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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wild Bill Takes Off

he knew how to laugh
It's been a week since my last post, Trouble Wants Community.  The day I wrote it, I talked to someone with whom I'd had little contact over the past dozen years.  He'd lost his parents last year, and I told him about my father moving here in the Spring.  He told me to treasure every minute with him, and I said, "If you knew my dad, you'd tell me to take a Valium every hour."  I was teasing, mostly.  Relationships with parents can be complicated, right?  But later that evening I had a great visit with my dad, and then came home and wrote that blog, and it felt good.

Here is part of the note I sent my friend the next evening:

R, you're an unwitting angel, and it was grace that you contacted me when you did.  
       I begrudgingly called my dad last night.  I was tired and wasn't going to, but I remembered what you'd said about your parents, and I did.  And when he ended the call "mentioning" that he had only the night's dose of a medication he needed, and that he was supposed to take it morning and night, I went rather begrudgingly to pharm, bitching that he could've let me know last week, and spent $50 that I knew I wouldn't let him pay back.  But I stopped at Trader Joe's and got him some OJ and licorice scotty dogs because he loves them, and went to his house, and we had a good visit.  He told me a couple of stories from his youth, and then he looked tired, and I asked if he was ready for me to get out of there, and he was.  I told him I loved him and gave him a very tender kiss.
           Today during my 11 oclock session my client's cell rang.  She was sheepish and asked if I minded if she checked; she was waiting for an important call . To give her a little privacy I turned toward my desk just in time to see my phone light up (it's silenced during sessions, of course).  It was the independent senior center where my father lives.  I picked up and they said my dad had collapsed and ambulances were on the way.  
Not long later, with family soothing his brow and holding his hand, he peacefully took his last breath.
I thank you so much for your urging to enjoy those minutes.

Born during the depression in the small town of Pawnee Rock, KS, Bill was the youngest child and only son of Anna and Louis Svoboda.   His father was a jack of all trades, doing whatever work he could to support his family.  Bill arrived during a difficult time.  The Czech immigrant community and most of the midsection of the nation were hit hard by overfarming, drought and poor economy.  When the Dust Bowl swept through Kansas, Bill contracted osteomyletis and “the dust pneumonia” at age 2.  He spent much of his young life in hospitals, enduring more than 40 operations by age 18.  They were horrific-- ether was used, "and I used be so scared when they came at me with that mask; I thought I would suffocate--  Sodium Pentathol was the best thing ever invented." Last Tuesday he told stories about those times, and that “I would have been a genius if I hadn't been in a coma for months" as a kid.  I said, "You mean a SUPERgenius".  
here comes trouble

Bill lost most of the use of a hand during this time, as well as all of his teeth by age 18 following a car wreck and related to the osteo.  But he remained Wild Billy.  He learned to drive at age 7 and would go on whiskey runs with his grandfather during the prohibition.  He was spoiled and beloved by his sisters. 

Despite his physical hardships, Bill was a strong man, and loved labor, biking, tennis and being outdoors.  At 24 he met and married a nursing student from Memphis TN he’d  met through his sister.  He was smitten  by the “glamorous big city girl”, though he found out later she was also from a rural family.  They settled in Topeka, KS  and raised their four daughters.  Bill really, really wanted a son, but once he realized that was not to be, he made sure his daughters were strong and independent, and he advocated for equal opportunities. 
bill and ruth's sitting rooom
Bill and Ruth both went on to obtain Master’s degrees, the first in their families.  Bill worked in the 70s to arrange and then enforce access for persons with physical handicaps to public spaces.  He also worked for the blind, helping them adjust and find employment.  Together with my mother, he restored a beautiful Victorian house he and Ruth had purchased in complete disrepair for a few thousand dollars in the mid 1960s.  He added a kitchen with hand made cabinets, new foundation, remodeled the dug out basement into a family room, and built a workshop and garage. Bill brewed beer in the basement and crafted in his workshop.  He hauled huge limestone posts from the old family farm in rural Kansas to make stairs up to the home from the street, and Ruth turned the gardens into showplaces.  They loved finding antiques at garage sales and auctions, and furnished the house with their finds.  It became a gathering place for assortments of collected kids, with frequent Friday night potlucks and big Thanksgiving gatherings.  They always had an open door policy, and several youth lived with the family for short or extended times, becoming honorary daughters.

Here's a piece one of them wrote about him (thank you, Juliana, for this gift):

There so much about Bill that I remember. He was really there, I mean there there, In a way most Dads couldn't be. He was a gritty Tom Waits kinda character who made us laugh all the time, mostly with corny jokes, but funny just the same. While most the adults were smoking, he did it like it was part of his outfit, you hardly noticed the cig, because it was there just like the T-shirt was. There was no affectation or elegance about it. He was one of those people who could lean over, cigarette in mouth and, say, tie your shoe and when he was done he hadn't gagged on the smoke or gotten it in his eyes like everyone else would have. He was facile, as he was with everything else. He fixed everything, he fixed up their house, he fixed the car, he fixed the camper that Jana and I "camped" in in the back yard. He sang silly songs like " A Boy Named Sue" He made up a poem about me. "My name is not Lisa, my name is Julie, my hair is unruly..." He drove us everywhere and never complained. He seemed to enjoy getting that extra time with his girls. He made me feel like one of his girls. When we moved on to college, he showed up to help with moving and broken apartment parts, and sometimes he hung around and talked. He had a dog named Gouda. 
And he was also there for me when I was grieving and so young. He knew just what to do. He was soft in the right places too. There is little hollow place in my heart for him today. Rest in peace Bill.

Here are a few random thoughts about my dad:

memorial shrine at the wake
He liked to smell nice.   He loved his drink and tobacco, and M&Ms and peanut butter crackers.  He was a competitive card, domino, tennis, pool and ping-pong player.  He read voraciously--- everything from  detective novels to political biographies to the entire “Great Books” series.  It wasn’t unusual for him to read more than a book in a day in his younger years.  He loved the poets, from Shelley (he named his youngest after him) to Yeats to ee Cummings. He loved classical music, history, nature, fishing, and Simon and Garfunkel, and public radio.  He stopped hunting because he was too tender-hearted.  He was a squirrel whisperer-- they ate out of his hands.  

He made the worlds’ best cocoa fudge and popcorn;  and his beef jerky had a national reputation.

He was no saint.  He had trouble expressing vulnerability and related emotions.  He could do happy and goofy, but it was never easy for his to talk about the tender stuff, or his own vulnerability, so sometimes what came out was angry or curmudgeon.  Those were his protectors.  He’d been through a lot, and that was what worked for him.  But we knew him despite himself, and we knew his poet’s heart, and the sweet boy in him, and all the rest as much as he could let leak through.  He told terrible jokes, made terrible puns, and had no trouble at all proudly mispronouncing words and watching us cringe at them.  

He loved his family, and told us often.  He was proud of his girls, all of them.

I know this is a long one. I miss him bad.  A week ago, he was telling me stories.

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."  --Kahlil Gibran

Don't forget to treasure those moments.  


Tony said...

As the husband to "one of the sisters", I only knew Bill in the last few years where he was struggling with the loss of his wife and the slowing down of his life, but in the last few months where he was close to family, but still independent and not burdened with a s*%t load of worries the boy in him emerged again - we saw wild bill again, slowed down by the speed of his wheel chair, but still rapid of thought and wit. Good speed and better health on your next journey where ever that is, even if it is only in our hearts.

mary said...

I only met Mr. Svoboda a few times but he made my family and I feel as though we were part of his family. He was a warm and genuine man. I feel honored and blessed to have known him and have shared a Thanks Giving with him at his home in Kansas a few years back.
God Bless You Wild Bill, I will always remember your light. Thank You <3

Duney said...

I got to know Bill when he was in Minneapolis staying with Shelly and Tony after an operation. I loved his humor and upbeat manner while recovering. He was a great guy and I am glad to have known him.