Sunday, July 6, 2008

"Thursdays with Bill"

“Thursdays with Bill” I called them. Apologies to Mitch Albom, but that is what they became.

I met Bill in the early 90's while working a part-time job with a PC company that could not have spelled customer service with both Merriam and Webster at the chalkboard. I was putting myself through college, and this place inspired me to start my own business. “Surely I can do better than this.”

Bill was one of my first customers.

My wife and I attended a memorial service for Bill this past weekend.

Nearly every Thursday, I had spent an hour or three in Bill’s apartment helping him with his computer. In his seventies, his doctor told him to quit watching TV and reading and get something more interactive to keep his mind active. His family got a computer for him from the aforementioned company. We started with Solitaire to get used to the mouse, then moved on to the Internet and email.

Photography came next. Bill was already an avid photographer and traveler, and he came home with many megabytes of photos. I helped organize the growing collection in folders, and made backups on CD. He emailed his favorites to his kids. We hooked up his laptop to the big screen in the assisted care public meeting area for travelogues for his fellow residents, and often, several staff members.

Every Christmas, he designed his own card. We would go through the past year’s travel pics and put his faves on the card. U.S. Open, European river cruise, Russia, family get-togethers at various corners of the US where his children lived, each card offered a retrospective of the previous year. On the back of the card, he put: his name and all rights unreserved. There was also a graphic he used that was a PC mouse colored with a Christmas holly pattern; along the cord scrolled the words "not a creature was stirring."

Another project was to document his experiences in WWII. Bill was a captain in the Army Air Force and flew cargo planes across "the Burma hump" from India to China over the Himalayan Mountains. We recorded over 40 minutes worth of stories that he later shared with his family. His daughter later transcribed and added them to a scrapbook along with many of his favorite pictures.

As the Thursdays and the years added up, our working relationship turned into a friendship. We watched tennis matches during Wimbledon and the French, US, and Australian Opens. Bill was an avid player in his younger days. I had never watched tennis before, and to this day it is one of my favorite sports (Go Rafa, Go). Some days he was just not up to working on the computer, and we would just visit. He told me about his kids, and about his wife Molly, and about his life. I learned a lot about Bill and his family, and I learned a lot about myself.

As the years passed, Bill's health started to slip. PC tasks he had mastered years before had begun to get lost. I spoke to one of the resident assistants that I had gotten to know and she and some of the other staff had noticed. His family had started to notice.

Bill moved to the northwest to be closer to several of his children and their families. I met my wife-to-be around this time, and we married a short time after. Our baby girl was born a year and two weeks later. I sent pictures to Bill of our wedding, and later of our baby. I wrote him a letter to let him know how much our time together meant to me. I was a confirmed bachelor well into my thirties, but Bill's life and his glowing descriptions of his wife and family opened my eyes to what I was missing.

Like Mitch Albom in "Tuesdays with Morrie," my life was enriched during my Thursday computer sessions with Bill. For every PC tip he learned, I learned a dozen life lessons, and I gained a true friend.

At Bill's memorial service, I finally met in person the five children that I had gotten to know through Bill’s descriptions and vacation photos. The look in their eyes when I said, "I'm Bill's computer guy," made me feel like I was a part of their family. Several of them said that our computer sessions added years to his life, and I told them how much he had meant to me. I wanted to say so much more. I wanted to say the things that I have wrote in this post. The time was much too brief. My wife and I had planned for two weeks before to spend the whole weekend remodeling the still-vacant house we had lived in when we first married.

I composed most of this post in the sleepless early morning hours after Bill’s service. As the day and night passed after the service, I thought more and more about Bill and our Thursdays and his family. I really beat myself up over not taking advantage of not going to the wake afterwards and talking more with Bill’s kids, and telling them in person what Bill meant to me. Oh, we had our reasons, we had remodeling to do and we knew we would have not gotten much done that day, we are both a little on the introvert side, we would have used a valuable "grandparents watching the baby” day, but as I pulled plaster off the walls, I thought about the opportunity I had wasted in not talking to them.

As the week has passed, I have added to this post, and I have realized that I made the choice that was best for my family. We got the last of the old plaster off the walls, and got it hauled off to the dumpster. I like to think that it might have been the decision that Bill might have made. His family meant everything to him, and I feel the same.

Thank you Bill for teaching me so much and thank you for being my friend.

1 comment:

Emily said...

Hi Bob,
That's my Papa you're talking about! I'm the oldest grand-daughter (Randy's daughter) and I just wanted to tell you that the look in all of our eyes was genuine. My grandpa was, is and always will be such an inspiration to me and it's incredible to hear about the inspiration he passed on outside of our family. You added so much quality to his life and words cannot express the thanks owed to you.
-Emily Bell
P.S. I'm glad the remodeling is going well!