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The least of These My Brothers... Requiem For RonBill Annett Salem-News.com
Ron was always bringing home the halt and the lame, tramps off boxcars (it was the Thirties, after all, and he seemed to be fascinated by their vagrant spirit), feral cats, orphaned or sick dogs.
(DAYTONA BEACH) - His 70th birthday on December 23 eleven years ago, like Landor's, was his last. Ron was the youngest of the four of us; had therefore the most to prove; and somehow for that reason was the best of us. My Mother tried early to contain, perhaps protect him. Our house was on a hill, without a fence, overlooking the highway. When he was four and inclined to wander or roam, my Mother devised a sort of umbilical arrangement, hooking him in his snowsuit by a long leash or rope to the clothesline, like a reluctant paratrooper. He could move freely, but with definite constraints. That in a way describes Ron's life.
When he was eleven, Ron was taken along by rancher friends of ours to a rodeo at Wainwright, a larger town 80 miles or so distant. The news, the disclosure somehow drifted back to my Mother that Ron had entered and competed in a boys' calf-riding event. She was of course horrified, and remonstrated with our friends for allowing such a dangerous and competitive event.
“But why?” was the response. “He won.”
Ron was always bringing home the halt and the lame, tramps off boxcars (it was the Thirties, after all, and he seemed to be fascinated by their vagrant spirit), feral cats, orphaned or sick dogs. He would have made a hell of a good physician. And logically enough, when Jack and I were ensconced at Manitoba U., Ron joined us, enrolled in Pre-Med. The whole family cheered, because it was such a logical fit.
Our cheering was short-lived. Confronted with unsanctioned fatherhood at the age of 18, Ron took what was perceived to be the gentleman's course in that strange morality of the time, and acquired a family in lieu of a stethoscope.
With his family, he ranged around North America for much of his middle years, to California, back to Alberta, eventually to Texas. Our paths crossed and uncrossed from time to time. He had a Rabelaisian approach to life, to humor, to companionship. Ron was always great company. Our birthdays were on adjoining days in December; for a time in whatever rare years when we lived close to each other, we would start the party on my birthday and end it on his. Thereby lies a condition, a sidebar that warped much of his life.
Ron was alcoholically challenged, a genetic arrangement rather common among our antecedents. Entering middle age he was warned by competent medical authority that he could expect a foreshortened life, even if he stopped drinking and its inevitable corollary, smoking. He did, but not without a rearguard fight. For the purposes of this narrative, I'll spare the reader the standard tragi-comic anecdotes you can hear from any AA podium.
Ron chose to retire in Corpus Christi, or rather a small suburb thereof close to Padre Island, about the time I dropped anchor in Daytona Beach. He loved the place, which he considered paradise, but it was a little late in the game. To my discredit, I chided his choice of paradise, deriding his sanctuary because 85 million Mexicans were flushing routinely into his surf. I've been grateful that Ron didn't live to witness the British Petroleum fiasco, the $100 billion desecration that was atoned for with a $5 million ad campaign extolling the vacation wonderland of the Gulf.
I remember the last time I saw Ron. I was driving from Vancouver to Daytona and, knowing he had little time left, at San Antonio I swung southeast to Corpus and spent three great days with Ron – with me drinking and smoking and Ron cursing and talking about the old days, the laughs, the regrets.
His last obscene joke, which he recounted to me: he'd compiled a hospital bill of $350,000, which he had neither the resources nor the inclination to pay. He considered it hilarious that our adopted nation, so anally retentive and paranoid over any hint of socialism, was about to stick the taxpayers with his hospital bill – the ultimate socialism.
“What are they going to do?” he said. “Confine me in the ICU till I pay it? Release me in my own recognizance? I've already been released by my Higher Power.”
Indeed, he had been. By the time I reached Florida three or four days later, he had already asked them to pull the plug. I'm convinced that old Ron went out laughing. And I found I had no tears left, nor regrets over a brother who never made the headlines but in some strange way for me will always be one of the true riders in the chariot.
And that's important for me now, when I sense that I myself may be drawing near what Walter Savage Landor described, at a much younger age than I've reached. (His 70th birthday, which coincidentally was all Ron achieved):
Or as good old Moliere put it on his deathbed:
Tirez le rideau,
La farce est jouee.
For those of my readers without my fractured French:
Draw the curtain, The comedy is over.
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Born in New Jersey at the height of the Bergen County Massacre that either led to – or was the direct result of - the Wall Street Crash, William Annett entered Canada illegally at the age of three as part of a witness protection program. Incarcerated in the Alberta dust bowl during most of the Thirties, Bill got even, at the age of 18, by making the anthology “Canadian Short Stories” (fortunately prior to its editing by Margaret Atwood).
He has never gone straight, although he was forced to work fitfully as a jug hustler for both a seismograph crew and a bootlegger, a cook in a lumber camp, a logger in a cooking school, a stock broker in Vancouver, a broke stocker in a supermarket, a cab driver and, as a last resort, a financial columnist.
Bill's rap sheet lists seven books, including a scholarly study of Inuit cuisine, an anthology of G.I pornography, two corporate puff pieces, a send-up on the securities industry, a page turner on mutual funds, and a novel banned in Boston and the Campfire Girls' reading list. His academic honors include under- and over- graduate study at University of Manitoba, N.Y.U. and the Wharton School, topped by a failed MFA at UBC (in creative writing).
Under cover of the millennium glitch, he sought refugee status in Florida, where he currently divides his time between training geckos for the insurance industry and playing motivational piano in a Tampa bordello.
Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.
At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.
He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.
Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.
You can write to Bill Annett at this address: email@example.com
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