Letter From a Vagabond 05 May 2019 A Paean to Bill

A Paean to Bill


Definition of paean

1a joyous song or hymn of praise, tribute, thanksgiving, or triumph “unite their voices in a great paean to liberty”— Edward Sackville-West

2a work that praises or honors its subject ENCOMIUMTRIBUTE “wrote a paean to the queen on her 50th birthday.”

Merriam – Webster


Friday morning, before even beginning the day’s fight against gravity, I looked at my phone to see what emails might have come in during the night and found one from my friend William Epperson, Ph.D., scholar and charmer, teacher and student, a man who inspired me and whose laugh/giggle delighted me whenever I heard it, his voice a lovely mix of southern Missouri growing and Oklahoma living.

But it was not from Bill, it was from his wife Linda, also my friend, an elegant and gracious lady, born in New Jersey horse country, wife of Bill from the time they first climbed into their twenties.  She was letting me know he had died, succumbed to e-coli, sepsis and the accompanying shutting down of organs.

So, I write what I hope is a paean to my friend, William Epperson, who I met when I was nineteen; he was the best friend of my college roommate, Ron Morris, who was seven or eight years older than I, Ron, a Viet Nam vet, a medic, whose time there coalesced all his traumas and from which he never really recovered.

We went to Tulsa because Ron wanted to see Bill and Linda and I went along, not dreaming in my young mind, they would become lifelong friends from that visit.  They lived in a wonderful, 1920’s Dutch Colonial on Evanston Street in Tulsa, a home of which I have many fond memories.  In that dining room, I first learned to love artichokes and, in their kitchen, laughed my head off when, on one Thanksgiving, bent over to remove something from the oven and could not unbend.

They sheltered me on my way to California, on a journey that was fraught with excitement, hope and fear.  When I finally moved out of my cottage, I surrendered the letters they had written over the years to me, a correspondence that started that nineteenth summer.  At that house, their then youngest, Rachel, a toe head, with Bill’s wide wondering eyes, took me for a walk around the block while everyone else was busy.  There was some drama happening; I remember that but do not recall what it was – it didn’t concern me.  Or Rachel.  So, she took me on a walk to be sure I wasn’t lonely.

She had inherited that generosity of spirit from her parents.  Bill and Linda opened their arms wide and allowed people into their lives.

He kissed us with his incredible kindness and laughter, with hugs to be remembered, and cherished.  If I remember correctly, his dissertation was on American metaphysical poets of the late 17th century and early 18th.

He wrote poetry.  He helped me last year with a poem of my own.

He was a teacher and he was the inspiration for me to go to graduate school and to teach.  I wanted to be like Bill, to be the kind of adult man he was.  He cared for his students and some became lifelong friends

He helped me be honest about my struggles as he was honest about his and he encouraged me to be more daring.  He stood by me, literally holding me up, as I walked down the darkest alley of my life.

A fallen away Catholic, I eventually followed Bill into the Episcopal Church. I believe in God; it is due much to this man.

He had grown up in a rigid, southern fundamental religion. When painting his garage one visit, he told me he would not have been allowed to be my friend when he was growing up because I was Catholic, which caused me dismay, and which resulted in both of us laughing in the hot Oklahoma sun.

In that house in Evanston, one year, I lingered for some weeks after they had left to see Linda’s family because I had been bitten by a brown recluse and spent my time fighting fevers while listening to their collection of classical music.  I camped with them on the banks of an Arkansas river, on land owned by Linda’s parents, sleeping outside, under the stars on a cot, near a town where he fretted about me because I was northern, with longish blonde hair, driving a newish Mustang, and northerners weren’t much liked in that part of the world.

He was a sprite, Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” a prankster, laughing his unique laugh/giggle, who made merry, loved life and the pleasures it can give — good food, good drink, thrilled to be alive and sentient in this mad world, a man who loved to use words and to savor reading words.  He loved a good story and loved telling them.

My heart has broken.  In my stomach there has been a knot since reading the email.  And I feel indescribable joy he was in my life, that we threaded through parts of it together and tethered ourselves to one and another when were not physically proximate.

He was a fully human man.



2 Responses to “Letter From a Vagabond 05 May 2019 A Paean to Bill”

  1. mabelfrancis Says:

    Incredibly sorry for your loss. Now you have his memories to keep you company! Lovely tribute!

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