For Deb and Bill

One of the many things I love about my parents is the wonderful people they’ve brought into my life over the years. Two of those people are Deb and Bill.

Years ago, Deb worked with my father. When he opened his first bar, he hired her on to help him manage it. I was just a teenager at the time, first finishing high school and then embarking on my first year of college. I thought I knew everything, and as we all learn later in life, really didn’t know shit yet. But from the moment we met, Deb was both a good friend and a big sister of sorts.

Bill was also a good friend of my Dad’s and a regular at his bar. He became first Deb’s boyfriend and then her husband. To me, he was like a big brother. He was a walking bear hug, a ready smile, a kind soul who was willing to do anything for anyone, without being asked.

Yes, was.

Bill passed away unexpectedly several years ago. Sometimes, it seems like forever since he has been gone, and sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday.

I had some intentions for this week’s blog. I woke up early this morning after finally getting a good night’s rest, put on a pot of coffee and sat crosslegged on my couch with my steaming cup of wake-up and my laptop. In such writerly moments, I try to avoid signing onto Facebook until I’ve done my wordy deeds. I am far too easily sucked into a void where it suddenly becomes noon and the only writing I’ve managed to do is expand my vocabulary in “Words With Friends.”

But Facebook called me, and because I am weak, I answered.

In this case, that turned out to be a good thing. I have always been horrible at remembering birthdays. Sometimes I think I’d forget my own if someone else didn’t remind me it was coming. So I had forgotten that this windy Saturday morning would have been the first day of Bill’s 54th year, until I saw Deb’s update about it.

And I knew that what I wouldn’t be sticking to my original writing plan. Instead, I would be remembering Bill. It makes perfect sense, really. Because of all that was going on in my world at the time, I let Valentine’s Day slip by without so much as single mention in any of my writerly homes. I was completely okay with that. Love is grand, but I’ve never been overly fond of a commercialized holiday that tries to convince guys they suck if their girlfriends or wives don’t get something shiny and makes singles want to scarf down mass quantities of booze, ice cream, cheese curls or all of the above.

Writing about a love story on the day Bill was born is ever so much more meaningful to me. Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. Some are good, some are bad, and some go back and forth. But every now and then, you run into a couple that make you realize just what love is really supposed to be. For them, time never erodes that initial flush of affection, excitement and joy at being together. Instead, they hold onto that feeling while growing closer and more committed to one another over the years. But unlike some closely-knit couples, they never become just an island unto themselves. Their love touches everyone around them. You can’t help but smile just because you are having a drink with them at the pub or cheering your football team beside them. Their happiness is contagious.

Deb and Bill were one of those couples. So if I’m going to write about love in February, I’m glad it is on Bill’s birthday instead of Valentine’s Day.

I could tell the story of Deb and Bill meeting and falling in love. It is quite a romantic tale. But it is theirs. I could talk about Bill’s untimely death and the big gaping hole it left in so many lives. But that doesn’t seem like the right way to celebrate his life.

So instead, I can only share some of my favorite memories of times with both of you, Deb and Bill. It is Bill’s birthday, but you were such a team that I know Bill wouldn’t be annoyed at me for sharing his spotlight with Deb. In fact, he’d be pissed off if it were any other way.

1. I remember being 18 or 19 years old and being certain that my poor dad was an a-hole. I can’t even remember why. When you are that young, the silliest perceived slight or disagreement can put you at odds with the world, at least for 10 minutes or so.

So in the midst of a little get-together, I sat outside at our picnic table and sulked and stewed. Deb sat beside me, and asked what was wrong.

“Dad’s an asshole,” I responded, with no hint of the wordsmith I might one day become.

She proceeded to tell me that my father was one of the best people she’d ever known, and that one day I would realize that for myself and tell her she was right. She did it in such a laughing, sisterly way that I couldn’t take offense, even if I didn’t believe her.

About ten years later, we were having a beer somewhere – probably Dad’s bar.

“You were right,” I told her, and she knew exactly what I was talking about.

2. I remember Bill baking apple pies around the holidays, and delivering them to my family on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning. A holiday wasn’t complete without a slice of Bill Pie. Or his oyster stuffing. Or so many other things he made over the years. Bill could rock a kitchen like nobody’s business.

3.  I remember ever so many Steelers football games. Bill and Deb are part of the reason I became a Steelers fan. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a team that attracted a bar full of men in black and gold camoflage pants who did a polka after every touchdown? Bill manned the grill during most of those Steelers game, including the one windy, cold trip I made with them to a game in Pittsburgh. While everyone else screamed and cheered, honed in on the game, or drank and talked, Bill churned out pit beef or whatever else was on the menu with love. Behind that grill, he’d sweat even in the bitter cold to feed us all while we had fun. And what was so wonderful about that is that he was having just as much fun himself.

4. I remember the time that while mowing his yard, Bill accidently hit a momma bunny. He was such a gentle man (to those who deserved it – show him a bully and he’d whoop their ass in a second) that this broke his heart. He scooped up the baby bunnies and, not sure what else to do, called my Mom.

A little while later, he was at my parents’ doorstep with the baby rabbits. My mother and sister raised them, syringe-feeding them until they would eat on their own. Before they went their own way, there was a time or two that we had to fish a growing young bunny out of the family in-ground pool, but they made it to adulthood. Bill was a man who just couldn’t leave those little guys to fend for themselves, so he took them to those he knew would know what to do.

5. I remember going through a rough time doing my separation. Although I’d moved out of my parents’ house at 19, I had never lived alone. First there were roomies, then there was the fiance’-then-husband. Being a solo homeowner with a huge yard and a fear of things that go bump in the night was overwhelming. So was being too poor to pay for any help with anything that needed fixin’, which was a mile-long list. So I did what any scared and lonely dumbass would do. I went to the bar and I drank. A lot.

And Bill and Deb would take me home on their own way back from the bar. I was blessed to live super-close to them. Bill would tell me to look at the bright side of what was going on, which was I was opening myself up to kind of love I deserved to have – the kind he shared with Deb. Then he would tell me that when I was lonely or scared, I was dumb to sit home and stay that way. All I had to do was show up anytime and I could spend the night with him and Deb, and I’d get fed a damn good dinner and breakfast in the bargain.

I never took him up on that that, because stubborn pride had me wanting to prove to everyone that I could do this thing “all by myself.” I regret that a ton now, because I’ll never have the chance again. But I will never forget those brotherly words and how hopeful that made me feel when I was mired down in a big old swamp of suck.

6. I remember the way Bill was at the bar. He would sit there talking to my Dad and whoever else was around, enjoying his Sambuca or his Irish Mist. We still drink Sambuca in honor of Bill. He’d be laughing and talking with his friends, going on and on about whatever man stuff was on their minds.

But when Deb walked by, his face would light up. There was never a moment that seeing her didn’t make this happy man even happier. And he couldn’t go for even one conversation – with anyone – without throwing in something about how wonderful she was.

7. I remember so many of the “Bill stories” Deb has shared with me. How he told her that as long as they were together they could be so poor they had nothing but a cardboard box to live in and some tuna fish sandwiches to eat, and they’d still be happy. Deb’s Valentine’s Day dinner this year was a tuna fish sandwich.

There were the stories of how Deb would come home from a ridiculously stressful day at work to find Bill running her a bubble bath. Or of how together they helped organize all sorts of charity work around the holidays – coat and blanket drives where they’d gather up as many things as they could and deliver them to the homeless in Baltimore.

I get mad that Bill’s time here on Earth was cut so damn short, and I know the anger and sadness I’ve felt over that – big and achy as it is – is a pinprick compared to Deb’s. I am forever and always amazed by the strength that allowed her to pick herself up and keep going, to laugh and learn to enjoy the good moments in her life while still always holding him tight in her heart.

Happy Birthday, Bill. I still and always will love you like a big brother. Keep my friend and sister warm with your presense on this cold and windy Saturday. Remind all of us who knew you that you were an example of how to be good and kind and caring, and that with Deb you were also an image of what love should be.

And if they struggle this year, give those Steelers of ours a ghostly little kick in the butt.

About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Family, Memoirs, Slices O' Life, Steelers, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to For Deb and Bill

  1. Michele says:

    beautiful words for your friend

  2. Tom Hoban says:

    Wonderful words and a loving touch, to help heal Deb’s soul and remind those how lucky they were to know Bill ! The sting of loss lingers for a long time, however its only a blink compared to our time on this earth. God bless you Deb ❤

  3. Stacy Green says:

    What a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  4. Debbie Condron says:

    Pam, I cannot begin to express what I am feeling right now after reading your wonderful post about Bill and me. I have never been at a loss for words, and I think this may be the first time in my life where this is totally true. First , I want to say ” Thank You” for including us in your one of your many heartfelt posts. I am honored…… and I am quite sure Bill is too. Imagine my surprise when I opened my e-mails and discovered you had written this lovely story about Bill (and me) on his Birthday. Such a wonderful gesture on your part. As I read on, I was pleasantly reminded of many things that I had somehow forgotten over the years, and it brought such joy and happiness into my heart. The pies, the bunnies, the charity drives, feeding homeless people and giving them a warm blanket, the tailgating, the bubble baths ( which, by the way, I NEVER forget ) and so many other things came rushing back to me. I was feeling such a flood of emotions, but all the while had such a warm, peaceful energy going through my body.So as I sit here, happy tears rolling down my face, I have a wish for you, my dear friend. I wish you all the happiness that Bill and I shared, I wish you much success with your writing endeavors, and most of all, I wish Bill hears you when you say to kick the Steelers in the butt if they need it ! I love you and will never forget this beautiful tribute.May all your dreams come true….

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thank you my Fly Sista! Writing this felt so good, because it was honoring two beautiful people and remembering a beautiful thing. I can’t think of Bill without smiling, even if sometimes the smiles are through tears. And I hope he REALLY kicks them in the butt for releasing Hines … : ).

  5. Debe Johannes says:

    What a beautiful post….I never knew Bill, but I sure knew Deb and she is, and always will be the person you describe. We lost touch over the years but she was my dearest friend many, many years ago and even then would do ANYTHING for you! I sure wish I could have met Bill and knew the man that made her soooo extremely happy! I thank you for this post because now I feel like I do know him a little better. There could not be a better Birthday gift then what you did for him. Thanks again for allowing me to know what he was like. Debe Johannes

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I am so happy this helped you feel you know Bill a little better Debe! I wish you could have met him – he brightened the days of everyone in his life and left so many good memories behind. But of course he did, since as you know only someone truly awesome could have won Deb’s heart : ).

  6. sheri27 says:

    Pam ~ This is such a beautiful tribute!! Thank you so much for sharing such heartfelt memories of Bill and Deb, and honoring him on what would have been his 54th Birthday!! He meant and still means so much to Deb, our family, your family and so many other people that considered him family! Thank you all for always being there for her, because of that and so much more, you all will always be family to me! ❤ ❤

  7. Marcia says:

    Is your keyboard tear-stained? Mine is. That was a lovely sentimental journey and I’ll bet he’s smiling down at you. A sweet thing to do for Deb, too. Grief is sometimes easier to bear when you know how much the person impacted on other lives.
    *wiping my eyes* okay, going back to work now….hugs to you Pam.

  8. Millie Boston says:

    Pam what a beautiful and true post you wrote. Debbie and Bill lived a beautiful and amazing Life togeather, . It was cut short Out of all of our hands. But They had more love and fun in that short time ,then some people have in 50 years. .He was my Fluffy bear and Debs . and many more who knew him We all loved him and Deb. Thanks for the memories love Aunt Millie

  9. rosie says:

    Pam- I just read your tribute to Bill & Deb, and was very touched by it. Every day is hard, still after all the time that has passed, to comfort my sister when she is feeling blue, or just having a bad day. You would think that by now, it would, or should be easier but that can not be farther from the truth. Truth is, it’s just as hard now as it was, when it happened. Wonder why that is? Nevermind, I know exactly why that is. It’s because it’s Bill! For all of us who knew him, knows that. We can all be thankful for the man that truely touched all of our lives in one way or another. I loved Bill almost as much as Deb did. He was the funniest, nicest, kindest man I knew, and if I weren’t already married when I FIXED things for him and Deb, I would have kept him for myself! (LOL). I can only hope that one day, we will all be seeing Bill again. Until then, we all have our memories of him and for that I am forever blessed! Thanks again Pam, for being a dear friend to Deb. I know how much she really loves you & your family!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      LOL Rosie! I know in my heart we’ll all see him again someday. And I know exactly what you mean about how you think it should be easier but sometimes it just isn’t. And it is because Bill was so wonderful and one-of-a-kind. I’m so glad our families are close and that I am blessed to be their friend and see their love story : ).

  10. Chris Binaut says:

    Thank you for writing about Big Bill I loved reading your words though my teary eyes.
    I know we all have special stories of Bill because he touched so many peoples lives.
    And you know us being guys with all our manly ways it’s sometimes hard to say you love somebody even more so when it’s another guy! But I gotta say I loved Bill and miss him more than anybody will ever know!
    I used to call Bill almost everyday when he was at the flower shop. He would answer the phone saying whats up asshole and I’d say whats going on Flower Boy! lol
    I remember all the times we would get ready for the Pittsburgh trip and all the work leading up to it we would have to do. But with Bill it wasn’t that hard a work cause we would be drinking and cutting up though most of it!
    You know I tried to do the Steelers trip the year after Bill passed and it almost killed me and it was no fun and just wasn’t the same any more with out him.
    I know he left a big hole in my heart that will never mend till the day I see him again and we fire up the grill togeather once more!
    And to Deb thank you for loving that BIG BEAR of a man I know how much he loved you because he told me alot of times how you were the love of his life!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Thanks Chris! I loved the “what’s up asshole” and “flower boy” part, especially since I know that now Deb texts you “hey prick bastard” now and then lol! The whole Steelers fan club added so much fun to my life and Deb and Bill were one of the main reasons I got to know ya’ll. And I’m so glad of it : ).

  11. Debbie Condron says:

    Awwww, so nice to hear everyones’ memories of Bill ! Rosie, Sheri, Aunt Millie and Chris: It’s very comforting to me to know that you all realize the impact this man had in my life. Knowing him and loving him made all the difference in my soul, and I will never be the same again without him. When you have a loss of that magnitude, it leaves an empty, hollow space in your heart that can never be filled. The only thing i have learned is there is NOTHING I can do about the pain of the loss, except for keeping his memory alive. As sad as it makes me to talk about him, I somehow never want to stop. I am so thankful to have my friends and family, the ones who have never left my side or deserted me in my time of sorrow.I really don’t know how I would have survived if it hadn’t been for all of you. I love you all for being there for me and so does Bill !

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Deb, I’ve loved reading everyone’s comments too! Just got through reading and responding and sniffling a little here in my office : ). It just goes to show what a loving, one-of-a-kind group of family and close friends surrounded you and Bill and who now miss him so much too and are still here for you. Love ya!

  12. akamonsoon says:

    We should all be so lucky to know that kind of love. Thanks for posting this. It was beautiful.

  13. Paula Denney says:

    Hi Pam. U may Remember Me from the goose? I loved ur story. It made me smile to think of bill and deb today. Thank you. I am going to give my husband a big hug right now !

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