Concerning Don
Spring, 2004

A half-dozen years or so ago, Don called me to report on his latest doctor visit. He told me that he had something called "multiple myeloma". When I asked what that meant, he proceeded to lay out the frightening details based on a recently completed medical test. The doc had explained that the cancer was rare, a killer for sure, but that he should have a few more years given the available treatments aimed at prolonging life. I didn't want to hear or to accept any of that, so I told Don in what was likely a somewhat haughty voice that I didn't think that he had it. Don said, "Well Doctor Stone, what do you mean?". I explained that few medical tests were correct more than 99% of the time; and that, given the rarity of the disease, I figured that it was more likely that the test was wrong than that he had the disease. That gave him pause, particularly when I said that I, for one, wasn't going to accept this diagnosis until more tests were made. He called me back a few hours later and told me that the doctors said that they had already performed three different tests. So much for my wishful thinking.

You know, I always thought it kinda tacky when I'd hear folks say, in somber tones, that "Well, life is a terminal disease". But, these situations do set us back a bit and make us take stock of what's important. So Don and I quickly agreed that he would outlive the average projection, and that we would have some fun in the interim. We certainly did that, and many times took Billie along for the ride. Those were truly joy rides.

The toughest time for me seemed to be when we first learned of the diagnosis. Times were hard on Don for a while, during those early treatments, but then he started facing lots of really good days. There were a few clouds, now and then, but most of this time was good time for Don and his family and friends. When the storms finally hit, just a little while ago, I rapidly reached the point where I could accept, maybe even support his passing, given the relief that promised.

So, Billie asked that I say a few words, and you know how I could never refuse her. I said I'd try and that perhaps Brad would be a backstop in case my throat locked up. He agreed and even advised me on some of these words. Being barely able to deal with my own distress, I can't imagine what it must be like for some of you who Don loved so much for so long. Not being able to fathom that, I've elected to address my comments to Don directly, at least to my very live memory of him. So this will not summarize Don's long and rich and varied life. It's not about that Kilgore farm nor the Air Force nor his beautiful marriage nor A&M nor those wonderful children and grand children nor his professional life. This is about that part of his life that he shared with me over roughly four decades. It's personal, for sure, but it's a view of the part of his life that I know best.

A Friend And A Brother

Hey, Cob! If you're stopping off somewhere that I should visit, I expect that you'll give a loud holler and let me know. Don't forget it, good friend, for I fear that neither of us will share the same way again, the same way.

Okay, I reckon one of us was bound to leave before the other. But, this leaves me sipping from a partially filled cup that slacks the tears but not the thirst for times better joyed then than now.

We walked many paths together during these past decades and, whenever needed, lent the other a helping hand. Thanks for that. At times, we both needed bracing. Thanks again!

We worked the dirt together, built some practical structures and then some very unusual and beautiful things just for fun. Your stamina was impressive.

We hiked to mountain tops and traveled lots of blue highways and backwood trails.

We saw the broad stretches of the plains and hills and forests to a degree and in a manner shared by few.

Heading west was always special to you, but no direction was truly safe from your prying interests. You enjoyed it all and it showed to whomever was with us, sometimes Jason or Brad or Chuck or others, often Billie.

From battle sites to abandoned quarries, from mountain peaks to flat land prairies, from National Monuments to road side parks and old cemeteries, we saw all that mattered and then some. Often to the tunes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash or Gene Autry.

You left me many memories of life, more than enough, to crowd out those of these past few difficult weeks.

How rich those memories are of things like:

    Your hiking to the top of Guadalupe Peak with that bum hip. Tell me I wasn't proud of the grit you showed that day, particularly during those painful hours getting back down those countless ledges.

    I thought of you as a piece of old leather and that cancer was in for a big battle.

    Remember Gold Hill and that grand view from the top?

    Hiking McKittrick Canyon with Billie in a pair of high heals or slippers or whatever those strange shoes were.

    The battlefields at the Little Big Horn

    Devils Tower

    Mr. Rushmore

    Brushy Land - maybe close to a hundred trips

    Archer City

    Oscar, Oklahoma and that strange encounter


    William's Ranch

    Promontory Point in Utah

    Red River, New Mexico and the Rio Colorado Lodge

    That Ice Cave west of Albuquerque

    Signature Rock and those ruins on top

    Turner Falls

    Las Vegas, Nevada and Las Vegas, New Mexico

The list goes on and on with each memory being about much more than just a place but something alive and rich with details of how we felt about what was happening. Each word or phrase bursts full of color and action and laughter and conversation and comradeship.

You've left your mark on all these places in indelible memory. The list goes on ...

    Fence building - in Kilgore and at Brushy

    Geronimo's grave site in that small, quiet grove of trees

    The Black Hills and Crazy Horse

    Innumerable quaint museums in the most off beat places (such as that antique car museum in Van Horn or the windmill museum in Lubbock)

    St. Thomas & Puerto Rico

    Cynthia Ann Parker and her son, Quanah

    Shooting clay pigeons off the rear of that big boat

    Mt. Scott and a hell of a good picnic

    That hike down into Canyon de Chelley (and the sheep herder encounter)

    Speaking of encounters, remember that waitress wanting to send you and Richard and me on down the road to a "working man's restaurant"?

Yes, the list goes on and on. It's a life line of memories of you and some of what you loved to do.

You also enjoyed whiling away those many lazy Sunday afternoons drinking wine (when you still could) while listening to cowboy country music with Billie and me. Those memories swell my heart.

Yes, there were some gritty moments, but none so rough as this one.

You left me here on an empty tank, facing a path leading West into a setting sun, thinking about you.

It may take me a bit to get back up to speed, but I know you fully expected me and others close to you to keep on moving.

You know, our long friendship made perfect sense. We were so wonderfully different that we had a lot in common.

You sometimes came across somewhat right of George Patton, but could still laugh at my countering with some exaggerated reference to King or Ghandi.

I admired you because you never stopped growing and changing and could be trusted with anything.

You would pick up new interests even as the years mounted, such as your growing fascination with science and technology and with the early explorers of the West. Who else do I know that can tell me how many pints of ink were taken west by Lewis and Clark?

But you lamented over memories lost and frequently exclaimed that you couldn't remember why you kept forgetting. We laughed about your phrasing of that for years.

But you were the one who would point out that a 4-pump Texaco station was located at the northwest corner of Dusty Road and Rough Street before it was torn down in the fall of '59.

Or could explain in such boring detail exactly when and where we had that flat tire or some other little hiccup that didn't amount to a damn thing.

Darn it! I already miss your drawn out stories. That's long and drawn out. Few knew you talked so much.

Oh, I laughed. And you knew it was not with you but at you. But you'd go ahead and tell them anyway.

I called you COB for being such a crotchety ol' bastard. Who now, on this good Earth, can I rib so openly?

I figure, that you figured to get even by grabbing the last word and then just leaving.

And you probably expect me to put a black ribbon around your reserved parking place at Home Depot.

By the way, your last words to me were "Redbud" followed some hours of silence later by "Bye, Dan". And our last shared joke was something about Billie and "road noise" and ear-muffs. Those are lights in the night.

Sorry, Don, but you can't rest just yet. There's a few more trips left in me, and I aim to take you along.

So, here's to happy trails, brother.


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