I was leaving the apartment to catch the train to work when I got a call from my dad. It was 7:46am. He never calls me that early. He has no reason to. I knew what the call was before I answered. I had been waiting for it for probably two years now. Every time the phone rang late at night in our house, or a got a call from my mom in the middle of the work day I expected this news.
They called him Pop. Everyone called him that, not just his kids, but his friends, the people he worked with. His grandkids called him Pop-pop. About two years ago when he was coming back from Florida with his daughter and her friend he came down with pneumonia and had to be put in the hospital. He never got out again. His condition improved, but he had some issue with his foot. Some kind of wound that wouldn't heal. They put him in an old folks home.
If ever there was a man who should not be in an old folks home it was Ken Watson. 86 years old at the time, deaf as a post, but sharp as a tack mentally. I think it drove him crazy to be there. To wait. Sitting there, day after day, waiting to die. That's what it must have felt like. I don't blame his children (one of them being my father) for that, because there's not much else you can do. He'd have been fine if it weren't for his foot. He had various other ailments that kept him down, but his foot prevented him from being mobile.
Last summer he told me that he used to love taking a newspaper and a cigar and walking to the town park. The town he'd lived in nearly all his life. The town he raised a family in. He said he used to go to the park and sit on a bench and read and watch the kids play football. That made him happy. That was all he wanted from life any more. To be independent. Eighty-six years old.
And it's sad, it's sad because he lost that and never got it back. The end of his life was waiting. I used to buy him cigars. He loved cigars. I bought an expensive brand recommended by the shack. $100 for 25 cigars. He said they were the best cigars he'd ever had. I felt like it was the least I could do for him.
He was a veteran of World War II. He was injured in an attack and awarded a Purple Heart. He refused it because a good friend of his had died in the same attack. He never talked about the War. Even my mom, who knew him for nearly thirty years, never heard him talk about it. He came home and joined the volunteer fire department and got a job and did what he had to do.
Since he turned 80 or so he would always joke that he wouldn't make it to his next birthday. His wife died ten years ago, and he had been on his own since. At Christmas parties he would talk about how this was his last Christmas and his last birthday and we'd always laugh and tell him to cut it out. He stopped saying it last year. His birthday is December 21st.
My dad said he gave up. They had to put him on oxygen last week because he was having trouble breathing. My dad saw him before that and said that he had told him he was tired. It's depressing. Depressing because he was such a great man, and depressing because it had to end that way. And I suppose that's how it goes sometimes, and in the end we'll only remember what we want to remember. We'll remember him before this, and we'll remember what made us love him.
When we went out to dinner he would order a seven and seven with a lime in it and call it a fifteen (7 + 7 + 1 for the lime). He knew everyone and everyone knew him. Walking down the street or stopping in a bar or restaurant at least four people would greet him. He was a friendly old guy, but not the overbearing, lonely type you meet sometimes. He just wanted to have a chat and move on. He didn't force anything, he was just easy to talk to.
My dad told me a story once about how when he and his older brother were still in junior high and his brother was taking bets on football or racing or something like that. It was a Catholic school, and when the nuns found out they of course put a stop to it and called his house. Normally his mother would have taken care of it, but she happened to be away, so his father came by. When the nuns told him what his son had been up to, after his initial reaction of surprise his only response was to look directly at my uncle and say "How much did you make?" The nuns did not like that.
I'm not sure what else to say, but I feel I need to say it. I guess this is kind of depressing, but it's just what's on my mind and I need to clear it. He was a great guy in pretty much every way. Everyone spoke fondly of him, and I really will miss him. It's funny how even though you are expecting something for two years it still has a big impact on you. It still causes you to break down. He lead a full life though. It's not tragic, it's just the end. That's how these things work.
I'll miss you, Pop. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for being you. I won't forget any of it. Good bye.