By Bill Archer
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Brandy Patton-Saddler led a grueling series of Zumba exercises last Tuesday morning at the Brickhouse Cardio Club in Bluefield, Va., and after the sixth or seventh song, I was huffing and puffing like everyone else in the class. Between breaths, I strolled over to Angela Nash, Bluefield Brickhouse owner and said jokingly: “Many more like this and I’ll have to dig out the nitro.”
My words surprised her. She asked me if I was OK, and I said I was just kidding. Having a heart attack — and I’ve had a couple — changes your perspective on a lot of things. I take my exercising seriously, and I’ve found that Zumba provides an excellent cardio workout that I can do in any weather conditions. I know I cheated death on March 2, 2006, when I buckled over on my way to take pictures of a wreck on the Bluefield-Tazewell Road. Although I lost half of my heart capacity that morning, I’ve been willing to work out to stay alive. Angie didn’t know that I take life seriously, but I keep a light-hearted attitude about it.
My mother-in-law, Marjorie Louise Cozart, understood my brand of humor and always came right back at me in full force. She knew so much about so many things that I never dreamed of knowing, and I was blessed to know her. When I finally learned how bad my heart was in the spring of 2006, I asked God to let me serve my mom, Marge, my wife, my family, my community, state, nation and world for as long as He sees fit. I smiled before Dr. England went inside on April 18, 2006, to unstop the blockages. I take Zumba now, walk and try to eat right in order to uphold my end of the bargain.
I didn’t have a bucket list as I started to recover, although my wife would probably point to the rusted Corvair convertible in our backyard and the American Flier train set in the basement and beg to differ. There was one guy from my past that I wanted to touch bases with, and when I saw an article that another mutual friend of ours had hosted a golf tournament to raise funds to help Walter Easley get a kidney transplant, I saw a pathway. I made contact with Oliver Luck when he was with the Houston Dynamo soccer club and Ollie got me Walter’s phone number.
I called Walt and had an incredible phone conversation. We talked too long, caught up on past times and commiserated about our respective health challenges. Walt knew life was finite and accepted that fact. Prior to that call, the previous time Walt and I talked on the telephone was on Oct. 30, 1981, when the San Francisco 49ers were in Pittsburgh getting ready to play the Steelers in Walt’s rookie NFL season. Walt told me Coach Bill Walsh planned to feature him that Sunday, and I teased him about only getting a chance to play after the game got out of hand and the Steelers were playing subs.
Walt proved me wrong. He had a great game, scored the winning touchdown and the 49ers established themselves as legitimate contenders on their way to the Super Bowl victory over the Bengals. The following spring, I moved to Bluefield, got busy working and lost contact with many of my friends. When we talked in 2006, I told Walt that I was sorry that I hadn’t kept up with him through the years, but I think he knew that.
Walt’s family and my family lived in married student housing off-campus in Morgantown. Walt’s building was over the hill from mine. I worked long hours driving the campus bus and going to graduate school, and he worked long hours with football and college.
When we had spare time, we used to hang out and watch pro football together. Walt and I watched the announcer-less game between the Jets and Dolphins on Dec. 20, 1980, and enjoyed a fun-loving afternoon of insightful football commentary. Walt broiled steaks for us at half-time of that game when Bryant Gumble was recapping the first half. We had steak sandwiches and beer and it was the most fun I ever had at a football game. I laughed ‘til I cried.
I cried again on Friday morning when I read a post on WVU’s Facebook page that Walter died Thursday at his home in Charleston. I didn’t cry when my mom died on March 1, 2011, because I had too many details to attend to. I didn’t cry when my mother-in-law died on Jan. 10, because I wanted to be strong for my wife. I must have saved my tears to shed for my friend, Walt Easley, because they flowed on Friday.
Back in Morgantown, I was a minimum-wage campus bus driver called “Bill The-Bus-Driver.” In a past life, I had sailed the concrete seas of the nation in an 18-wheeler, but from 1979-’82, in Morgantown, I was a getting $3.35 per hour to drive a bus. In the eyes of many people, I was classified staff and nothing more, but to Walter Easley, I was a friend and although we only had a few precious moments of contact in recent years, we both knew that a bond of true friendship can be eternal.
Bill Archer is the Daily Telegraph’s senior editor. Contact him at email@example.com