One day my mother-in-law, Muriel, returned from a trip and discovered that her husband, Bill, had sold their home on the lake and had moved them into a place next to the exhaust fans of a Burger King.
No one who knew Bill Paradis was surprised. My wife’s father was one of the most laid-back, off-the-wall men you’d ever meet.
Another time, without saying a thing, he sold her kitchen stove and replaced it with another one – that she didn’t want.
He met his wife, the valedictorian of her class, when he called the women’s dormitory and asked if anyone would like to go to the movies. Muriel, who just happened to pick up the phone, said, “Yeah, I’ll go.”
At the time, Bill and Muriel were enrolled at a college in Burlington, Vermont. He typified your Vermont college boy of the mid- to late ’40s because he’d already been to war and had two troop ships torpedoed beneath him in the South Pacific. When one of them was hit, he was in the chow line with his meal ticket in his pocket. He carried the ticket in his pocket for years, claiming he still had a meal coming to him.
Roland, one of Bill’s Army buddies, told me that he was once looking through binoculars at a column of U.S. troops as they slowly worked their way down a steep mountain trail. It was hot there in the South Pacific, and he could see that one of the soldiers had thrown away his helmet and was wearing a straw hat. Roland said, “Yup, there’s Bill Paradis.”
Bill stayed in the Army Reserve for years, ending up as a master sergeant and tank commander. He said that a tank could go over anything.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars was very important to him, as was the Shrine Club. When he was well along in years, a doctor checking his heart was surprised that he’d never smoked – because the hundreds of hours he’d spent at the VFW and Shrine had given him the same damaged heart as a two-pack-a-day smoker.
Marsha says that her father was the adult who got the neighborhood kids together for football and baseball games. As a teacher he got home earlier than her mother, who was a nurse and had different hours. He dug up their lawn and made the kids a miniature golf course with cans in the holes. In the summer, he took the family on a cross-continent camping trip.
When Bill came to live with us, I built a private apartment for him on the back of the house. We had three cats, which had been trained to never enter an open doorway because I’m deathly allergic to cats. But so Bill could watch them, I built a wooden catwalk right beneath the windows. One day I was watching a cat outside Bill’s window when the window opened and two arms came out, grabbed the cat and hauled the cat back in. The excitement of being bad gave him a heart attack, and he was carted off to the hospital in an ambulance.
Another night, around midnight, Marsha and I got a call from the hospital with the news that Bill was being treated for another heart attack. He’d called 911 and, while we slept upstairs 30 feet away, the entire St. George ambulance crew had parked, with flashing lights, beneath our window, entered our home and wheeled away a 180-pound man. I later mentioned to the chief that ambulance people who could enter a house and carry off anything they wanted without waking the residents were in the wrong business.
Marsha says he was one of the greatest armchair athletes in the neighborhood and was always watching sports on TV. I thought that he’d watched golf on TV so long that he’d forgotten how to walk. He died without being diagnosed with oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy, a disease passed down in families of French-Canadian descent. Symptoms are droopy eyelids, difficulty swallowing and weak arms and legs.
We know this only because it took doctors two years to diagnose it in my wife, Marsha. Actually, it only took one year to diagnose. Doctors spent the second year learning how to pronounce it.
Bill would have never lived with us had not Muriel died suddenly of a brain tumor. He lived alone for a while, but because Muriel was not old enough for Medicare, the horrendous medical bills had wiped him out, and when we finally took a close look at how he was getting along, this is what we found:
What do you do when the system in the country you fought to defend and have supported with your taxes for years suddenly takes your life savings?
Bill taught bookkeeping, and he did taxes for his friends. With Muriel gone and the hospital in possession of his savings, over a period of years he gradually accumulated a stack of credit cards. By astutely manipulating the payments, always keeping them up to date, and by constantly applying for more credit cards, he was able to run up a debt almost equal to his medical loss.
Just before he died, he declared bankruptcy and stuck them with it.
The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at his website: