Journalists are taught early on while learning to flail keyboards not to exaggerate; “Just play it down the middle, no hyperbole,” in the words of a city editor whose tutelage A-E tries to remember with every article and column.
“He was a good man” was the most personal praise the late editor permitted.
Careful readers of this weakly effort might recall that A-E and Neighbor Bill treated each other with a playful disdain. Bill gave A-E gag gifts that made fun of his sparse cranial turf. Two items that graced the column included a plastic arc labeled “For the man who has everything…except hair.” The name of the insulting product was a comb, despite its lack of teeth. A quick look at the photo associated with the column is the only necessary explanation of why Bill thought of A-E when he spotted the gag gift.
A-E would feign insult and note that Neighbor Bill was older than A-E and write columns explaining that the neighborhood feted Bill on his 112th birthday with a dribble cup. His response: a bright red T-shirt emblazoned with heroic white letters explaining the wearer of said shirt would never suffer “a bad hair day.”
That adolescent humor began when Frau and A-E moved into their favorite village. Bill introduced himself to Frau while she was transforming the landscape around our hut; she complained that the roof of our dwelling sported enough chimneys to theoretically heat the Rochester War Memorial if each one vented a fireplace.
“But I can’t find any fireplaces,” she complained.
Bill said “follow me” and gave Frau a quick lesson about the abode, including the cellar fuse box that looked original to the 1860 building. He also explained the genealogy of those who had lived there, starting with Cosmo Kanisteo.
Thus began a friendship that taught the newcomers village history and area commerce: Best place to buy groceries, clothing, hardware, ad infinitum. Bill realized his new neighbors were eligible for STAR exemptions and gave instant tutelage.
His confidence was matched only for his enthusiasm for helping neighbors.
When he spotted a deal in a used high mileage and low price pick-up truck, he called. Where would we take the vehicle for the best mulch for Frau’s thriving flowers? Bill knew and gave us directions.
His faithful companion was a diminutive Chihuahua that was the classic one-man dog. Shatzi was fearless and guarded Bill with a surprisingly ferocity for a 10-pound dog.
Bill told of a black-and-white Shih Tzu that had become too much for her aging owner. Sheena has been a welcome member of the family for almost two years.
Bill frequently walked into our house to bellow greetings and explain some treasured product or service he knew about, such as the Veterans Administration, and back road directions that would save us “at least half an hour“ driving there.
When A-E fell because of Parkinson’s, Bill, who had arms like young maple trees, picked him up with the same ease as when he gathered Shatzi in his arms.
Bill’s beloved wife Dot called last month to describe tearfully that Bill was in the VA hospital. Bill called from his hospital bed the next day and told of the 40-some telephone calls he had received from friends and acquaintances and, he admitted, he was designing his tombstone, his only acknowledgement about mortality.
Frau and A-E went to Bill’s wake last weekend and were not surprised at the dozens of people in the funeral home.
Memories flood back in those moments, memories of Bill Argay talking about his love of the outdoors with his grandson, about bringing a walker to A-E after a nasty fall, about how until a few years ago he enjoyed plowing neighborhood sidewalks with his snowblower “Big Red.”
Bill's comment after receiving thanks was typically “That’s what friends are for.”
Bill Argay was a good man.
Al Bruce writes a weekly column for The Evening Tribune.