Win

September 17, 2010 at 7:30 am 4 comments

In July 2010, at 91, a man named Win passed away. High school football star, WWII veteran, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather. And, for the past 13 years, my neighbor—and friend.

Up until about two years ago, he was a force of nature. Cutting hedges. Mowing the lawn. Always at work. No weeds growing out of his driveway. No cinders or gum wrappers in front of his sidewalk. And snow? Pfft. His was gone before I’d even got a boot on. And never moved out in blobby patches. We’re talking pristine, edge to edge, straight lines and bare concrete. No snow-blower, just a shovel.

He always kept an eye on my place. One, because he was watching out for me. And two, because I am fairly certain that my obvious lack of skill, blatant procrastination, and resulting misadventures were a regular source of amusement.

When my garage door went bonkers, he was the one who crossed the street when I was out to re-shut it and/or scramble under it. The icy winter morning my driveway wall fell, he called to warn me before I’d even looked outside. It was his ladder that got me in the dining room window when I locked myself out. His hand that scattered the mystery salt on my sidewalk on days that it snowed while I was at work. His concern breaking into laughter at the inadvertent somersault or prat fall.

He has always been that sweet old guy masquerading as curmudgeon, and a bit of deserved and rather charming actual curmudgeon, a wise man, an extra grandparent, a firecracker.

I got another glimpse of him this week in some photos his wife shared.


In a scrapbook he made, these guys were “The Gang,” and they had nicknames (I kid you not) like Shorty and Jitterbug. Most of the above were taken in Arizona (near the Boulder/Hoover Dam) shortly before he left for France and Germany and World War II. And, although taken long before I was even born, I love these pictures, and I am somewhat overcome with a sense of joy and relief that he did all this and then came home, married his sweetheart, raised a family.

It was about 2 years ago that his legs, which had carried him around a football field, the City of Pittsburgh, and the world, began to slow. A betrayal in his eyes as everyday things became difficult and surgeries and long stays in rehab centers took their toll. He drew the line when the only remaining option, and the recommendation by doctors, became amputation. There was a fierceness and strength and dignity in his decision. He wanted to go home. And there was an acquiescence by doctors. And understanding as well as tremendous support from his family.

I admire them all.

When he arrived home later that day, he emerged from the passenger side of the car and was helped into a wheelchair. They were wheeling him into the house backwards, so he was facing me, and I was stunned to see this thin, ghostly pale figure; hands held still in his lap; head down. They were having a time of it, getting the chair up over the threshold. The jostling made him look so fragile.

Then, with one last big ol’ bumpity-bu-bump and the front two wheels precariously high in the air, Win raised his head. He gave me a great big smile, threw his hands in the air, and yelled “Wheeeee!”

I raise a glass to humor and bravado and life. To our elders. To our veterans. To our tough guys.

God speed, Win McCluskey.

Entry filed under: Life Preservers.

Thank You, U.S. Soldier Nice Day, Isn’t It?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mel  |  September 17, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    What a loss for this little spinning orb. And what great pics. These everyday heroes, “citizen soldiers,” are dying every day. I am glad there are others who feel their absence, and who appreciated them while they were still among us. Be extra kind to his wife, and I’ll bet he will be thankful.

    I have to wonder, if we were attacked again like Pearl Harbor… would today’s young people rise to the occasion with such spirit, capability, and willing sacrifices? I feel we are truly losing a great generation.

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  • 2. chris h.  |  September 20, 2010 at 7:48 am

    I remarked to Mike the other day that I wanted to rent the DVDs of Band of Brothers because I’d never seen the show. Lo and behold, reruns on one of the cable channels. We caught a couple episodes over the weekend. This on the heels of us touring the LST docked on the North Shore a couple weekends ago. The Greatest Generation? No doubt in my mind. My dad, my uncle, all those other WWII vets like Win — totally awesome. I don’t believe there will ever be another generation like ’em. Simply the best.

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  • 3. Ruth  |  September 28, 2010 at 3:01 am

    My uncles and dad were part of that great generation–there are no words for what they accomplished through sacrifice and hard work. They didn’t whine, they just buckled down and made our lives easier.

    Godspeed, Win.

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  • 4. Goodnight, Flo McCluskey | Life Preservers  |  June 19, 2014 at 3:23 am

    […] crossed that street to say good-bye to Win before he passed, four years ago. And I crossed that street on Monday, after Flo’s funeral, […]

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