“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
The Fellowship of the Ring
I met Russ through the Post Office, at the Moraine Valley Facility where we both worked for many years. From the first years together, I admired him for his generosity and helpfulness to others. And I knew, by watching him work with others, that he was a man of honor, a man of self-discipline, and a man of humor.
I had watched him turn the other cheek to subtle (and not-so-subtle) pressure and abuse by management for almost as long as we worked there. There was always a sense of controlled anger in these cases, as if he were struggling to respect the office of authority even though he had no respect for those who held it. More than that, though. He never let those feelings turn him bitter to his co-workers. With them, he was always ready with a laugh and warm sincere compliment and a helpful hand.
Because of these admirable characteristics, Russ was one of my original “pall-bearers”.
(Let me interrupt with a personal note here. At one point in my postal career, I decided that since my job took up such a large part of my life, I wasn’t going to “waste” that time just “putting in time” until I retired. And that I was going to try to make the most of that time – to try to fill it up with effort and energy and enthusiasm. As a result, I’ve come to consider my co-workers as family. A somewhat dysfunctional family at times, but family. They became like brothers and sisters; aunts and uncles (when I was younger); sons and daughters (now that I’m older); cousins, and so on. And because of that, I can understand how people who are abruptly fired often feel bitterness – it would be like having a family suddenly ripped away.
Another unrelated practice that I’ve done over the last ten years or so is to draw up my “funeral plans”. I figure I might as well be prepared, ‘cause I’m gonna die sometime, right? And part of my present plan is to include six co-workers to carry my casket in, and six family members to carry my casket out.)
Back to Russ. Russ was one of my original six “Postal Pall Bearers”, even before we became friends. Because he was a man I really respected. And he remained on my list, even after he retired, until the day he died.
He always told me that he felt honored to be included on that list, because he knew how close I am to my siblings.
But I was the one who was honored that he would agree.
I became Russ’ “T-6” about ten years ago. That meant that I cased and carried Russ’ route in Hometown, IL on his day off (Tuesdays). Through that, we became closer friends. Eventually, we ended up spending a lot of time together. We traveled on a few day trips, just driving. And we took in a lot of movies. And we spent hours at his home in Bridgeview, just watching his 13” TV and talking about books and movies and people and life.
Before I go on, let my give you a physical description of him. Tall, about 6’3”. Tended to be barrel-chested. Strong arms from his early work as a brick-layer, and his long life as a drummer. Wore his salt-and-pepper hair cropped very short. Had an expressive, rugged face. When not in postal uniform, typically dressed in jeans and gym shoes, sporting a grey sleeveless t-shirt and a gold chain around his neck. He almost always wore sunglasses when outdoors.
If I were to compare him to a “celebrity”, it would be Ron Perlman, who was “The Beast” in the TV series Beauty and the Beast, had the starring role in Hell Boy, and appeared in many other shows. Russ, who was a big fan of Perlman, watched a DVD I had loaned him The Magnificent Seven TV Series, in which Perlman stars as a soldier-turned-preacher-turned-protector. After he watched the pilot episode, Russ said (referring to Perlman’s character) “Hey, that’s ME!” And I had to agree.