Saturday, January 26, 2008

Remembering Walt

In case you didn't see the newspaper today, I wanted to post here a column that I wrote.
I hope you'll read it ... and give thought to all the wonderful people who deserve to be remembered.


We never met face to face.

And yet the friendship that developed and the loss that I now feel definitely are real.

I’m writing today about Walt Fetter, a longtime local resident who for the past several years had lived in Arizona.

I “knew” Walt when he lived in this area through his many letters to the editor, and the occasional phone calls that we shared about the community and The Reporter.

He would call to chat about something he had submitted to run on our Opinion Page, or just to compliment us for something we had decided to cover in the paper.

He also would call simply to say hello, ask how things were going and to tell us to keep up the good work.

I always liked to hear his gravelly voice on the other end of the phone.

Then came the call that we wouldn’t be seeing his letters or hearing his voice anymore; that he and his wife were moving out to Arizona to be near their grown children.

“You take care now, kiddo,” I can still hear him say.

Happily, we kept in touch, becoming pen pals; a rather foreign notion these days, with e-mails having displaced actual letters for the large majority of people.

I would keep him informed of goings on around here and what was happening in my life; he would tell me about all the activities filling his days and how different it was to live in Arizona.

Sometimes he talked about World War II; sometimes about his working days or where he had vacationed.

He always loved to hear about my vacations to Vermont or what my cats were up to or what wildlife was roaming in my yard.

Unfortunately, his wife died not long after the move out West. And it was evident that the loss was tremendous.

But as it turned out, Walt became more than a pen pal; with my dad having died eight years ago, he stepped into the role of an “adopted” dad in many ways.

So much has happened in recent years in my life, and Walt was always ready to “listen” through the mail and offer me words of encouragement.

I knew that I’d be getting at least one letter a week from Walt, sometimes more. And he’d often include a poem or tell me some little story that would brighten my day.

And there were plenty of times that they needed to be brightened.

But when November rolled around, suddenly the letters stopped. I feared the worst, but sent my own cards and letters. When they didn’t come back to me, I thought that perhaps some of his health problems had simply made it impossible to write.

And I hoped for the best.

But on Christmas Eve Day, when I arrived at work, there was a message on my voicemail.

It was Walt. He had fallen at the end of October, he said, and now was in hospice.

“And you know what that means,” he said.

I did. My father died of cancer in 2000 and my mother died in April, with hospice becoming part of our lives in both instances.

“I hope God takes good care of you and your daughter,” he said in his message. “I want to depart with that feeling.”

Luckily, I was able to reach Walt later on Christmas Eve Day.

We talked about how much our friendship had meant to each other. We wished each other a Merry Christmas. I assured him that my daughter and I were doing just fine. But that I would miss him, terribly.

I sent him several more letters, but that was our last conversation. Then I received a note from his daughter that Walt had died on Jan. 5.

It always made me smile when Walt would close his letters by saying, “See you at the mailbox, kiddo.”

In my mind’s eye I could see him there, pulling out my letter, chuckling over the prospect of sending his reply.

We never met in person, but we “met” so many times at the mailbox.

So, yes, Walt, I’ll see you there, forever, in my memories.

No comments: