Blast from the Past is an ongoing series reprinting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer.
Gus by Ed Lending
The Volunteer, Volume 5, Number 1, February 1983.
It’s reassuring to know that our comrades will not pass out of our lives un-commemorated. My own failure to fittingly solemnize one comrade’s death has been a source of nagging guilt.
It was in Mexico, where I lived for a couple of years in the early 50’s. A rumor had a desperately ill vet languishing untended in a dubious hospital, out in Mexico City’s boondocks. We found the place, Jean and I. It was unsavory – understaffed, under equipped, and revoltingly unkempt. Gus (my failing memory just won’t dredge up his family name) was there, cancer ridden.
We took him home with us for his duration. Norman and Judy Schmidt, neighbors then, shared the medical costs.
Gus was an ex-seaman, a Finnish American, slightly built (or, perhaps slighted by suffering), and feeble. He had been repatriated from Spain with still festering wounds. The ill-fated Noel Field family “adopted” him, sheltered him, and nursed him back to back to uncertain health. Gus never alluded to family or friends, but referred to the Fields often, with reverential affection.
Gus suffered terribly, but uncomplainingly through the few torturous months until his death. Freddie Martin, Judy Schmidt, Jean and I saw him to the cemetery, Just we four…
I felt the need to ritualize this moment, somehow. It seemed to wrong to let Gus thus go out – so unsung, so unnoted. But I was immobilized by the awkwardness I felt. How could I “address,” an audience consisting of my wife, Freddie, and Judy? And even if I could manage that with any conviction, could I so spontaneously manage a true expression of the grief and helplessness we shared?
While I was still wavering with indecision, the coffin started its descent – down into Gus’s last foxhole. Whatever should, or might, have been said, it was forever too late…
There were some especially saddening names (and some inexplicable omissions) on the obit list we were sent. Those exceptional comrades of ours who unfailingly showed grace in adversity, and success in humility. And the friendship they bore us was so palpable, we could feel the warmth in our hands.
May the praises due them be sung, and our cherished memories of them kept fresh, so long as we breathe…