The Friday posts are chapters from my fiction project, Eminent Domain. They’re long, and they’re not for everyone, but if you read, I’d be glad for your comments, critical or otherwise.
18 Conrad DeBolt’s Obituary
Feb. 23-24, 1988
“Did you see the paper this morning?” Henry asked as Alex walked in the door; he was sitting at Phyllis’ desk with a coffee mug in front of him and the newspaper open.
“Honestly? I chose not to read it. Angie usually puts the newspaper articles I’m supposed to read in front of me at breakfast, but she got sick in the middle of the night, and I took her tea and the newspaper and told her to stay in bed. Besides I have to talk to Ross at eight, and he’ll tell me what it said.”
“Well, I think you should know this before you talk to Ross.”
“Okay?” Alex waited.
“Conrad DeBolt died last night.”
“Oh.” He sat down. “Well, shoot. I don’t … I mean…”
“Yeah. It’s tough. I never liked the guy much; I mean we didn’t ever connect. But now I feel like I should have gone to see him or something.” Henry tossed him the newspaper, and Alex silently read the short obituary.
Conrad Sidney DeBolt, 60, of Adamsford, died on Monday evening, February 22, at the Adamsford Hospital after a period of declining health. A memorial service will be held at the Prices Corners Community Church on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 11:00 AM. There will be no calling hours.
Mr. DeBolt was born in Indianapolis February 7, 1928, a son of Richard Aaron DeBolt and Laura (Sidney) DeBolt. He graduated from George Washington High School in 1947, and Valparaiso University in 1951. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Mr. DeBolt married the former Marie Zimmerman in 1955. She preceded him in death.
Mr. DeBolt was the Chief Engineer of PennDOT District 13, headquartered in Adamsford; he was on medical leave when he passed away.
He is survived by his mother and a brother, Aaron Hugh DeBolt, both of Indianapolis.
Memorial gifts may be donated to Prices Corners Community Church.
“Man, I hope my obituary isn’t this sad when I leave this earth,” Alex said.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought…”
Alex looked at Henry. “Where is everyone? And if everyone is taking today off, why are you here?”
“I couldn’t sleep after the meeting — my brain was going a hundred miles an hour, so I came in around 3 A.M. to work. I’ll probably crash soon, but I’ve got something I want you to look at. Anyway, no one actually called, so my guess is everyone is operating on slow mo this morning after the meeting.”
Phyllis rushed through the door then; her face was blotchy, and she had the newspaper folded to Mr. DeBolt’s obituary. “Oh, you read it. I was running late, and I didn’t want you to to talk to Ross without having seen it.”
“Do you think they get the newspaper in Harrisburg?”
“I do. Ross has called me before and he already knows things, but he might not read the obituaries. I’m surprised Clancey didn’t do a bigger article on Conrad DeBolt.”
“They probably didn’t have time last night, but you can be sure there will be one in tomorrow’s newspaper.”
They stood around in silence, each thinking their own private thoughts about Conrad DeBolt. The phone rang and the door opened at the same time.
“Don’t bother answering it, Phyllis. I’ll just go get it in my office.” Alex walked back to his office as Dana and Keith walked in one after the other.
Burton and Denise Stewart had been home from the meeting at the courthouse for about fifteen minutes when the telephone rang. It’s a pastor’s lot to take late telephone calls, he thought, wondering if someone had died. Occasionally he had just wanted to let the phone ring, but he had always prayed for strength and then picked up the receiver. Tonight Aaron DeBolt, Conrad’s brother whom he had never met, was calling from the hospital. Conrad had just passed away.
No, Aaron did not need him to come in; he was staying at Conrad’s. Yes, he was fine; it had been expected, but he would like to talk to him about a memorial service. The sooner, the better for him. He was caring for his elderly mother who was too frail to travel, and he couldn’t stay long. Conrad’s wishes were to be cremated and have no viewing. Would it be possible to have a service on Wednesday morning? Yes? Oh that would be very good — he was anxious to get back to his mother. She was very distraught that she could not be there.
Burton quietly put down the receiver and sat alone in his study. He thought he probably knew Conrad DeBolt as well as anyone did; they had discussed theology many times. He was a solid believer, a deep, quiet man who did his giving anonymously. He wanted no credit for any good deeds. “No,” he had said. “I understand grace, and my few good deeds are just rubbish, compared to my sins.”
He had confessed private sins to Burton. Not because he felt the need to confess to a priest or a pastor, but because he believed that if his sins were said out loud, his forgiveness could also be said out loud. He needed to hear it, he said. So when they came back to haunt him, he could say “Get behind me, Satan. I am forgiven for those sins.”
“We are to hear each other’s confessions, Conrad,” Burton told him. “For that very reason.” And he listened.
Perhaps he should offer to clean out Conrad’s apartment — an offer of help to a busy man who needed to get back to his caregiving duties. This seemed to be a matter he should go to the Lord about; in fact, he had several serious matters to discuss with the Lord. One, or even two, he could simply pray while sitting at his desk. But several — well, that required kneeling so he could keep his focus. He made his way over to the bench in front of the window and knelt to converse with God.
A small crowd was gathered in the church sanctuary on Wednesday for Conrad DeBolt’s memorial service. The five employees of the PA Dept. of Transportation District 13 were there. Aaron and many members of the church were present; Conrad had been a trustee for several years and was well-liked. Tom Del’Olio came in by himself and immediately looked around for someone he knew. Finding no one, he went toward the front of the church and sat by himself.
“Wonder why he’s here?” Henry whispered. “There’s no one for him to impress.”
Alex shrugged. “Maybe he’s early.” Distracted, Alex folded and refolded the funeral service bulletin. If Pastor Stewart opened the service to regular people, perhaps he should say something. He wanted to be prepared to say something brief, if the chance occurred, but at the same time he was apprehensive — he didn’t feel he had known Conrad DeBolt well enough to speak at his funeral…
Angie took his hand. “Are you all right?” she whispered.
He shrugged again. “Don’t like funerals…” he whispered back. “Should I say anything?”
“Just see how it goes,” she said quietly. “Only if you feel the need.”
Bill Clancey walked in just then and went up to sit with Tom Del’Olio. Alex nudged Henry. “The press is here. That’s who he was looking for.”
Alex needn’t have been anxious — people spoke lovingly of Conrad, and in ways that Alex hadn’t known him at all. His brother Aaron told of what a loving son he had been to their mom; since her health had failed Conrad had come back often on weekends to give his brother a break. Until, of course, his own health failed. Alex was relieved that the sad obituary seemed not to be true at all. That his life had been filled with friends, and love, and kindness, and suddenly, Alex felt a crushing pain of sorrow for not reaching out to know this man.
Then Phyllis got up to speak. She told of how kind Mr. DeBolt had been to her when her own husband had passed away. He had sat at her desk in the office many times after everyone had gone for the day and listened and handed her tissues for her tears. He understood, for he had lost his own beloved Marie, not too many years earlier. And after others had quit asking, he would come up to her out of the blue and ask how she was doing. And sit down to listen for her answer.
“I will miss him,” she said with a smile. “But I know that he is safe now and free from pain.”
Before he knew what he was doing, Alex stood up. “Conrad DeBolt was my boss at District 13,” he said. “He was fair and quiet, and I didn’t ever take the time to get to know him very well. I’m listening to all of you speak, and I wish I had known the man you knew. I regret very much that I didn’t take the time out of my busy and arrogant life to get to know him… I’m thinking that all of us are like that in some way. There’s someone around us that needs our friendship. Or maybe it’s the other way around — there’s someone around us that we need to know for our own benefit and good. I’m sorry, Mr. DeBolt, that now you’re gone and I won’t have the chance, but in your death you have taught me a good lesson. And I’m going to remember it well.”
He sat down, and Angie took his hand and squeezed it. “That was beautiful,” she whispered. “Alex Goddard, I love you.”
Aaron DeBolt was driving home across the Ohio Turnpike. His mind was meandering and not on driving; the flat, boring interstate encouraged wandering thoughts — especially when one’s brother has just died. He mentally checked off the list of things he had done: gotten the death certificates from the court house and walked across the street to the bank for his accounts there; gotten the key to his safe deposit box at the bank and emptied it; cancelled the utilities and had the final bill sent; talked to the landlord and negotiated the security deposit; arranged for an estate company to clean out the apartment; gone to the post office and had mail transferred to his own address in Indianapolis. As the executor of Conrad’s estate, it had been a long and exhausting day yesterday. Even so he was very glad that he had made the trip — he had gotten to the hospital and been able to talk to his brother for several hours before he had slipped into that final coma.
“I think perhaps you might think that I should have left you and Mother my entire estate,” Conrad had said. “But I want to explain why half goes to the church…”
Aaron had cut him off. “Don’t explain. We — Mother and I — are fine. You have helped us much lately, and there is no need to talk about it. You are loved, Connie, by both of us, and whatever is in your will has nothing to do with it.”
“Well, being my executor will get you in shape for being Mother’s executor.” Conrad had grimaced then, and Aaron waited until he spoke again. “There’s nothing unusual — two bank accounts and an IRA. Life Insurance and you are the beneficiary. Just regular gas, electric, and phone. The bills are in the top drawer of my desk. No cable. Not much good furniture; take whatever you want if there’s anything. There’s a couple of good family pictures, but maybe you have copies…” He paused.
“Also in my top drawer is the key to my safe deposit box. There’s the title to my car and my life insurance policy; there are some journals in there too. You can read the journals or not, but burn them.”
Aaron started. “What do you mean?”
“Just promise me you will burn them. It’s a deathbed promise you’re making here,” Conrad smiled weakly.
“It’s that business when you were fired and then re-instated years ago, isn’t it? Are these valuable? Can I blackmail someone famous?” Aaron teased.
Conrad closed his eyes and didn’t answer. Aaron took his hand. “I promise, Connie. I will burn them.”
The dying man kept his eyes closed. “If you read them,” he said with difficulty, “your good opinion of your big brother will suffer.”
“Nah, never,” Aaron said. “I can promise that too.”
And now, in the car driving home with the three journals safely in the back seat, he wondered if he would read them before he set them on fire. The journals were twenty-five years old — ancient history — and he had promised that his good opinion of his brother would not be tarnished…
This is the end of Part Two, and the end of these posts for now. Thanks to all of you who read and commented.