There were no long faces and no tears. It did not seem necessary or proper to mourn for Russ Nash. It felt more appropriate and natural to celebrate his life and his accomplishments. And his generosity in sharing his gifted talents with others.

As I elbowed my way through the throng, I ran into quite a few of my old friends from the Dubuque Area Writer's Guild. Every now and then I would hear someone say, "Wow, Russ would have really enjoyed a get-together like this!"

And he would have. All of those people. What lively and interesting conversations he would have engaged in. And then there was a cornucopia of food and beverage. And the speeches. He would certainly have loved the music of the grand piano, violin and cello.

Now and then some of his students of bygone days would compare notes on their experiences with Russ in his college classes. More than a few stated that without Russ' special help or his tutoring they would never have made it to graduation. And there might have been a small number of people in the crowd, like me, who might not be writing today but for the compliment and encouragement we received along the way form Russ and others like him. What better encouragement could this old country boy have received than to have had Russ Nash invite me to take part in a half-dozen of his Artscape and Question Box community access TV programs?

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