I have been away from my blog for a long time. Winter and trying to make peace with my body, but I decided to post a tribute a wrote about a dear friend. I don't need to say more about him. Let the words I wrote at the time of his too-soon passing suffice.
I could say that Bill is a “good guy” or a “man for all seasons” (definitely this definition applies—a man who is ready to cope with any contingency and whose behavior is always appropriate to every occasion) or “an exemplary teacher” or “an amazing human being.” All of these are true. But, when Bill’s wife Kathy called to tell me that she found him unresponsive in his chair that morning, she just kept saying, only half-intelligibly, “My beautiful man is gone.” And then once she added, “He is beautiful, you know,” as if I needed convincing.
I could not come up with two better words to describe Bill Rous. Beautiful man. So rarely, maybe once or twice in a lifetime, we are lucky enough to encounter someone who is so Real. He’s the beautiful in Margery Williams Bianco’s story, The Velveteen Rabbit. “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you.” Real happened to Bill sometime before I first met him in 1983. Or he has always seemed that way. “You become,” Bianco writes. “It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” We don’t usually call men beautiful. Surely, he would have blushed at the idea, put his head down or shaken it and turned away. Sorry, Bill. You were a beautiful man.
As teachers, we probably “loved” the hair off his head. We stood in line to ask him questions, get advice, because we knew that he would give us a considered answer. Not the establishment response, not the dismissive reply. You could see he had hours of work ahead of him (and Kathy was waiting for him at home) when you stopped by his office, but the half-empty el cheapo Bic pen got put down, angled across whatever he was hand writing. He gave others the gift of time. For students, he was exactly the same way. Endless patience. Some might say to a fault. May someone say that was my greatest shortcoming!
Bill was one of the most professional people I’ve ever known. He always prefaced things with “I don’t want to speak out of turn.” You could see the wheels churning to come up with a validating response that also met with his standard of integrity. He treated everyone with boundless respect. Once when we had professional development at school, we were asked to think of someone who exemplified “character counts.” Bill’s name was a quick leap.
He was an in-person kind of guy. Social media and the exposure it affords would boggle his mind as would texting talk like IDK or IDC or BTW. It is no surprise that he had little use or time for social media or cell phones or technology in general. Eventually, some of it became a necessity. To think that one of his last teaching jobs was to supervise students doing math on a computer. Unthinkable. Once though I did send him a note I saw posted on Facebook from one of his students. The only spark of interest I ever saw about Facebook was that he was interested in what former students were doing. The message read: “I remember being in Mr. Rous's math class and Steve Kusek put a whoopee cushion under Gina Martin’s seat and when she sat down and it blew, she threw the whoopee cushion at Mr. Rous.” Bill’s so typical response was "So much for knowledge of gerunds, linear equations, the causes of WWII, and the laws of motion.” Bill’s sense of humor was legendary. I don’t think he even tried to be funny. He just was.
Bill took a lot of ribbing. About his #2 pencils, ice-pick sharp each morning and nestled in a wooden paper tray for students to borrow. About his talent show act when he lip synced to Tom Jones’s “It’s Not Unusual.” Or played to a standing O his trumpet with the school band. About his stacks of student tests, meticulously saved and piled so neatly they could have been fed through the crankiest mimeograph or Xerox machine. About the little scraps of notepaper he tucked in his shirt pocket, pulled out to jot down one more thing to check on. And he always did. That he loved both The Three Stooges and Rocky. That his lunch was rabbit food, vegetables from the garden, sometimes his own. That the tan tattered dictionary in his office, just one of the ones he owned, looked like it was published before Noah Webster’s mother birthed him. That the contents of his file folders, worn manila all looking the same, were stacked by priority of importance. That the speed of his walk down the hall signaled the urgency of his mission. You could read Bill if you really wanted to. That his wallet looked like it was the only one he’d ever owned. About his propensity to have a way of doing almost everything. There was precision in everything. His work ethic was crystal clear, and though he didn’t judge others for theirs, it’s unlikely that anyone was unsure of what he thought one should do. There were no apologies from him. He was that way. And that was that. That’s when you are Real.
Bill was a math guy. No bones about it. There are others who could tell math tales about him endlessly. He liked the precision of numbers. It fit well with the way he lived his life—from food to finance. But he was also a grammar guy. He liked to write. We were the self-appointed “grammar patrol.” We might raise an eyebrow to each other when someone’s verb didn’t agree with the subject or at the mix-up of compose and comprise. Even though I was the English teacher, it fit Bill’s DNA to be fanatical about the English language. If I would run a rule past him, he’d come back even days later with a Xerox copy of the rule from some antique grammar book he secreted away. Every email we exchanged in the past few years began with Hello comma Gail, never Hello Gail, because he was insistent that the rules be followed. Out of respect, I began to comply by putting that comma after Hi. He had not much use for relaxed rules. Once he forwarded an email from his daughter Amy about a blog called “Grammar Snobbery.” Amy had written this in the greeting. “Hi, Dad! (...capital "D" is correct in this instance.)” Clearly no one is spared! Bill’s reality.
Kathy wrote a while back: Can't get the desire to keep working out of him. He loved work and the church and God and gardening, but he also readily talked about Kathy and Amy and Brian if asked. How hard Kathy worked at the hospital, how challenging it was. How Amy seemed to be following in his footsteps including being hard-working , the challenges of her jobs. How proud he was to sit in the room when Brian defended his dissertation even though he didn’t understand anything. (He even took the day off!) And then his added pleasure in Josh and Sherry, and their children, Caitlyn, Ethan, and Lillian.
One of life’s ironies is that there was nothing he did, and that is a literal nothing that didn’t reveal his heart. And it was his heart that was a part of last conversations. I’ve been looking for things about Bill, from Bill, the past few days. I found the note he wrote in my scrapbook when I retired. He wrote about things he remembered about our years together (24 if my math is right), and then toward the end, it said, “But in remembering these things, I see how different things will be. That is the whole thing. Because you made such a difference, things will be different when you are not here. I will miss you.” A rare moment of non-gushy sentiment that I appreciated immensely. It is fitting that I steal the end of my words here from Bill, the beautiful man. Yes, that is the whole thing, Bill. Because you made such a difference to me, to others, things will be very different because you are not here.
I've read and reread this for grammatical errors, and I am sure there are some. I used fragments and took liberties with punctuation. I'll attribute them to a writer's prerogative to bend the rules. A stretch of poetic license. Sorry, Bill.
The Revival Tour
Poet Bloggers 2018
Kelli Russell Agodon-
Donna Vorreyer – https://djvorreyer.wordpress.com
Beth Adams – http://www.cassandrapages.com
Sandra Beasley – http://sbeasley.blogspot.com
Carolee Bennett – https://gooduniversenextdoor.com/
Mary Biddinger – wordcage.blogspot.com/
Andrea Blythe – http://www.andreablythe.com
Dave Bonta – http://vianegativa.us
Jim Brock --
Angela T Carr
Kevin Connor – https://ordinaryaveragethoughts.wordpress.com/
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Laura E. Davis – http://www.dearouterspace.com/
Kate Debolt – http://www.katedebolt.net/blog/
Heather Derr-Smith – ferhext.com/
Risa Denenberg – https://risadenenberg.weebly.com/blog
Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow http://cschwartzbergedlow.blogspot.com
Lou Faber – https://anoldwriter.com
Jeannine Hall Gailey – webbish6.com
Gail Goepfert –In the Mix gailgoepfert..com/blog
Sarah Kain Gutowski – mimsyandoutgrabe.blogspot.com
Erin Hollowell – http://www.beingpoetry.net . T
Crystal Ignatowski – http://somehiatus.tumblr.com/
Charles Jensen – https://charles-jensen.com/kinemapoetics-blog/
Jill McCabe Johnson http://jillmccabejohnson.com/blog-chanson-daventure.html
Collin Kelley http://www.collinkelley.blogspot.com
Anita Olivia Koester https://www.forkandpage.com/
Lakshmi – thiswinterheart.tumblr.com
Courtney LeBlanc – wordperv.com
Lorena P Matejowsky https://nothingbutblueskies.wordpress.com/
Marilyn McCabe O
Ann Michael – www.annemichael.wordpress.com
Amy Miller – http://writers-island.blogspot.com/
James Moore – jameswmoore.wordpress.com
LouAnn Sheperd Muhm – https://louannmuhm.com/
Gill O’Neill – http://poetmom.blogspot.com
Shawnte Orion http://batteredhive.blogspot.com/
Susan Rich – http://thealchemistskitchen.blogspot.com .
Lee Ann Roripaugh https://runningbrush.wordpress.com/
Sarah Russell – https://sarahrussellpoetry.net
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Rosemary Starace https://thresholdview.wordpress.com/
Hannah Stephenson – http://thestorialist.com
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