Landers column: That wiry smile

Landers column: That wiry smile

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I paid a visit to a friend of mine recently. I first met him on a walk in our neighborhood when my wife and I bought a home on the south side of town many years ago. I knew of him as a Dells resident, but really didn’t know him. As he introduced himself and his wife to us, we chatted for a bit and I walked away thinking that this was a guy I wanted to know more of. In time, I did, as we would share talks at his house or mine, over dinners, and sometimes just in front of his mailbox. Each time I felt our connection grow, and felt a sense of presence that was just comforting to be in.

The twinkle in his eye and the wiry smile is something I’m sure that he honed over decades of working Wisconsin highways and hearing all sorts of excuses for speeding or running red lights in his time as a State Trooper. He showed me a picture from long ago, a man of solid stature standing next to a 50’s something sedan with “State Trooper” emblazoned on the side. The uniform was impeccable. The leather, “Sam Browne” belt and shoulder strap cinched tight around his waist and chest seemed perfectly measured and immovable. A revolver flapped on the side of his firmly pressed trousers, a stetson fitted firm on the head, topped off with a glimmering badge made no mistake in projecting the seriousness of the man and the agency. A picture that only captured a moment in a man’s career but also spoke volumes of pride in that career that he still holds today.

Our chats were full of sharing “war stories” of our respective time in law enforcement. We both shared the tragedies of horrific crashes or events that took lives way too soon, or things we saw people do to avoid getting tickets or worse. Of course, the best stories finished with a chuckle at the lighter side of law enforcement, typically involving some of the jokers we worked with or the jokes we played on them. While his stores came out of the 50’ 60’s, and 70’s and mine from the 90’s, 2000’s, and beyond, it was evident that things didn’t change too much over time in policing.

The loss of his beloved wife Dorothy in 2010 took a toll on him. The sadness never left his eyes although talk of his kids and grandkids still brought that twinkle back that told me there was more life for him to live. Our visits together also brought out his immense knowledge and understanding of every caliber of bullet and firearm on the hunting scene. His retention of knowledge not only on the precision of varying weapons, but also on the history and background of the company that made them is something you wouldn’t even find on Google. The joy and adventures of the outdoors was a bond we fondly shared. With each hunting tale he told, I shared a fishing story to boot. His hunting stories were always better.

In time, living alone and some health issues became too much and he needed additional care and his walks became less frequent. My visits with him continued and with each one he saved bags of treats and crackers to share with my daughter who always greets and says goodbye to him with a warm hug. Yet with each visit these days, my friend shares a little less than the time before.

They don’t make men like this anymore. A man who is now coping with the loss of memory and ability while still maintaining every ounce of pride and dignity as the Trooper standing tall and firm next to that sedan. A man who always wears a watch, always tucks in his shirt, and always listens before speaking. While gentle and unassuming in his presentation, there lies little doubt that he is a man among men no matter what toll time has taken.

I was too young to really know my grandfathers before they passed. I also never felt I needed or longed for the surrogate grandfather to fill any void in my life. Quite frankly, a fatherly and grandfatherly presence is something I have learned to live without. However, my time with my new friend had a grand-fatherly feel to it. A man who is more than a neighbor. A man who knows a thing or two about life, and was willing to share that knowledge through a wandering story, or through a short comment and wiry smile as I imagine he gave to someone trying to justify going 15 over. Either way, they both hit home in his delivery.

A tribute is often reserved for times when people pass. However, I think it fitting to write a tribute to one of the classiest men I have ever known while he is still with us. Perhaps on a good day, this will resonate with him. There will come a day that Francis Honish will be called home, he is 93 now and only God knows when that day will come. But when it does, I am sure to smile. For somewhere up in heaven, Francis will be riding on a sun-kissed highway in a Ford convertible with his beloved Dorothy at his side, with a wiry smile on his face and a renewed twinkle in his eye.

Opinions expressed by Brian do not necessarily reflect those of the Dells Events or associations Brian may have. Brian can be reached at brianlanders@charter.net

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