Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

January 2, 2013

Abacus Column: A life well lived is still too short

By Larry Backus
Sun contributor

CROSSVILLE — My wife and I are entering our 11th year as residents of Fairfield Glade. By the standard of some of our friends and acquaintances, who retired here 20 or even 30 years ago, we may seem like freshmen in the University of Geezer Awareness Tennessee. We should probably wear UGAT tee shirts and baseball caps to daily geezer events, like exercise; golf; tennis; bocce; shopping; breakfast, lunch and dinner; pets; plays; book clubs and a zillion other clubs and activities. Add as much church, charitable and non-profit activities as each of us can squeeze into our hectic Geezer Awareness schedule and never forget children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are priority events that often require travel or, at least, special preparation. What could it be that we were not fully prepared for after 10-years in our first completely self-chosen community, county and state?     

We were not fully prepared for losing good friends we have known for 10 years or less. We are fortunate to have many good friends from our pre-retirement lives, a few we consider among our very oldest and best friends; like Lou and Red, who I’ve known since I was 8 years old. Since we moved to Cumberland County we have made many more friends and many new “best” friends. An amazing situation since we had 62 years to fill our “best friend” list before we retired and yet have doubled the number since. Another realization when we lose best friends is that we could easily be next; after all, once you are eligible to wear a UGAT tee shirt and hat, you are closer to a DOA statistic than you have ever been; unless you have served our country in combat.    

This 2012 year has been a wake up call and has ended with too much death and sadness. For our world, for our country, for ourselves, we have lost too many; and definitely too many youth in unconscionable ways that defy reason. We need to change things in our world, in our country and within our hearts. Most of us will leave the world and national changes to others but we can change ourselves – and I know you realize that is a significant event at our calcified geezer ages.

The prompt for this column was the loss of another good friend in December. I’ve known Ray Button Jr. and his wife Mary Sue for most of the 10 years I’ve lived in Cumberland County. We gradually became good friends, initially because I was astonished with his ability to repair previously non-repairable watches. The friendship grew with many conversations that covered nearly every topic under the sun. Whenever I was in Crossville I would try to conclude my errands by stopping to visit and chat with Ray. He had great stories to tell – any shop owner dealing for a half century or more with the public has fascinating stories to tell and Ray’s were some of the best. Unlike Ray, I had traveled extensively in my career and shared my favorite stories of interesting people and places. In time it became evident we had similar values and our friendship grew.

When I initiated the Friends of the Library Bling Sale, I asked Ray if he would assist the FOL with placing a value on selected jewelry and watch donations. He readily agreed and insisted on donating both batteries and minor repairs in addition to identifying jewelry that was much more valuable than we might have thought. Prior to the Bling Sale on Dec. 15, I stopped by his shop to review a few items for the sale. Ray revealed he would have to be hospitalized for treatment of cancer in Knoxville. Mary Sue and one of their two daughters were packing the shop for storage. I was concerned but not alarmed; if his doctors discovered cancer, it was probably early and Ray showed no mental or physical signs of illness. A few days later I stopped by the shop again. I came with the vague idea of being upbeat about any pending treatments in order to cheer-up my friend. His wife and grand daughter were there busily packing the shelves of items and the atmosphere seemed even more somber. I tried the cheer-up approach again; there was no reaction. As I was about to leave Ray grabbed my hand and held it firmly; he said he had greatly valued our friendship and enjoyed our conversations. His sincerity and serious demeanor unnerved me. I was confused. We left and as we drove away I said to my wife, we have to visit Ray in Knoxville. I was also thinking that I needed to tell him how valuable his friendship has been to me.

Ray died a few days later. Ray worked in his shop for most of his life, until a few days before he died. His shop and filing system may have appeared quaint or even disheveled but Ray had everything together in his life. He was an outstanding person in many ways. He was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He contributed in so many ways to his community. If you were among his legion of friends, you were blessed. Ray Button Jr. will not make the cover of Time Magazine, but anyone like Ray will be greatly missed and greatly admired, for they and we fellow UGAT’s have experienced a life well lived. Perhaps this is the realization that makes Fairfield Glade and Cumberland County so unique.