Friday, January 18, 2013

RIP and the military way

A good friend left us early last week. For a bit, when someone asked about the memorial service I was going to today I said, "The husband of a friend of mine." But I realized that was so wrong--Rick Allen was a friend of mine too, someone I liked a lot and cared deeply about. In the twenty years since he's been with Kathie, I've come to know and treasure this gentle man who always had a hug and a warm smile. He was, in the true sense of the word, a gentleman. There was lots I didn't know about him and learned from his obituary--beyond military service, a meeting with Henry Kissinger at the White House because he was an expert on Laotian troop movements, an expert also at poker though I doubt he and Kissinger got into that. Oh, I knew about the fishing and the baseball, integral parts of his life in the years I knew him. He visited all the standing old classic baseball fields, and he caught award-winning Northern Pike in Canada. For a farm boy from Iowa, as he always described himself, he'd come a long way and seen and done a lot of things. They had a Power Point display of pictures at the reception, and one picture of him and Kathie on camels made me wondere who would have expected an Iowa farm boy to have all these experiences. I remember one time recently when I was leading a discussion of memoir at the local Alzheimer's center, and Rick said, "I can smell the barnyard to this day." He never lost track of his Iowa farm-boy roots. I'm sure in Rick's past there are things I am glad I didn't know, but I loved the man I knew in recent years.
The ceremony today was at the National Military Cemetery in Grand Prairie, only the second time I've been there--and too soon upon the heels of the first. Kathie lost her father last May and the service for him was my first introduction to almost  anything military . Kathie grew up with it; it's foreign to me. The rigid ceremony of folding the flag given to the widow is impressive beyond belief, as is the firearms salute and the playing of taps--which always makes me cry becuse it always made my mom cry. The setting is impressive, and the cemetery beautiful, if you can call rows and rows of headstones beautiful. But it's Texas rolling prairie, dotted with trees, and the services are held in tasteful stone lodges. The cemetery runs so many of these ceremonies a day that there are tight time schedules--if you're late, forget it--and the service is brief. But visitors look at a tree-covered hill as they hear the gun salute and taps. Today a minister gave a brief but moving eulogy, and I'd like to hug her and say, "Well done, my friend." She offered comforting words from the Bible, and she suggested, even more important, that we should all bear Rick's legacy of being kind to people, expecting the best of them, waiting for tomorrow to bring out something better. I had to wipe tears from my eyes more than once.
The reception was at the local AA facility, something Rick had been deeply involved in. He was 35 proud years sober, and it was a perfect place for the reception. There were of course many more people that I didn't know than the few good friends I saw, and I soon tired of standing--though I loved the Power Point program a close mutual friend had put together. Still, I was glad to come home, have a glass of wine, and take a deep nap.
RIP Richard Charles Allen. You truly were one of the good guys, and I will miss you. But I will do what I can to look after your Kathie.

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