August 15, 2022

My friend Bob Johnson has died

 

By John Guy LaPlante

First:an explanation.  I worked hard to get this out on time. Yesterday, I “published” it–sent it to all of you. I am totally at a loss to explain why not. I’ve been doing this blog a long time and this is a first. This lapse is a great sorrow to me.  Bob such a dear, dear friend.  And an embarrassment. I had hoped part of it at least could have been spoken at his funeral, which was impossible for me to attend.  I had told Bob’s son Rob that I would get it out, so of course I am greatly embarrassed, though it was not my fault. So I’m sure Rob is wondering what the heck happened. Again, no explanation. Dealing with computers can be baffling. So, keep in mind that what you’re reading was written for you to read last week

NOTE: Please do get to the bottom of the text to see a photo montage, well, a good part of it, put together by Rob about his Dad.

Morro Bay, CA – My dear Deep River, Connecticut, friend Bob Johnson died last Saturday evening a few minutes after11. He passed on in the Hospice at nearby Middlesex Hospital in Connecticut. Robert, his only child, was at his side.

Bob’s last days were awful. He suffocated to death. That’s the plain truth. His lungs gave out–the result of years of smoking- cigarettes-though he never mentioned that.

He quit before I got to meet him, but too late.

By the time we became friends, he had morphed into an all-out crusader against smoking.

More than once I got to see Bob stop and scold somebody he had spotted smoking, even a total stronger. Usually a younger person. Bob’s intentions were the best–to save that person before it got too late.

He knew I was a Rotarian. One day he told me, “John, get Rotary to put up a No Smoking sign at the Landing and with their name at the bottom, and I’ll give the club $200.
Well, the club did that. The sign is still there, tacked to a bench overlooking the magnificent Connecticut River.

The Landing was one of his favorite spots. He took me there often.

We’d sit in his car, open our windows, breathe in the fresh air, look out at the river and the birds and the boats. Wonderful. Then! He’d get out and pick up cigarette butts. Dozens of them every time. And would shame me into helping him.

Bob was born in Deep River as Robert Johnson but was universally known as Bob. Amazing how many friends he had.

His son Robert was always Robert to Bob and his mother, Rosa, but Rob to others.

At the end, Rob, who is an executive for a big insurance company, had spent more than 80 hours in vigil by his Dad, waiting, waiting, waiting for what he knew was coming.

I saw the two together numerous times. It was absolutely clear how much he loved Robert and was proud of him.

Well, right away, Robert began making calls. He was quick to tell me that I was the first outside the family to be given the sad news. Which was very nice.

Bob and I had been friends for several years . Buddies is a better word. We became so close you might have thought we were pals from childhood. Our friendship puzzled me—we were so different in so, so many ways. You would think we’d be totally incompatible.

Truth is, Bob enriched my life to a degree I couldn’t imagine. He was so smart. Was so much fun. So generous. So loyal. Taught me so much about Deep River, which late in life I got to call my home. Introduced me to so many people. On and on.

We were friends to the point that we talked on the phone every single day all through his awful illness, Even after I moved to Morro Bay 3,200 miles away to be close to my daughter Monique.

It didn’t take me long to find out Bob Johnson was a fighter. A go-getter. An entrepreneur. How so? In a few words, he would go all out to fight for anything that he considered important and wanted. It was his nature. He acted this way all the time.

But this is what turned him into the ace real estate agent he became. For years he operated as his one-man Lafayette Insurance on Lafayette Street.

He ran his business out of his home there. He had lived his whole life in that beautiful house. It was just a few minutes’ stroll from the heart of our little town. So convenient. He was born in that house, which his father had built.

“My father dug the cellar and the foundation by hand!” he told me the first time he invited me over. “At night after his day’s work. By lantern light!”

I told you how Bob loved to laugh. He was always ready with a joke. He would tell one story often. “You know, I was born upstairs in my parents’ room. What is now my room. And know what? I’m still sleeping on the same mattress.” And he would laugh and laugh.

He sold many hundreds of houses and stores and pieces of land in Deep River and nearly. Some of them twice. A few three times. Yes, that’s true. He would even remember the date and price. What a memory he had for numbers.

He’d always step forward to make things happen. “Pro-active” is the wor we use these days. In fact, that’s how he met me. By stepping forward.

I was drinking a coffee and was deep in a newspaper at Burger King in next-door Old Saybrook. He came in and spotted me in a booth and ambled over.

He was a tall, lean, handsome man, born with a quick and easy smile.

“Aren’t you the fella who writes all those long pieces for the Main Street News?” he asked. Smiling, of course. He was wearing a bright red sweater. That was always one of his trademarks. That red sweater.

I can’t imagine how many bright red sweaters just like that he must have bought through the years.

“Yes, I am. What’s your name, sir?”

Without invitation he sat himself down across from me and started talking. What a talker he was.

“I know you’re new in Deep River,” he continued. “Why don’t I pick you up and show you around. It’s a small town. But there’s an awful lot here. Good stuff. Wednesday morning okay?”

Of course I said yes. How could I pass that up!

He was right. There is a lot to Deep River. And he showed it to me. He took me riding around time and again, pointing things out.

“Big fire in that house with blue trim years ago.” Or, ” This is where the few blacks lived back in the ’40’s.” Or, ” I sold that nice two-decker for $28,000 in 1972. Then $38,500 five years later.” (I don’t guarantee I remember the prices right.) “This Landing here at the Rive used to be a dump.” On and on. What a big favor he was doing by filling me in so wonderfully.

And that’s how our friendship took off.

Again, we were so different. But we developed a bond hard to explain. And impossible to ignore.

Yes, Bob loved to sell. He discovered that when he entered his teens. His older brother—Erwin, I believe his name was– was a terrific salesman in his own right. In fact, back then Erwin had the concession to sell lunches to the workers in the big red brick factory now known as Piano Works Condo Association.

The factory specialized in making the actions for pianos. All the working parts. In fact, it was the high-tech center for the piano industry back then.

As many of you know, I‘ve lived at Piano Works 15 years.

Erwin put his younger brother Bob to work there peddling sandwiches and drinks at noon time. Bob did a terrific job. Took to it. So much so that he quit high school a year or two short of graduation. And never looked back.

He tried his hand at selling all kinds of stuff. Fireworks before the Fourth. Christmas. Cars. Gravestones, if I remember right. Ran a taxi service Sold stuff at yard sales. Then, his first house! What a big day that was! He was hooked!   Yes, he gave everything his all. And he connected with his warmth and humor—schmoozing!

Got to tell you how he found his bride, his Rosa. A beauty who was the light of his life. She had come over from Austria to see relatives. Bob saw her and in a minute he was totally smitten. He had had girlfriends, of course. But now he was in his 40s and still a bachelor.

Well, Rosa went home to Austria okay. Bob didn’t just say, “Oh, well” and write her off. He pursued her by mail. Kept pitching and working like it might be his biggest sale ever.. Told her he’d love to go visit her. And she said okay!

He bought a plane ticket. Flying across the Atlantic was a big deal then. He took off with an engagement ring in his pocket. And he got to slip it on her finger.

I hesitate to put it in these terms, but yes, sir, it was the greatest and most momentous sale he ever racked up.. A sale with life-long payback.

Theirs was a great marriage. Right into their old age. When she came down with Alzheimer’s and had to move into Aaron Manor Nursing Home in next-door Chester, he visited her every single afternoon. For 13 months, I believe it was. Would take her out for a ride. Well, until she lost her mind totally. It is said he never missed a day. Then she died.

I’ve been a patient at Aaron Manor. Old-timers on the staff there remember that. Speak of it with wonder

All these years Bob carried a photo of Rosa in his wallet, and would flash it to somebody and anybody minutes after they met. He showed it to me at that first meeting at Burger King. I am sure it was in his wallet when he died.

I told you that he never hesitated to press and fight for something he considered important. That goes for things in Deep River. If he felt something should be fixed in town, or should be started, he would phone Town Hall, or walk over there, and push for it. “That town marker at the Essex line is missing!” Or, “They left a lot of leaves on the ground at the park.” Or, “Why not make that street one way?” Or, “How come there’s no plaque on the elephant statue yet?”

(These are just examples that I remember, and not exact, but they give you the flavor.}

For sure he was considered a pest by some people over there. He never always got his way, but gosh, how he tried! I do believe he was right often.

Yes, how he loved life. As his end got close, he would have done anything for another year, another month, another day–even when his life became impossible, well, so it seemed to me.

For weeks he was stuck at home, where he lived alone (but by his firm choice), incapacitated now, there in that fine house his dad had built. And which he had made even finer.

He was connected to an oxygen tank by 40 feet of plastic tubing which delivered the gas hat kept him breathing, but barely. He had to drag along that tubing when he tottered into the kitchen for his lunch, or into the bathroom. I was so afraid he would get snarled in it and trip. And hey, he couldn’t walk 10 feet without stopping and sitting to catch his breath. What an awful struggle every minute was! How he suffeeed!

One day, in very delicate words, I suggested Hospice might be a good idea. “I’m not ready for that!” he snapped.

Even at the end he was dreaming—scheming—how to get to the family condo in Stuart, FL, and get away from the cold and ice and snow and dreary skies outside.

He even composed an ad for Craig’s List.

“Are you a retired nurse? Like to go to warm and sunny Florida for three months? I need some physical help. I’ll cover plane fare and expenses. I’ll have a car there and we can take rides and eat out now and then.” Well, you get to idea. He didn’t live long enough to follow through with that.
Every week he’d head to the casino. We have two big and famous ones. Mohegan Sun was his favorite. He loved to go for the gigantic buffet and then play and play the slots. Just the slot machines. No table games ever.

He’d always play a fixed amount of money, win or lose. Never a quarter more. Disciplined! I know exactly how much in quarters he’d plunk into those machines totally but I can’t say. Take a word that it wasn’t mere pocket change.

More than once he told me, “John, when I win, and I’m very lucky, I call it a great investment! When I lose, great recreation!” And he’d break into a big laugh.

He’d say, “When I’m playing, I don’t think of anything else for a single minute!”

He always insisted that over the years he came out ahead at the slots. Which is impossible, of course. For so many folks, the slots—in fact, the casinos– are a disaster, a calamity, a tragedy, as we know.

Again, I told you how vastly different Bob and I were. His recreational gambling is just one example. I have never bought a lottery ticket in my life except to help a good cause. Have never played a slot machine. That’s true. No kidding.

He asked me several times to go with him. I gave in only once, and it was just to look around and take in a show there afterwards—tickets that he earned as bonuses for being a good “client.” Meaning, losing so much money tto the grateful casino. A terrific show, by the way.
Three weeks ago he was looking forward to just one more visit to Mohegan Sun and planned to ask his friend Pat to take him. I couldn’t imagine how Bob could ever make it there. There was no way. Well, It didn’t happen.

Then, just 10 days or so ago, gasping his way to the bathroom at home, he fell and broke his hip. Long story. But he was rushed to the hospital and had his hip put back together. Was in agony afterward.

I knew, just by my daily phone talk, that he would never walk again. In fact, that his time was very, very short.

Then I got Robert’s phone call. When I saw it came from him I just knew! I knew! Instantly!

Must also tell you this about Bob. He was never much of a reader of books. But he read my Around the World book. Insisted on buying it. In fact, a’ll my books. Could have borrowed them from the Deep River Library. Tried to get others to buy them. How about that?

Robert has been filling me in. The funeral will be this Saturday morning in Centerbrook , right next door to Deep River. At the Robinson, Wright, and Weymer Funeral Home, at 9:30, I believe.

For full details, go to www,courant.com and click on Obituaries. It’s the website for the Hartford Courant. It will also provide his formal obituary, which I found excellent. So rich in details!

By the way, I’ve written more than 2,600 words here. But this has been just a skimming.. His family and friends will be telling anecdotes of their own.

Bottom line: Bob Johnson was one of a kind, and how pleased I was—and am– to consider him one of my best friends.

Burial will follow in old and beautiful Fountain Hill Cemetery in Deep River. Know what?  Know what? I believe there are more people resting there now than there are in town.

Rob tells me there’s two to three feet of snow on the graves. But the burial will take place. Won’t be postponed. And his Dad will be put to rest right next to his darling Rosa. Just as long planned. With military honors, for his service in the Navy when very young.

Bob’s name has been on the monument for years now. Robert F. Johnson. Just the final date has been missing. Now it will be added. But he’ll remain Bob to many of us.

Bob has made visits—”pilgrimages” says it better– to her grave beyond count. In all seasons. Would speak to Rosa, and I believe she would speak to him. Would made sure the plants were kept healthy and trimmed. Got their monument steam-cleaned periodically.

And this Saturday, Feb. 14, is St. Valentine’s Day!  Right? I feel that is so, so appropriate!

Well, what I’m hoping is that up there in heaven, besides being with Rosa, Bob has managed to find some slots. And  schmooz his way into a nice new bright new red sweater.

God bless you, Bob!

You'll enjoy this montage of photos of Bob sent to me by his son Rob. Actually, it's part of his montage. Notice the four photos of Bob with his trademark red sweater and his trademark smile!

You’ll enjoy this montage of photos of Bob sent to me by his son Rob. Actually, it’s part of his montage. Notice the five photos of Bob with his trademark red sweater and his trademark smile!

 

 

~ ~ ~

 

 

 

So sorry for my silence! But Merry Christmas!

By John Guy LaPlante

Dear Friends near and far, Merry Christmas! Enjoy this day. Make the most of it. I am doing just that, finally here in Morro Bay, CA, close to my daughter Monique and son-in-law David. In fact, I spent Christmas Eve with them in their home a few hours ago.

I am sure you’ve been wondering, What the heck has happened to John? So sorry for my months of silence.  It was  imposed upon me.  Life!  Here’s what happened.

It's Christmas, but look at me out in the open air here. Hey, look me standing in front of my mobile home.  In my shirt sleeves. In the sunshine. And that's a palm tree sticking up at the back!

It’s Christmas, but look at me out in the open air here. Hey, look me standing in front of my mobile home. In my shirt sleeves. In the sunshine. And that’s a palm tree sticking up at the back!

In May I returned to Deep River from California with a dual challenge. First, to sell my number one condo at Piano Works (I own two there).  Second, to unload ninety-five percent of my earthly possessions thee. All in order to relocate in my 86th year, mind you, close to Monique and David,. For what  I felt quite sure this would be the concluding chapter of my time on this planet. Then, complications.

I came down with what I call Illness Number 1, from which apparently I’ve recovered.  Then Illness Number 2 hit me, would you believe, which threw me into the hospital for six days and then a rehab center for a few more.  And it seems I have survived that, too. At my age, I’ve been waiting for something like that to hit me. It’s natural. It’s expected. I have been so fortunate.

Well, I became so, so sick that I had to suspend my blog. So, what a challenging six months! But, wonder of wonders, I did sell my condo–the one that’s been my home, sweet home for some 10 years. And I sold it myself, without a broker, saving a substantial commission and getting a kick out of the challenge..

Getting rid of my stuff was a different story. Very sad. I had to do it–no room in my new mobile home in Morro Bay. A huge undertaking, very painful emotionally. I don’t wish that on anybody. But I got it done by the skin of my teeth.

Leaving Deep River was also painful. Truly I considered that sweet little town home.  I had friends there. I had a role in the community. I liked the town itself, and that little corner of Connecticut, right in the estuary of the beautiful Connecticut River, such a gorgeous area.

Yes, I am writing this from Morro Bay!  It’s 2:11 a.m. on Christmas Day. I was determined to get this post finished and out by Christmas, and I’ve barely made it, as you can see. But getting settled here in Morro Bay was a bigger job than I expected. As I explained some months ago, I bought a nice place here in this most interesting and pleasant seacoast town.

It’s a mobile home.  I never, never thought I would ever live in a mobile home.  But it’s perfect. It’s less than two miles from Monique and David’s.  In a very nice mobile home park for people 55 and over. It’s called Morro Palms, and you can see one of the palms  sticking up behind my unit. And I have a beautiful spot in the park, with my own little garden lot, and lots of nice people living around me, quite a few in what is a second home for them.

Morro Bay is a lovely small community. It’s on the Central Coast, about 225 miles from Los Angeles at the South and 225 and San Francisco at the North. Never any ice or snow–what at this season I call “sweater weather.” Morro Palms is on the very edge of the compact downtown.

It’s just a hop and a skip from everything important to me… the public library, the senior center, my bank, the big chain supermarket and the big drug store next to it, and a whole assortment of shops and services. Everything from a Radio Shack and Autozone and Dollar Tree and several restaurants. The one thing missing is a Walmart, and I miss that. But even a walk-in medical clinic right across the street, with a nice Burger King right next door.

My favorite chiropractor, Dr. John Watson, is a hundred yards away. He’s the one who figured out and repaired my terrible neck problem after my awful fall down the stairs three years ago. The problem that left me unable to hold my head up. The problem that half a dozen other medical practitioners, including four MDs, couldn’t resolve. I saw Dr. Watson for a tune-up a week ago. I really didn’t need it but I walked out feeling better, and I’ll be back for another next week.

I can walk to the public library, the  senior center,  my bank and even the harbor itself.  And it’s even easier and more fun with my new adult tricycle. I got a trike from my mom and dad when I was a little kid, moved up to a bike (I was an active bike rider right up till I hit 70) and now I’m wheeling around on a trike again. Wonder of wonders!

Morro Bay Is the home port of a number of commercial fishing boats and a great variety of recreational boats.  It even has a Coast Guard station. It’s famous for a huge dome of a rock right by the harbor. So big that it’s called the Gibraltar of our Pacific Coast. Can be seen from miles out at sea. And there are miles of beaches up and down the coast. Swimming, surfing, hiking, bird watching, sunning, picnicking.

So Morro Bay is a very popular tourist destination. Tourism is very important here. Famous San Simeon is just a few miles up the coast and it draws thousands of people.

The beautiful and interesting small city of San Luis Obispo is just 13 miles to the South. And it has so much! Last evening, by the way, we attended a beautiful performance of “A Christmas Carol” at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church nearby. Wonderful. That put me in the mood.

I’m no stranger here.  I’ve been enjoying Christmas and New Year’s here for 20 years.  And I have a clutch of good friends here. Just a few days ago I was the guest for an hour in a talk program on The Rock. It’s the local radio station. My second appearance there. So slowly I’m getting back in circulation. Lucky me!

Come Spring, God willing (I’m not very religious but that wonderful expression says it all), I’ll return to Deep River.  There I’ll confront my  next big decision: what to do about my second condo. That will take me some time. I look forward to it as a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Deep River and my friends there and that beautiful corner of the world.

And, if Fate continues to smile upon me, this post will be the first of a new series.  With one big change.  My jottings will be briefer!  That will take enormous discipline. And they will get to you more often. Well, that’s my hope. I

t’s embarrassing to wish you a Merry Christmas so late, though there’s still some hours of it left. But I certainly can wish you a Happy New Year. I hope 2015 will be grand and wonderful for you in every way.

Oh, one more thing: I’d be so, so pleased to get a few words of news back from you!

As always,

John

Marjorie is walking into the New Year with her heart aching.

 

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Walking down the hill from my daughter Monique’s on this bright sunny morning, I ran into  little old Marjorie

I wanted to enter the New Year with a new look...my new chin whiskers! To complement my long-time mustache! I think I grew it as an act of adolescent senility, plain and simple...and I'm not sure I'll keep it all 12 months. But what do you think?

I wanted to enter the New Year with a new look…my new chin whiskers! To complement my long-time mustache! I think I grew it as an act of adolescent senility, plain and simple…and I’m not sure I’ll keep it all 12 months. But what do you think?

again.  I was heading down the few blocks to Spencer’s Market for the exercise and a cup of coffee.

Marjorie is a little wisp of a lady, old like me.   Again she was walking up and down the sidewalk outside her subsidized apartment. This was the third time I was running into her.  And again she was cuddling her cute little dog in her arms…holding it right up against her bosom.

“Hi,” she said to me  warmly as I came close.  “Your name is John, right?”

“Yes! And you are Marjorie! And he,” I said pointing to her little dog, “is Alabaster! And you told me that you called him Alabaster because he’s very light in color like alabaster.”

“Perfect!”  And she smiled.  But quickly her smile faded.  Her happiness of a moment ago just went poof.  She looked down at Alabaster.  Tenderly she brushed his head.  Brushed it again. And again.

“Marjorie, it looks like Alabaster is not doing very well this morning.”

“Yes,” she sighed.  “Yes, that’s true.  Oh, this is so, so hard….”  And stopped talking right there.

“I’ll bet you  spend a lot of time with Alabaster in your arms.”

She nodded. “Yes. Sometimes in the night, too.”

The last time we met, Marjorie had told me a thing or two about Alabaster.  He was 16–which, as dogs go, made him very old like Marjorie and me. She had taken him in 14 years ago and he had become her whole family now. Well, here in Morro Bay anyway.  It happens so often for old people who find themselves living alone. Their bet becomes everything to them.

She had been married, and for many years.  She had told me about it.  “Oh, he was a good man. But he started drinking, and much too much.  He became a bum. Yep!  Finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had a brother here, so I moved here.  And he”–she clutched Alabaster even tighter–“entered my life.”  She smiled again, but just a bit.

Yes, Alabaster was very old.  That was clear to me.  And he was obviously contented in Marjorie’s loving arms. In a way, Alabaster was so, so fortunate.

“I can see you are troubled this morning, Marjorie.”

Slowly she nodded.  Was silent.  Then spoke. “Alabaster is sick.  I’m so worried. And I have to renew his license.  And can you imagine–a license costs $25 now!” A heavy sigh.  “And I can’t keep him with me  in my apartment if he is not licensed!” She paused.

“And I should take him to the vet.  Really should. He needs the doctor’s help. And…  and maybe… maybe…” now her words came hard, ” I should have him put down….”  She clasped Alabaster even closer to her heart. Stared down at him.  I could see how she was aching.

“I know, Marjorie.  I understand.  Yes, I do. You love Alabaster.  And I can see Alabaster loves you. That’s for sure.  And I see how he is such a wonderful, wonderful pet…and such a huge blessing in your life.”

She nodded.  She held him. Rocked him a little.  I kept mum.  Put my hand on his head and brushed his soft fur a little.  I remained quiet.  She was quiet.  We both understood the sad situation.

“You know,” she said, “I tell my children, When my time comes, all I want is to be kept comfortable.  Take care of my pain if at all possible, of course.  And stay close to me if you can, please. Stay right by my side. But let me go.  Just let me go.”

“Gosh, Marjorie. I think that way, too.  And know what?  Maybe that’s how Alabaster feels.  Who knows?  It’s possible.  I’m sure he loves you the way you love him.  For sure you are the most important person in his life, too.  Maybe he just wants you to let him go. To just let him go….”

“Maybe so… maybe so….” She looked up at me.  Gave me a little smile.  It was weak, but she smiled.

I smiled back.  Patted Alabaster again. Gave Marjorie a pat on the shoulder. Looked into her eyes and smiled.  And resumed  my walk down to Spencer’s Market.

Well, I haven’t been able to do that little walk of mine for a couple of days now.  But I hope I’ll run into Marjorie again my next time down.  I wonder whether she’ll still be cradling Alabaster if I do.

END

I changed my friend’s name.  Her dog’s, too. Changed another little thing or two.  I’m sure you understand. I thought of taking a picture of her and her pet for this. But that would give them away, of course.

 

To subscribe or unsubscribe Click Here