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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Al's Place

Love of My Life, Light of My Heart

Al, 1990

Don't weep at my grave,

for I am not there,
I've a date with a butterfly
to dance in the air.
I'll be singing in the
sunshine, wild and free,
Playing tag with the wind,
while I'm waiting for thee.
author unknown

  Click on any photo
to see a larger view

Bits 'n Pieces 
Al loved the ocean, starry night skies, fireworks, and airplanes.  He loved music of many kinds, especially powerful instrumentals. And, wonder of wonders, he loved me! He was an audiophile, a smooth, excellent dancer (I was a poor student, much to his chagrin!), and an original 'techie.'  "Top Gun" and "Doctor Zhivago" were among his favorite movies.  More favorites were animals, talk radio, and peanut butter sandwiches. 

He genuinely liked people of every age, color, and description; he was comfortable talking to anyone, anywhere (just never as a public speaker!). He was patient, and unusually compassionate. He never met a stranger, would always lend a hand to anyone in need, and 'he could sell ice to Eskimos!'  Al was tall and physically very strong. I always felt safe in his arms, and proud to walk into a room with him. "Everyone liked Al" and depended on his easygoing good nature in many ways. 

Remember the deep voice, the dry humor and the goofy grin. Remember what a good boss he was to work for, and how hard he worked at anything he did.  Remember how many times he put other people's needs, wants, and favors ahead of his own desires. Remember his perpetual messy desk, his well-used coffee cups and ashtrays, his endless to-do lists. Remember the macho, gruff guy with a gentle touch and a very tender, vulnerable heart. 

Al especially liked being outdoors and staying busy; he was always working on a project. He could fix ANYTHING (except plumbing!). He wanted to know how everything worked (and therefore could usually explain how anything worked). He taught himself the complexities of electronics and computers, and he was always eager to learn the next new thing. 

Everyone could see that Al was a dependable friend, a loving, supportive husband and father, and a proud grandpa. Very few people knew about the tragic illnesses of his mother and brothers, the heartache of his first broken marriage, or his battles with personal demons. He started over more than once in life and sometimes fought depression, but he always found his way to better times with a smile, a lot of hard work, and faith. I have no "delusions of perfection" in my memories of him; we had some difficulties through the years, but we made it through them together, closer and stronger than ever. He treated me like his queen, always.  
Rose in full bloom
Inspired by my brother James, Al became a rose gardener extraordinaire. Thanks to his dedication and constant attention, we had dozens of spectacular hybrid teas over the years producing beautiful backyard bouquets. Peace, Tropicana, Fragrant Cloud, Mister Lincoln, Honor, First Prize, Double Delight, and many more varieties graced his gardens. I would trade everything I have left in the world for a single bloom from one of those bouquets, and the proud gleam in his eye when he presented it. 
Al - bouncing baby boy
Bouncing baby
Al as a toddler
Sweetie pie!
In days long gone, Al was a skinny, red-headed, freckle-faced kid often called "Red," with a pet duck and a penchant for mischief. He went to the local matinĂ©e on Saturday afternoons with his big brother, Jack. He explored county roads for miles around on his bicycle, paid for with money from his job at the drugstore. He grew up with cowboys and Indians, WWII heroes, homemade radios and farm chores. 

Cue the "William Tell Overture."  Now close your eyes and see those two young boys in a darkened movie theatre: Al and Jack. Smell the popcorn... don't spill that Coca-Cola! Bouncing in their seats as horses thunder across the screen and fighter pilots scream through the sky... Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Audie Murphy, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and more... heroes and role models all.  For a long, lazy string of Saturday afternoons, life was simple and full of pleasures. 

As a teen, Al was something of a James Dean wannabe with a white T-shirt, a leather jacket, and a motor scooter. He was a stage hand for school plays (Jackson High School, Class of '56), set up the sound system for a local drag strip, and installed the first intercom system in Foote Hospital. His father was a builder and general contractor; Al learned electrical and construction skills early as he helped his dad create commercial buildings and residences in Jackson, Michigan. He was big brother, babysitter and occasional swim coach to a gaggle of little girls and one little boy who tried to copy his every move (especially those peanut butter sandwiches!).  

Al and Jack, ca. 1945
All dressed up with
big brother Jack,
ca. 1945

"Red"   (larger image not available)

Al with cousin Donnie on scooter
Lookin' cool
on the scooter
A box full of sisters... Virginia, Sarah, and Colleen
Boxful of sisters:
Virginia, Sarah,
Colleen; ca 1960
Al - Class of '55
Class of '56
NASA: Apollo 30th Anniversary, 1969-1999 - Al was part of the team that made it happen.

International Order of Odd Fellows
Friendship, Love, Truth
International Order of Odd Fellows
Career Notes
Al's career in electronics began high atop the radio and television towers of southern Michigan. When his children were small he moved his family to Florida, where he worked for about ten years at the Kennedy Space Center. Al was a Ground Support Communications Manager  with RCA and NASA during the Apollo moon missions. His heart was broken when he lost three good friends in the 1967 Apollo 1 tragedy on the launch pad, and he vowed to maintain a more professional distance from future astronauts. His heart soared with the rest of the team, the nation, and the world in 1969 when Apollo 11 accomplished its moon landing mission. And he was there when Apollo 13 came so dramatically close to disaster. Al left NASA amid the severe budget cutbacks of the early seventies. His collection of patches and memorabilia from the Apollo flights has been passed on to his children.  
In Lexington, Kentucky, Al spent twelve years managing electronic security companies, and ten years as the Corporate Technical Support manager for CBM, a regional chain of computer stores. While employed there, he designed an award-winning system for warranty repairs; he also served on Hewlett Packard's Dealer Advisory Council and IBM's Technical Advisory Board. When CBM was sold and dismantled by a larger company in 1992, Al was faced with starting over once again. 

From 1992 to 1999 Al and I worked together - often around the clock! - as independent computer consultants and owners of an office supply company in Paris, Kentucky - dba Simple Office Solutions Inc. and later Proctor & Associates. Al was serving as Membership Chair of the Paris-Bourbon County Chamber of Commerce at the time of his final illness, and he was a member of the International Order of Odd Fellows. 

Heidi's Lament
Al had a gentle soul, and he was an animal lover. Much to his father's disappointment, he didn't enjoy hunting trips in the Michigan countryside because he couldn't stand to hurt an animal. Dogs and cats seemed to gravitate to him instinctively. We had four dogs over the course of 23 years: Chipper, a yellow Lab; Maggie, a chocolate Lab; Toto, a tiny little black stray; and our beloved blonde mutt, Heidi. 

We had a cat, too, in the early years: a gorgeous gray we called Smoky, who loved to drape himself around Al's shoulders. One day Al carried in his broken body from a nearby highway, crying like a child. For a long time then, cats were taboo. But one day about eight years ago, Maggie, Toto and Heidi "treed" a terrified little kitten in a rosebush in our yard. Al rescued her and we named her Missy. She hasn't seen a blade of grass since, and she is still my comforting companion. 

Al actually 'delivered' Heidi; the tiny, fat pup arrived with eyes closed tight on a warm spring day in our garage. Her father dog, Brownie, had been in my family for over fifteen years, so Heidi was pretty much guaranteed 'favored status' from the beginning. Al and Heidi shared an especially close bond; she positively adored him, and she was his "baby." 

Whenever Al was at home, Heidi was never far from his side. There was no concern about Heidi running away or leaving home if a gate was left open; she would never leave Al for humdrum doggie temptations! She would run like the wind, chasing real and imaginary critters, when he walked the fields around our home. She would jump "a mile high" for a treat from his hand, "sing" for her supper, and perform a string of tricks at his slightest command. 

When Al got sick, Heidi had been with us for fourteen years; she was an important and much-loved part of the family. Losing her beloved master was almost more than she could bear; it was heart-wrenching to watch her pining for him. For one long spell she refused to get up at all, to go outside or to eat. I probably wasn't much help to her, as I felt much the same way myself. 

Almost exactly a year after Al's death, Heidi developed serious health problems and had to be put down... another life slipped away in my arms. She is resting now, literally, right at Al's feet.  I like to think they are keeping each other company, running with Maggie and Chipper in sweet sunshine, waiting for me to join them someday. 

My closest friend from childhood, Geraldine Marshall Gutfreund, is a published writer and an award-winning poet. She put her own life on hold, including a husband, two teen-aged daughters and her work in Paducah, to come and stay with me during those black days after Al's death... Words can never express my gratitude for her kind words, loving support, and hard work during such a traumatic time. She taught me that the most important words a friend can ever say are simply, "I am here for you." 

An animal lover, Gerry showered attention on our little Heidi. In this poem Gerry gave a human voice to Heidi's very real emotion, and whispered  of my own inexpressible grief:
Al and Heidi, fall 1999
Al and Heidi
Fall 1999

  Heidi's Poem
So many smells,
layered in the silence of this house,
but where is the one longed-for scent
of smoke and seedpods,
and the man who brought in his smells
and stroked them into my winter coat
with something the humans call love? 
In his pockets he kept biscuits
and forbidden sweet bits,
and in his slow, deep speech,
the man called me names:
girl and good and even baby.
I answered to all the names he gave,
for dogs cannot divide love into pockets
or names or to-do lists;
into the living or the dead. 
I hear his footfalls returning home,
but the woman answers my barks with,
"Nothing there, baby."
Are his solid steps like the sleep pictures
where the man and I are puppies again,
romping in a yard gone?
I have dug a hole to reach him,
but only torn my dewclaw,
the claw that only touches
morning's first sweet water.
The man would have known to stop my bleeding
with flour and water,
but the woman only knew to hold me
and cry his name. 
Inside, she gives me his slipper,
and the man's smell settles into my soul;
I lose his name in his scent,
lose the taste of dull food not from his hands,
the keening silence of the house
sung into my own howls.
All things but smells, and love, are lost. 
Geraldine Marshall Gutfreund
April 2000

For the Record
Allan Leo Proctor was born May 17, 1938, in Jackson, Michigan, the third child of Lillian (Finch) and George Carleton Proctor.  He married, first, Grace Louise Craig. They had a son, Stephen Allan, and a daughter, Deborah Louise, then later divorced.  Al married me,  Mona Gail Landrum, on March 25, 1978, in Lexington, Kentucky. We had no children. 

Happy times... a birthday dinner at Darryl's

Al died on March 11, 2000, at the Hospice Care Center in Lexington, Kentucky - only five months after being diagnosed with lung cancer that had already spread into his spine when it was found.  He is buried in the Paris Cemetery in Paris, Kentucky; Mona's plot is waiting at his side. And no, he never did quit smoking.

Al's son, Steve, with his wife Ramona, son Sam, and daughter BeckyAl's daughter Debbie, with her husband John and son MatthewAl's son, Steve, married Ramona Spike; they have two children, Samuel Allan and Rebecca Louise Proctor. They live in Minnesota. Steve is another "computer techie." Al's daughter, Debbie, married John Hardin, an attorney; they have one child, Matthew Hardin. They live in Lexington, Kentucky.  Debbie recently earned her Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Kentucky. 

Al was preceded in death by both parents, a stepmother, Esther (Folz) Proctor, and two older brothers: Jerry, who died in childhood, and John ("Jack"), who died in 1999. In addition to Mona, his children and grandchildren, Al was survived by a half-brother, Carleton "Guy" Proctor of Sand Lake, Michigan, and four half-sisters: Cathy Henry of Jackson, Michigan; Virginia Wilson of Spartanburg, South Carolina; Sarah Reeve of Horton, Michigan; and Colleen Burian of Bryant, Illinois.  

Death Is Nothing At All

I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I, and you are you;
Whatever we were to each other,
that we are still. 
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. 
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was,
Let it be spoken without an effort,
without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
Somewhere very near, just round the corner.
All is well. 
Henry Scott Holland

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