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Do you believe in ghosts? Angels, maybe? Well, I never did. Until my buddy Ollie died about fifteen years ago.
At the time, I was working in public relations at a medium-size airport in the West. My friend Ollie was the airport police chief. Our other best friend, Floyd, was the airport operations manager. Several times a week for lunch, the three of us would get in one of the airport vehicles and drive out to a spot near the main runway. We'd watch planes land and take off while listening to country-western music on the radio. We'd sit there and eat our brown-bag lunches, exchanging good-natured ribbing and trading away lunch items we didn't want. This lunch-time routine at Chez Runway continued several times a week for more than ten years. Ollie, Floyd, and I were inseparable, especially between the hours of twelve and one (OK, maybe more like 11:45 to 1:15).
One day in 1990, Ollie called me into his office and closed the door.
"Richie," he said, "The doctor told me today I've got cancer. I'm gonna die". Tears welled up in my eyes. We hugged and said we loved each other. Then, as we regained our composures, we discussed Ollie's medical condition. It was pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult forms of cancer to treat. Ollie's doctor gave him about six to eight months to live.
Ollie seemed determined to get the most out of his remaining months. He kept his sense of humor. One day Ollie, Floyd and I were having coffee in the airport coffee shop. Ollie had just gotten back from a routine visit to his general practioner, who apparently hadn't heard from the oncologist about Ollie's cancer. Ollie related how the general practioner had said, "Well, Ollie, you've got a clean bill of health!" Ollie found it hilarious that a doctor could find him in perfect health while he was suffering from terminal cancer.
And then there was the time over coffee when Ollie was putting saccharine in his coffee (he was diabetic). While he poured the pink packet's contents into his coffee, he said that he had read recently that new studies showed saccharine might cause cancer. Saying this in grave tones, a grin suddenly flashed across his broad Irishman's face, and he blurted, "But, hey, who cares-I've already got cancer!" When he laughed his whole body shook, just like the proverbial St. Nicholas.
Summer came and Ollie was still coming to work, sometimes with the help of a cane. I was his chauffeur and personal attendent, driving him around to his errands and taking him to local points of interest. Sometimes we talked and sometimes we were silent, just enjoying each other's company.
Summer turned to fall and Ollie began putting his personal affairs in order. He came to work less and less. Sometimes I'd visit him at his house and fill him in on all the latest airport gossip. Ollie was getting weaker and weaker. We tried to pretend Ollie wasn't sick, but the cane was an ever-present reminder of his illness.
Sometime in mid-December, Ollie got a second wind and came to work for a day to join Floyd and me for the traditional runway lunch. I drove, as always, and I opened the back door for Ollie. He gingerly got into the car, dragging his cane with him. Floyd sat in the passenger seat in front.
It was to be our last lunch with Ollie at the airport. It was just like always with the three of us. Ollie horsed around as usual, yanking my shoulder belt back around my neck in an attempt to strangle me. He knew I startled easily and delighted in tapping the back of my head with his cane. Occasionally, he'd doze off for a few minutes.
After lunch, I drove Ollie home from work for the last time.
Ollie started going downhill fast. On December 15, Ollie's wife, Paula, called me and suggested I come over to the house. When I got there, Paula asked me to call the priest for the last rites. After doing that, I went to Ollie's bedside. "Well, Richie, this is it," he said. "Doctor says I've got some bleeders down there. It won't be long now." We said we loved each other, and I went outside to wait for the priest.
The priest came and we all gathered around Ollie's bed for the last rites. I kissed Ollie on the forehead and went home.
The phone rang at about 5 in the morning. It was Paula, Ollie's wife. Ollie had passed away just moments ago. Paula told me that Ollie had not wanted to die on the 15th, because it was Floyd's birthday. So he willed himself to live until the 16th.
On the day after the funeral, I met Floyd outside his office at lunch hour. In a way, we dreaded going out by the runway to eat lunch, but somehow we both knew we had to do it. Our hearts full of sorrow, we got in Floyd's car and drove out to the usual spot and parked.
We ate our lunches in silence. We couldn't seem to find much to say. Suddenly, we heard two loud, distinct raps on the trunk lid of the car. Floyd and I glanced quizically at each other. There it was again-rap, RAP!
Well, Floyd and I needed to see for ourselves what was going on. We both got out of the car, and looked all around it and under it. We didn't see anything out of the ordinary. It couldn't have been the wind blowing something into the car, because there was no wind. There was nothing in the trunk except for some road flares and a fire extinguisher.
We got back into the car. There it was again-RAP RAP RAP!!!
Now, you have to understand that Floyd and I are technical people. After all, we were working in operations at an airport, not in some New Age candle shop. Floyd was ex-Air Force and trained to believe in scientific causes and effects. But to this day, Floyd and I are convinced that those raps on the trunk were Ollie's cane-Ollie's way of telling us from the other side that he was still with us in spirit. Knowing Ollie, he'd be grinning, too, knowing he'd scared the living daylights out of us.
Floyd and I went back to our desks with an odd mix of feelings-sad at missing our dear friend, but buoyed by the new knowledge that friendship lives on after death.
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