One of my earliest memories of my cousins, Stephen, Larry, Philip and Theodore (Theo) was back in the 1960’s when they came to our home in Beloit, Wisconsin for an overnight visit. They were traveling from Bellingham to Pittsburgh, where my Uncle Al had obtained an appointment on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh.
They drove to our home in two station wagons. One was a maroon colored Rambler model. The other car was an older station wagon that had recently been painted. It was not painted in a traditional fashion. Instead it had a base coat of white paint and a remarkable array of painted red, yellow, green and blue flowers, messages, quotes and even foot prints and hand prints all over the car’s hood, roof and side panels. To complete the “flower power” theme, there was a bouquet of bright plastic flowers attached to the front right and left corner of the roof rack. I thought it was the coolest car I had ever seen!!
We lived in a small two-bedroom home. Since it was the summertime, my younger brother, David, and I spent time on our enclosed front porch and outside getting to know our four cousins.
When it was time for bed, my mom and dad slept in their bedroom and Uncle Al and Aunt Kathryn used David’s and my beds in our upstairs bedroom. As the oldest, Stephen got to use our rollaway bed on the enclosed front porch and Larry slept on a love seat in our living room. That left me, Philip, my brother, David, and little Theodore. We had a living room sofa that could be reclined so that the back laid flat and the seat slid forward to convert to a comfortable bed for two. The only other option was an aluminum Shay’s lounge chair that my mom used for sun bathing in our back yard.
With the wisdom of four adults, my parents and my aunt and uncle pushed the reclined sofa up against the wall, put David near the wall, Philip in the middle and me on the outside. Theodore was relegated to sleeping on a sleeping bag on the lounge chair near Stephen on the front porch.
In the middle of the night, Philip began to toss and turn. His leg kicks and arm thrusts pushed me off the couch onto the floor! Rather than lose my spot, I pushed him over and crawled back into bed, only to be pushed out again. The second time I fell out of bed, Theodore awoke and came from the porch into the living room to find out what was going on.
I said, “Theodore, you need to go back to where you were.”
He replied, “Where were I?”
I said, “You were sleeping on the lounge chair on the porch near Stephen.” Theo just stood there, lost and bewildered in a half sleeping state in a strange house midway across country on a long trip. I took his hand and led him back onto the porch. I said, “Here’s your bed for tonight.” He looked up at me and softly replied, “It’s not a very good bed.” I agreed and led him back to the reclined couch and commented, “You can sleep here next to Philip.” He shook his head and said “No, I don’t want to do that!”
I replied, “Well, I plan to sleep on the floor under the overhang of the sofa and to use the sheets that Philip has kicked off the bed.” Theo nodded and slowly began to walk back to the lounge chair on the front porch. I helped him get into his sleeping bag and he let out a long sigh. He said, “I guess this will be O. K.”
I said good night and went back to the couch.I saw that my brother, David, was curled up in a fetal position against the wall and was doing his best in his slumber to survive the “Whirling Dervish”, which we now know at Phil Roe. Rather than fight a third round with Phil, I picked up my pillow, crawled under the overhang of the reclined couch seat and pulled the sheets down to cover me.
The memories of that night have stayed with me for decades. As I read about the adventures of Theo and the lives he touched, I realize now that there was a message from him that night. You see, all we really need in life is a roof over our head, a good bed and friends and family to help us when we get lost or are confused. The rest of life is details. Theo didn’t worry about the details of life. He lived life to the fullest. He made sure that friends and family had a roof over their heads, that they had a good bed and knew that he’d be there for them if they got lost or were confused. In short, he was a remarkable man.
Oh, by the way, Theo’s middle name . . . Paul . . . named after my dad, Walter Paul Reitan . . . the kindest, most gentle man I ever knew. It was the perfect middle name for Theo.
From Mark Reitan