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In My Mind's Eye -- 01/27/04

I first met Mr. Artus in October 1969, although I saw him years earlier when he purchased a green Schwinn Varsity 10-speed for his son Bill, in the summer of 1964. Yes, it was 1964 that this story really begins.

I was working in the bike shop on 87th street and Mr. Artus came in with his son, Bill. The store owner, Harry Swidler, asked me to roll out the bike to the new owners. It's very possible that I actually previously assembled that bike in the rear of the store, but I don't know for sure, it was a very busy summer that year. I recall that strange psychic feeling at the time, although it was years before I would come to recognize those special moments in time. I watched the father and son wheel that bike out the door and felt that fatherly absence once more. I would feel that loss of fatherly affection countless times in my life, but that day it faded as quickly as it arrived.

In the Fall of 1964, I attended Bowen High School. It was there that I found out the name of that boy who owned that green Varsity 10-speed. He was Freshman like I was and his name was Bill Artus. Bill and I were only acquaintances then, not really friends. We would see each other in the halls or outside the school for the next couple years, but we grew no closer in friendship.

In my Junior year, a number of my classmates sat together at our lunch table. Bill was one of those guys and we spoke more frequently and laughed at the antics of Pete Palermo all year long. Still, we didn't become much closer and through our Senior year we remained classmates and nothing more. When we graduated in June 1968 I lost track of him and didn't think of about Bill at all. I had other things occupying my attention during most of 1968 and most of 1969.

It was after I left college in 1969 that the story becomes more interesting and involved. One day in October 1969, I saw Bill walking across the street from my mother's home. I called over to him and he responded, "Hey, You farmer."; I soon found out that was his standard greeting to people he knew. We spoke there in front of that house for the next three hours without a break. From that day on and for the next three years, we saw each other almost every day. We became best friends quickly and that friendship filled the voids each of us had from our own broken-hearts and college days gone awry.

One day, Bill introduced me to his father, who also liked to be called Bill. I called him Mr. Artus and that seemed to be okay for all concerned. I know nothing special occurred in me at that meeting, no psychic sensations arose. We didn't stick around long that night at his Dad's place, we were young guys with places to see and things to do. It would be the Spring of 1970 before I saw his Dad again.

One day in December 1969, Bill told me he had property with his Dad in Wisconsin. Bill told me of the wooded area there and the cabin Lenny Clark, Bill's Dad, and Bill himself had built. Bill invited me to come up there one cold and snowy weekend in late January 1970 and stay in the cabin. It was an adventure for both of us because no road on the property existed at that time. The cabin is a small 300 sq. ft, uninsulated cabin that had a wood-burning stove at that time for heat. We had to run a two hundred-foot heavy-duty extension cord for electricity to the light pole box up by the house being built. It was rough and rustic -- I loved it! It was the beginning of decades of traveling to Wisconsin and a change in my mental outlook for my future. Yes, it was a turning point in my life and it all seemed natural enough to easily incorporate into my personality.

The next couple years of being with Bill and being in Wisconsin with his Dad were great formative years in my early adulthood. I was working as a telephone installer and had a girlfriend with whom I could share good times together with and she often joined Bill and I in our outside activities. We were like the Three Musketeers much of that time. I taught Bill how to scuba dive and we had motorcycles to keep us busy. The many weekend trips to Wisconsin were great times, the work around the property and structures were great examples of teamwork planning between Bill's Dad, Bill, and me. After a day's work, we all would have some beers, some sharp cheddar cheese and Jalapeno peppers. We'd cook out over a campfire and talk and laugh about all the things going on in our lives. Slowly the bond between Bill's Dad and I started to form. I felt at ease with Mr. Artus. He was a man of his word and deed. He embraced life and brought me into his. It was the start of a great relationship although different because of the 35 years of age between us. I didn't worry about convention or tradition then any more than today, I was and remain my own man. Like Mr. Artus, I started my own traditions and go forward accordingly.

In September 1972, I moved up to Wisconsin and lived for a time in that cabin on the property. Mr. Artus and his wife lived up at the house and it was a cool time to be there. Not long after I moved there, I realized that Mr. Artus was becoming a "second father" in my eyes. Neither one of us brought up the topic, it just seemed to leap out at us one day. From that point on, I often called him, Dad. We were like father and son in many ways. He was also now becoming one of my best friends. I don't know how many guys have a best friend their own age and also that friend's father becomes a best friend and second dad. As I said earlier, he and I started our own traditions and they worked out well.

When I married in April 1973, I asked Mr. Artus to be my Best Man and he was thrilled. My wife, Sherry really liked him too and he showered affection on my Sherry like she was his daughter. The years went by faster after our daughter was born in 1976. She became his granddaughter and the legacy continued.

Mr. Artus and I had countless conversations over the following years. He listened to my problems when I was struggling with the change from my machinist career to my computer technology career in the early 1980's. He urged me to stick with my ideas and goals and helped me hang in there until the good years arrived starting in 1985. So here we were after fifteen years of close friendship still improving our complex relationship. My father-in-law and Mr. Artus became friends and I knew I was blessed for having had three fathers in my life.

When Sherry and I moved to California in February 1996 while our daughter was in college, both Mr. Artus and I knew it would be harder to see each other frequently, but he was happy for Sherry and me. He knew how long we had planned to move to a warmer climate. We used to make video's of our early daytrips out here to send back to him to keep him up-to-date on our activities. Sherry and I returned to the Midwest to see him when we could, but it wasn't enough. I called him every month sometimes more just to chat. When our daughter married in 2000 he came to the reception. We spoke for hours that weekend, it was like we had never been apart. I was hoping someday he could come out to see us here in San Diego, but it would never be.

Last week, Tuesday January 20, 2004, Mr. Artus passed away at age 88 in Wisconsin. His son, Bill, still my best friend, was with him when he passed away. I couldn't be there with Bill although we were in constant touch by cell phone. I traveled to Wisconsin last Thursday to be with Bill and his family and Mr. Artus' friends. His funeral service was on a cold -20 degree day last Saturday and it was a warm gathering of family and friends. Mr. Artus was loved by so many people in his community that it made the occasion even more special.

I delivered a remembrance at the service of how it was for me to have a second father, best friend, and Best Man. I cried the whole way through, but I persevered and finished nonetheless. Mr. Artus used to have a phrase for envisioning things, he said, "I can see it in my mind's eye." I feel his eyes saw me as a troubled young man back in 1970 and then in his mind he saw I needed guidance and love.

Mr. Artus inspired me to see in my own mind's eye that I could become what I envisioned. Thanks, Dad, for sharing your life with me and creating a great relationship between us. I'll miss our conversations, but I can instantly recall in my mind's eye the times we shared together.

Update 11/12/08: Here is a picture on Monty circa 1930's. His son, Robbie 1953-1995, looked so much like him as pictured here.

Don


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