They were men of simple means. ‘Working stiffs’ who raised their respective families with far more love than money.
Both had their own brood of ‘biological’ children – maybe one more in the mix just didn’t make much difference to them. But to me, it meant everything. Mostly, it provided refuge from the random, unpredictable mayhem in my own home caused by a step-father whose unhappiness would quickly turn to anger after a few shots of vodka.
Bill England, better known as W.D., was a son of Tennessee, brought north by the promise of jobs in the booming auto industry. His boy Dave, the second of four kids, made the mistake of befriending me in school. About a mile away was the home of my other good friend Bill. His dad Don Kring was an educator. At first they were little more than someone else’s parents. But neither said a word when I would hang around long past my welcome. There was always a warm greeting, an extra place at the table and a sense of belonging. Both accepted me without question, as if I were some long-missing child who had suddenly turned up on their doorsteps. Without them, I would not be the person I am today.
Don had a quick and infectious laugh, and his good-natured ribbing – usually about my shaggy countenance – let me know I was part of the family. Their house, beside a small neighborhood lake, was on my way back from school. Fishing poles stood by the basement door, and many an afternoon was spent tossing a line from the backyard rather than face the uncertainty of what could be waiting for me at my own home.
As for W.D., he didn’t seem to mind that I was raised by Yankees. In fact, he took it upon himself to pass along his country roots (and his turn of a colorful phrase) whenever possible. There was always music in the house – as he himself might have said, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a guitar, and it’s where I learned to play. It also explains why, when it came to my musical repertoire, I could offer up a serviceable rendition of not only “Stairway to Heaven,” but “The Old Rugged Cross” as well.
I may have missed the opportunity to call either of these men “dad,” but if ever there were people in my life deserving of the title, it was them.
Someone once said, “Families are not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers or adoption documents. Families are made in the heart.” Thank you both for taking me into your families, and into your hearts. You will always be in mine.