We just got word, yesterday, that our good friend Bob, has passed away. We got to know Bob when he became one of our best customers at our book store and coffee shop. Before long, he was more than a customer; he was one of our best friends. We didn’t know Bob’s family. We were blessed enough, however, to get to know a few of his friends; some that were local and some that had visited.
Bob found out he had lung cancer early this spring, and I have to confess, though I continued to pray, I had trouble mustering hope for him. When he told me it was inoperable, I was very afraid. I had two other friends that had survived lung cancer, but it was only because part of their lungs, were able to be removed with surgery.
Right away, Bob made the decision to go back to his hometown. There was a VA hospital there and he had family and friends there, as well. Though I didn’t want to admit it, I was afraid we would never see Bob again. I was right.
So what does one do, when someone you love passes away, but you have no opportunity to attend a funeral, or share memories with family and friends? I don’t want to simply let go of a life that is that important to my family with just the receiving and accepting of bad news. I have to do something to honor this life. So I will write about Bob. I hope this is a tribute to the man that he was.
Bob was in his 60’s three years ago when we met him. He was a Viet Nam Vet, and when I first met him, I thought he looked like he might have had a bit of rebellion in him. I wonder if he would say he had a good life; I don’t think so. I believe he had a scary life. I believe in his later years, he tried fervently to correct much of what had happened in his earlier life; wrongs he felt he had done, lives he felt he had hurt. We all want to do that, don't we?
Bob had a strong and moral heart. He was a man of strong beliefs and a man that lived by his word. If he said it, you could count on it. Bob had a very creative side, and a sentimental side, as well - though I am sure he would not want to admit that part. He loved deeply, I believe; but he had built walls that would protect him from accepting that fact.
This man was always a bit of a mystery. He wanted to get to know us, but he didn’t really want us to get to know him. My husband and Bob hit it off right away. They were both Viet Nam vets and there was a bond there because of that, which was almost immediate. They were very much alike in a lot of ways and I was thankful for this friendship for both of them.
Bob could not have been kinder to my son. He always took an interest in what Matt was doing, and wanted to help with advice, or in what ever way he could to fuel and support Matthew’s projects or activities.
Our friend was a very generous person, and he liked to give gifts. Not expensive gifts, just thoughtful gifts that you knew were from his heart; and when you opened that gift you knew he had listened. He would often bring an item that Matthew needed, that he said he wanted to give to Matt, because he “no longer had use for it”. He was always the first to offer any equipment he had if my husband mentioned anything he was working on and in need of. He would often bring me candles for my store. His favorite was “Crème Brule”, which he purchased from his friend’s candles shop. He killed two birds with one stone that way; he helped her business, too.
When things were slow at the store, Matt, Bob and I would often have discussions about faith and the Bible and life. I'm afraid Bob was very angry with God, though I think he would rather believe that God wasn't even there. We agreed to disagree, respected one another’s beliefs and I believe I saw his anger soften somewhat. He told me once that his friends back home were shocked that he would hang out at a place such as ours; i.e. a “Christian” place. I took that comment as a good thing. He only offered respect for our values, and always acted accordingly.
Bob did not like crowds, struggled with being around people, and did not have a lot of respect for the establishment. But I will never forget the day, when two new customers came into our coffee shop and began talking to me about their lives and how they had become friends. One had been a Navy SEAL during the Viet Nam era. One was a short little oriental man, and he was very proud of the medal he had received from the United States government which he offered to show me.
While sitting at his normal table, I noticed Bob had started to listen to these two men as they talked to me, so I introduced them to one another. The conversation went a little further about the war, and pretty soon, Bob asked the smaller man, “Wait a minute! Are you a Mong?”
When the little man said yes, Bob leaped to his feet and with a rare smile on his face said, “Let me shake your hand, and say thank you!”
Whoa, didn’t see that type of thing from Bob, too often. My curiosity grew.
Now I did not know what a "H’mong" was at this time, but I knew I had just witnessed something very special. I knew this was important; I knew this was between brothers and I knew it was deep. I backed off a little bit now, and just tried to listen and learn as the three men talked.
When the two gentlemen had left, I asked Bob what a "H’mong" was. These men had Bob’s deepest respect and gratitude. They were integrated Vietnamese that fought with the U. S. during the war and they had rescued 100’s, if not 1000’s of American pilots that went down during the Viet Nam War. H’mong soldiers, on the front line of the war, put their lives at risk fighting for the United States in what came to be known as “The Secret War”. They were a Special Guerrilla Unit supported and trained by the CIA to block the Ho Chi Minh Trail. They were the toughest, bravest men he had ever known, Bob told me.
Wow, I had just learned a very important part of history, and I was witnessing an after-effect of that history. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Don’t care if anyone thinks that is an exaggeration. Anyone in that room that day would have felt and understood the same thing. It was awesome.
But that was Bob - hardened with all the affairs of life, but always more than willing to pay respect, wherever respect was due.
Another time, a situation occurred in the little town we had our business and I cannot write about it out of safety concerns, but I will never forget the day Bob witnessed part of it and demanded, “I am NOT leaving here until you walk down to that police station and report it.” I wasn’t quite convinced it was the issue that he believed it to be, but deep down I believed he was probably right. So I made the walk and I made the report. And I learned a little more about the type of person Bob was. The side he most often didn’t want others to see.
Bob was conservative in his politics, radical in his attitude, mysterious in his past, and private in his affairs. He was warm and he was cold. He would share only to a point, and listen forever. He would advise and provoke thought; he would offer comfort and concern, then walk away and leave you wondering.
Bob acquired much in life, and enjoyed the “finer things of life” as they say. He loved his art and his music; his animals and his friends. I believe he gave far more than he ever received in this life. He was honest and he was forthright. He was a casualty, who became a success through his own hard work and determination. We were not there for him in his last days, but I know the Lord knows the important things and someday I pray I might know, too. He lived and he died; but he lived and died with the love and respect of my family. Though try as he might to prevent it, I know there were many others that knew Bob the same way.
We will miss this friend a great deal and when I burn Crème Brule, it will always be in Bob’s honor.
We are grateful to have known him.
Thank you for your service, my friend. I know it was not without sacrifice.