Thursday, February 23, 2012

Death hits close to home

Howard and Nance on their wedding day.
      Yesterday, the news came in the form of a text message. The day before, it was an e-mail.
      But the call this morning was an especially tough one. Bea's brother, Howard -- my brother-in-law -- had passed away.
     Death has become a daily part of life. It looks strange writing it that way, honestly.
      The older we get, the more presence it has. Every day, it seems, someone dies that we know or love, or someone who is related to a person from our past. One of my friends kiddingly calls me an "obit hound," and I guess it's true. First thing I check each morning online is The Shreveport Times' obit page.
      On Tuesday, it had been Sheryl Lawrence Basinger, 64, a sweet and beautiful Woodlawn girl who lived in Fort Worth and had been married 8 1/2 years to David Basinger, who was our shortstop at Woodlawn.
      It was one of those wonderful stories ... they were sweethearts in high school, broke up and married other people and after some 35-40 years and divorces found each other again.
      Yesterday it was Yvonne "Giffy" Marshall, 88, mother of one of my best friends, John W. Marshall III, and a fellow journalist and friend, Tommy Marshall. She was a calm, lovely, somewhat wondrous woman whose four kids were a tribute to the kind of person she was.
      There's a hurt for the families, but also the knowledge that these were good people who lived good lives, and left good feelings.
      But today ... today is really difficult.
      Howard Clinton Shaw Jr., 64, a week short of 65. My age, two years younger than Bea, older brother of two other sisters.
      Married to Nance, the girl from Baton Rouge he met at Louisiana Tech (they married before he graduated). Father of seven, grandfather of 12, great-grandfather of one. Believe me, it was one lively family.
      It was a massive stroke this morning. It came a year after he had a slight stroke and had congestive heart failure. So it was not unexpected.
      He had done a great job losing weight -- he had plenty to lose -- and he was trying to eat healtier food (he did love to eat). But he was pale and weaker when we saw him last, and he had slowed down.
      "We knew and he knew; we talked about it," Bea said this morning. "It was just a matter of when. He was ready for it. He had done what he needed to do. He raised his family. He built his house. He had done his job and he had retired. He enjoyed his kids, and having his grandkids in his lap."
The Shaw kids, from left: Brenda, Howard, Bea, Alice.
       Still, the shock is there. It's a numb, empty, surreal feeling.
       He came from that little house in rural Jamestown, La., that house on Shaw Hill, as we called it, and like his dad, he could do most anything. For instance, he built his own house, literally, deep, deep, deep in the woods just south of Navasota, Texas.
     "He's been building for 35 years, and he's never finished it," Nance often said. And now his work is done.
    Like Bea, he went to Ringgold High School. Like me, he went to Louisiana Tech in the same years (1965-69). He was a civil engineer and he went to work for Texas Eastern in Shreveport, then was transferred to Houston and stayed with that company in its various forms for three decades.
      He traveled the world, a problem solver in oil transportation, a "troubleshooter." He made  enough money to retire at about age 52, to live a nice life in central Texas (except for worrying about the wildfires), travel with Nance so many places practically coast to coast -- Howard always insisted on driving the van. He drove his older sister, Bea, to Massachusetts so she could sell in the big antiques show she'd always wanted to do.
       He converted to Catholicism, and was a devout follower. He was well-read and, well, opinionated. He shared those opinions, and if you didn't agree, he didn't change his opinion.
       He was not a sports fan at all, yet we got along very well. We found things to talk about; there was never a cross word between us (imagine that, people). He was a generous guy; if we went to dinner, he was buying, unless we just insisted. Anything we needed, anything anyone needed, he would provide if he could.
      In the end, he did all he could to take care of Nance and the kids, to leave them -- and the house -- in the best shape possible.
      Here's the kind of thing he did for us. He enjoyed photography, so he spent most of Rachel and Russell's wedding weekend taking photos. We have a great collection. But you won't find Howard in those photos; he took them all.
      Photos is a good segue to end this. I am including two photos we treasure: The one of Nance and Howard on their wedding day, and the one taken a year ago of the Shaw kids at Bek E.'s wedding party on the piece of land in Navasota that Howard treasured so greatly.
      And we treasured him.

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