July 23, 2024

Column: That Got Me to Thinkin’…? “Old Dud”


Bruce Williams

“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Old Dud” Chapter 109
By Bruce Williams

Doug came into my life over 30 years ago.  My Mom and Dad divorced and a few years later he started appearing on my Mom’s arm, good-naturedly offering up his home-spun wisdoms and malapropisms.  Over the years our relationship morphed from him being my Mom’s (eventual 2nd) husband to my kids’ grandpa to (what just became easier to refer to him as) my stepdad.  Grown men (I was in my 20s when he first materialized) don’t usually recognize these later-in-life connections—when you never existed in the same house together and what not—but Doug was different…endearing himself to my sisters and me with his aw-shucks humor and boundless kindness.  

Doug volunteered at the Olympia Food Bank, making coffee for the crew and sorting the eggs out in portions.  It was the typical selflessness he quietly displayed—a Korean War veteran who hailed from below-humble beginnings, who would attend the Tribal Canoe Journeys in homage to the Native American family that took him in as a boy.  The last fifteen years or so of his life he needed blood transfusions to keep himself going—he was mysteriously losing plasma and I don’t think they ever really figured out where it was going until he began copiously coughing it up out of his flooded lungs yesterday.

My son Jack and I loved referring  to him as “Old Dud”—his Facebook moniker was ‘Dud Semplas’ (his last name spelled backwards) which was probably his 7th incarnation—he’d forgotten his password so many times and would have to repeatedly create a new account, or he’d get so cantankerous about one current event or another that he’d swear off social media altogether for a couple of days, but he was such a gregarious creature (he’d talk to anybody and everybody) he’d be back online, sending me yet another new friend request.  My former brother-in-law used to joke that he couldn’t believe he actually knew seven people with exactly the same birthday—one of his friends and the others…the six Doug profiles.  Doug would IM me all the time complaining about Joe Manchin or the dilapidated motor homes camped out on their back street and I’d have to talk him off of the ledge.  I loved our talks—nothing was off limits and he got all the jokes.  As I age, there’s fewer and fewer people that get all the jokes.

Doug would end every correspondence with a “luv ya”—his trademark send off.  It best exemplified his reservoir of empathy.  He was always a champion of the underdog.  Before he dwindled down to next to nothing he was a lover of home-cooking and made the best chili I’ve ever had.  He would pat his rotund belly in those salad days and wax rhapsodic—whispering to me melancholically, “Bruce…we just love pork!”  I would chuckle at the time—me, this  bourgeois Seattlite marveling at his simplistic ruminations.  But he won me over.  Over and over again.

He was probably the biggest fan of my writing.  Just last week when we took him and Mom out to lunch for Mother’s Day he’d asked me when my next column was coming out.  I told him I was taking an extended break and he encouraged me to keep going.  He was nearly always the first to comment when I posted a fresh one.  He was able to eat that day—to swallow and keep his food down (oyster chowder), which was a minor miracle.  The sun was shining and we had a great afternoon visit as we ate out on the lanai.  He gave me two big hugs before and after we ate, and I told him that I loved him.  He was using a walker for the first time that I’d seen, but still it was a great visit.

I drove down to Olympia again last night after work.  He sat upright in his hospital bed as I came into his room, looked me in the eye and said through his oxygen mask, “It won’t be much longer, Bruce.”  I nodded as my eyes watered.  People know when it’s the end.  He was in such misery, his gargled breathing and morphined stupor; his papery skin and skull patched together with just scabs and age spots—death fruitlessly insisting on exacting its share of dignity.  I rubbed his bony shoulder and told him goodbye for the last time.

I went down again today to sit with Mom and the family and to begin making some post-Doug plans, all the while thinking that I needed to write something, to try and do him justice and share my thoughts even though I knew it would fall short.  Usually the whole thing gets written in my head first, often in the cab of my truck, if it’s going to be any good.  Sometimes you just have to go to print with what you’ve got.  I’m sorry, Doug, this is all I’ve got.  I love you, old boy…rest easy now—the fight’s over.