Wednesday, December 15, 2010


One hundred years ago today my paternal grandmother gave birth to my dad. There's always been a bit of discussion about whether that was the actual date....records weren't kept quite as well in those days. But, this has become the accepted date and so I thought it important that my sons, who never got to know him, go forward with some information about that baby from the years I spent with him. These would be things that I don't think I've mentioned to the boys in casual conversation.

That baby was blessed with a sparkling set of pale blue eyes to carry through life. As an adult, you could tell exactly what he was thinking by the way he held them. If he was unhappy, the eyes let you know it. If he was in a cheerful mood, or telling one of his many entertaining stories, the eyes shone brighter than the sun.

-William Calhoun (no middle name)...was unable to finish high school. The family, his Scottish immigrant parents, three brothers (one died as a child) and a sister, needed him to work to help support the family. He was Bill to most everyone except my Grandpa, who always addressed him as William.

-When I was young, even though money was tight, he and mom insisted that I see the best eye doctor in the region to deal with my childhood eye problems. It was typical of his desire to fight for those who were unable to do so for themselves. He carried that personality trait into his public-service years in later life as an alderman for the city of Belleville.

-He had the uncanny ability to be a friend to a stranger in no time. As a boy, I was always amazed at the fact that he seemed to have friends wherever we went. Vacations, short trips to a nearby town for a homecoming, visits to the doctor's office, it didn't matter the venue, he always knew somebody...and more importantly...they always seemed happy to see him. I wish that somehow I could have been better at that.

-For many years he was fiercely loyal to Stag Beer...and the local brewery. You better not say anything to disparage Belleville, or it's hometown brew. That is, until the company saw fit to no longer employ his brothers Jim and John. After uncle John went to work for the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, somehow Budweiser began tasting pretty good.

-Like many men of his age, he spent a few years in Europe as part of the United States Army in World War II. Thankfuly, he was part of an engineering company that built roads and bridges and didn't see much in the way of combat. Otherwise, there might be noone sitting here to write this. Nor would my boys be around to read it. He always said he was the first married man in the state of Illinois to be drafted into war service. Up until then, only single men were sent to the war.

-After returning from the war, and despite not having advanced schooling, he was able to become chief surveyor for the St. Clair County highway department. Many roads and highways in the area were laid out by dad and his survey crew. I'd also like to have a dollar for every favor he did for friends and others who asked him to survey their property in his spare time. He never said no...and never accepted anything but thanks. I tagged along on those weekend missions many a time to hold the survey chain.

-Bill, as most of his adult friends knew him, tended to be a bit heavy, but like most of us as we age, he fought the "battle of the bulge".  I tend to think his tendency to carry a few extra pounds contributed to his "jolly" persona and made him more approachable than he might have been. I remember one time he decided to go "on the wagon" as he put it, for a couple of months. He got down to around 180...from his usual 210 or so. I hardly recognized him...and was proud of his effort.

-He was a tremendous supporter and fan of sports. He spent countless night and weekend hours working on playing fields and other projects at Belleville's Citizens Park. The park wasn't much until he, brother Bob, and the rest of the early volunteers decided to take it upon themselves to develop the property. As a youngster, I helped a bit. There's still a News-Democrat photo around that shows dad, me and local baseball legend Barney Elser working on a new chain-link fence for the new ball diamond at the park...circa 1963. I'll also always cherish attending World Series games with dad at old Busch Stadium (Cards-Yankees '64) and the new Busch (Cards-Boston '67/Cards-Tigers '68). How could anything beat your dad pulling you out of school to go to a World Series game?

Dad died in 1981. Our son Ian was 6 months old at the time. He always found an excuse to come by and hold him. Stewart was still 3-plus years off. If only he could have lived for both to have known him and to realize his impact on what I hold dear and how much of a gentle and loving force he was to all of us. They would also better understand how I try to carry myself...and how proud I am that they are much like him in many ways.

Happy 100th birthday Dad. Hopefully, we'll be able to play catch in the back yard again some day.