Ode to a Grumpy Old Man

Here’s an ode  at the passing of a grumpy old man–one of the most cantankerous but finest old men in my neighborhood.  (And we’ve quite a few.  I tell my sons, if you’re ever  in trouble, go to the gruff voiced, red-faced old buggers.  Their bite is to keep their soft hearts from completely emptying their bank accounts.)

Bill could be counted on to point out everything I did wrong. I remember driving his son to martial arts class repeatedly one year and returning him home late a few times.  In no mood to put up with this lax discipline, Bill  fixed his eye on mine and informed me I’d better hurry up next week because “my son needs to be home in time to do his homework.  Do you understand?” I understood and I wasn’t late again.

Once he yelled at a neighbor woman, stabbing the air and possibly her chest with an accusing finger until she fell over backwards.  He grouched at people driving too fast (that’s me and my husband), barked at neighbors for making too much noise, and snarled at kids who didn’t listen to his snapped commands.  The pinnacle of his darkness probably came the time he whipped out his male appendage and pissed on an ex friend who made him angry (yes, he pissed off a few people but this is the only time he ever actually pissed on someone.)

BUT, I counted on him.  Like you count on winter storms and hot summer days.  You don’t necessarily enjoy the experience of being immersed in their atmosphere but the world is better for them.   Did someone really need a helping hand? He made sure they got it.  He made sure the bat shit crazy neighbor lady who talks to imaginary kidnapped children and used to have fights with her lover with a bible in one hand and a gun in the other and who never ever has enough firewood got a pickup load or two bucked up from him—every year and twice some years if she was looking particularly destitute.

If the school needed something, we just asked and he made it happen.  I’ve lost count of the times he’s peeled off cash from his pocket to buy quilt tickets or baked goods from big eyed little kids at the school.  Once, when an absentee landowner threatened to drive large logging trucks through the neighborhood every day for years while clearing his property of trees, Bill dug into his deed and found a clause that gave him exclusive control of public commerce through his property and saved the neighborhood from depleted hillsides and destroyed roads. And, speaking of roads, for years he  managed to wrestle enough money from his neighbors (bolstered by his own contributions) to keep the main section of our long private dirt road drivable.  What will his stretch of road do without him? I imagine it buckling up in despair as if he smoothed it by pure willpower and now, without him, in places it will sink in depression and in others it will rise up  in protest.

He was so proud of his handsome son.  I remember him bragging to me when Pierce was little about how kind to other kids he was.  Then as Pierce grew older he bragged about how smart he was.  He was right as he so often was.

Bill wasn’t soft or easy to hang out with but he was there when he was needed and he was good to me.

In these last years I didn’t see him often but I still counted on him being there–a rough rock to lean against.  Our neighborhood now has a hole where the rock used to be.  Who will get the firewood, and buy the quilt tickets, and smooth the road out?

UPDATE: Apparently pissing on people was not a one time thing with Bill.  An old college friend of Bill’s sent the following to Gail who passed it on to me.

William P. was truly a unique  individual, love him or hate him, he was always BILLY. He and I had quite a few times together, I could go on and on about some of our exploits. This is one era of my life I will never forget. Bill was truly a jewel in the rough.

Just to set the record straight though, Billy did pull his member out one afternoon and chase a couple of nursing students (female of course) around the block a couple of times. I don’t recall if he caught up with them or not but had he I’m sure that he would have pissed on them. This occurred at one of our pads that everyone referred to as ‘The Bramble Bush’, a real din of inequity. Never a weekend passed that the Police weren’t banging on our doors for one reason or another.

As I remember this was the same weekend that Billy and Bill Redmond (another dear old friend who just recently passed). Billy and Redmond were at it and Billy had an antique shotgun that he was chasing Redmond with. I slipped a firecracker down the barrel, lit the fuze and handed it to Billy who then pointed it at Redmond. The damned thing went off with all of the sound and fury of an authetic gun. Redmond played the part, clutched his chest and fell over as if dead, the cops were there in an  instant and there wasn’t a Wino to be seen for several days in the area.

By Dave Norris


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16 comments

  • Misty eyed sigh… yes, neighbors.

  • RIP to the grand old man.

  • Beautiful post, Kym. ” You don’t necessarily enjoy the experience of being immersed in their atmosphere but the world is better for them.” — Love that.

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  • Usually the folks with the most grit, salt, piss and vinegar (aka “character”) turn out to be the most valuable after all… Ya don’t know what to miss till it’s gone…

  • A beautiful tribute to memorable man. We all should be so fortunate, when we leave this life, to be able to have someone point out all our warts and wrinkles with such love and admiration. Great tribute, Kym. And, farewell, to a man whose memory will linger forever in the history of the Salmon Creek community.

  • Beautiful post, Kym, thank you. My favorite observation is “Their bite is to keep their soft hearts from completely emptying their bank accounts.” Our hills are still full of Bills.

  • Lovely kym, I only met Bill in the last 6 or 7 years… usually for firewood. He was one of the first to buy firewood after the Canoe fire dumped “lemons” on us and we decided to try our hand at “lemonade”. Bill NEVER ordered his wood just for himself, every year there was an order with at least two, usually three addresses. My brothers and I are 4th generation farmers in the small community Where we grew up and raised our kids. I smile warmly to remember the handful of “Bills” who anchored life for us. I was immediately at home with Bill when we first met, and we always had a conversation which seemed to resume right where it left off last time. I sure wish I had made the effort to go see him last week when I heard he was doing poorly. mark

  • As grumpy as Bill was ,and we can all say he was plenty grumpy, when he was in love he was an absolute puppy. It was wonderful to witness. Bill will be missed by more than just his neighbors.

  • Nice Kym. I also think of his sense of humor- he would have a quiet but noticeable chuckle, acknowledging some bit of wit or something. I always looked forward to his company at Poker, the one time or so a year I could make it. Those moments of humor, tenderness, or displays of pride are truly gems- something you hold onto and cherish when thinking of the rough and gruffness of our grumpy old men. Thanks for such a lovely tribute!

  • I wish you could be at his memorial. I’m looking forward to spending the day reminiscing.

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