Some things just make you stop and take inventory of your life. Death, an inevitable part of life, is one of those things.
Our family is suffering through this quiet but gutwrenching chaos this week. We are losing our patriarch on Bill’s side of the family…his father, Lynwood Otis Tucker. “Otis” is a giant of a presence who welcomed me with open arms the moment we met. I met Otis before I met anyone else in Bill’s family. He hugged me and it was like being wrapped in the arms of a big ol’ bear. It was strange, our first meeting. Bill and I had been dating a short time. It was the last weekend of hunting season, and Bill wanted me to meet “his hunting buddies” whom I later realized were as close to him as any family could be. So here I was, this “city-fied yankee” heading to the back hills of
Southern Virginia. I drove through Charlottesville,
passed a sign that said “ Waltons Mountain Museum”
and through Lynchburg. I can remember thinking to myself “Girl, you
are soooo not in PA anymore.” Truth be
told, I hadn’t been in PA for a long time, but this part of the world felt so
foreign to me. Before you knew it I was making a left onto Hogwaller Road. I kid you not. To this day, Bill swears we
are going to retire down there just so Hogwaller Road can be my address. I am more amused by that thought now then I
was back then.
So as I kept driving and listening for banjos and signs of Ned Beatty, I spotted an old pickup truck by the side of the road. Someone was in the truck, so I pulled over and rolled down the window with my freshly manicured hand (and yes, hair was done, and makeup perfectly applied as well.)
Me – “Excuse me Sir, but I am looking for Bert Carr’s house. Do you know he lives?” (Bert is one of Bill’s best friends, and whom he was staying with while hunting in
Old Man in Truck (smiles and I realize there is not one tooth in his mouth) “Bert? He lives down the road. Who are you looking for?” (I would later learn that this gentleman was “Big Smokey.”)
Me – “I’m looking for Billy Tucker.”
Big Smokey – “Ahhhhh, you’re looking for Hawkeye!” (Insert big toothless grin here.)
Hawkeye? Who the hell is Hawkeye? I started to get a bit nervous, and wondered if Hawkeye was some strange code for “fresh meat approaching.”
Big Smokey jumped on the CB radio, and said something in his deep southern voice which left me wondering if I was in a foreign country. I kid you not, I couldn’t understand a word he said. Then he stuck his hand out the window and motioned. “You need to drive that way and make a left through the weeds. Hawkeye is hunting back in there.”
I thanked him and kept going. What I didn’t know at the time is he was BACK on the radio to all of Bill’s friends to Bill and all of his friends ribbing “Hawkeye” about this woman who was looking for him. This group of guys is brutal when it comes to a good ribbing.
I spotted Bill’s old maroon Chevy Suburban about 50 feet off the road, and I did in fact have to drive through brush and weeds to get through, which must have been quite the sight, as I was driving my Sebring convertible, which isn’t that far off the ground. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get it back out. Someone was standing next to the truck with his back to me, and I, of course, assumed it was Bill. I jumped out of the car, high heels and all, and yelled “Hey you!” But it was Otis who turned around, not Bill. He had a great big smile and he hugged me so tight it was hard to breath. He was dressed in camouflage overalls and he was wearing a hunting cap. I will never forget that first time seeing him. Everything about him was larger than life, and at the same time the most comforting and loveable man I ever met. There was no hesitation about Otis. We liked each other immediately. Bill came trouncing back from chasing a deer, only to find his dad and I chattering away like two squirrels. From then on, it was pretty much love between Otis and me. Always teasing each other, always making time for a hug and a kiss. I lost my dad four years prior to meeting Otis, and while no one could fill that void in my life, Otis comes close, very very close.
Which bring me to the point of this whole diatribe. I am losing my Otis this week. Renal failure brought on by liver cancer is taking him from our lives – Bill’s, mine and my daughter’s. I cannot think about all of this without crying, and thinking that the world is going to seem a whole lot less wonderful without him, much in the same way the world became less wonderful when I lost my own father. I’m watching my husband, my Bill, lose his hero, his best friend, the man that Bill has worshipped his whole life. But there is something I see that Bill doesn’t see. He is his father, cut from the same rough cloth, a carbon copy. I know what Bill will be like in 30 years. And how lucky am I to have found the one man on this earth after Lynwood Otis Tucker’s heart.
So yes, the air is a bit bittersweet this week when I breathe in. I am reminded that it’s always best to stop and sniff the roses, and to always eat dessert first, tomorrow is promised to none of us. But I also know that I was blessed beyond words the day my path crossed with my father in law, and I owe him a debt of immeasurable gratitude for being Bill’s dad. I do believe Otis Tucker may have given me one of my greatest gifts in my life…my soulmate.
And for that, Otis, you will forever be in my heart. Godspeed, and all my love to you.