Be careful with your friends

That’s careful with, not about, your friends. More on that later. Caution: this is long and probably only of real interest to friends from “back home.”

My friend from about the 7th grade and all through high school had a personality that some considered “odd” in ways.  From the hot West Texas summer just before the start of the 7th grade when my folks built that house toward the end of Dallas Street in Big Spring, Texas — and I discovered my friend just a block away up a street that was really an alley — until we both made good our escape from the clutches of high school and home, we were constant companions and “soldiers in arms” in many ways. Due to my shyness (unknown to most even today) I was thought by some to be “stuck up” and no doubt thought to be a bit odd of personality also, at least by some. We were, therefore, somewhat the “odd couple” long before Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon brought that on the scene.

Although not a “stud” in high school I blended across many groups, but my friend was marginalized by many. Not shunned, but significantly marginalized. Yet, underneath what sometimes manifested itself as a Napoleonic complex (my friend was vertically challenged), and in spite of his constant attempts to finally win the “War of Northern Aggression,” I saw a strength of character there that I did not then fully understand — nor adequately appreciate.  That strength would later manifest itself in another, significant way. Day by day, he was a friend upon whom you could count and he asked nothing in return.

Those of you who knew me back in the “olden days” (as daughter Melissa often referred to any time more than just a few years ago) also knew John “Jay” Raymond Hatch, Jr.  After high school we went our separate ways, me off to college and then winding up in the U.S. Navy; Jay starting a family with the birth of John-John and eventually ending up in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer, where his strength of character shone brightly.

After “the war” in about 1974 Jay found me in Austin where I was then practicing law. We were in touch there briefly and we talked only minutely about the Vietnam conflict. You see, while I was aboard an aircraft carrier 75 miles on in the Gulf of Tonkin with freshly made ice cream most nights, Jay was slogging through the muddy jungles of Vietnam and leading men into real battles. He wouldn’t say much in detail but I did learn that he had most of an entire platoon “shot out from under” him as he put it. He was troubled by his experience but not complaining.

The rest of Captain Hatch’s story is that he was decorated with a Purple Heart and

three Bronze Star Medals, plus the Army Commendation Medal. He never mentioned those commendations to me, nor to others around him over the years. As happened with many Vietnam vets who served in-country Jay was greatly affected by the experience and his new friends tell me he never really recovered from it. More later about his new friends.

He surfaced again in about 1983 or ’84 when he came to see me in Big Spring while he was starting a new venture in El Paso.  Fading away after that he called me in Marble Falls one day about 10 years later while he was living and working in Brady — just 80 miles up the road. As had been the case for several decades now, the contact was brief and I did not fully appreciate the emotional toil that life had taken on him.  Jay and his wife Carla wound up in Smithville eventually, a fact unknown to me until recently when John contacted me through Facebook.

Thus it was with mixed emotions and a hurt heart that today I attended a memorial service for Jay, who died on October 11, this past Monday.  The main sanctuary of the First  United Methodist Church of Smithville, Texas was packed.  A military honor guard presented the flag.  John-John (who chuckled when I made reference to that nickname) and his family were gathered with a huge cadre of Jay’s “new friends” — those gained after he moved there from Brady and who nurtured him during what would become his final, difficult years.  Several of us made brief remarks about our parts of Jay’s life (mine are below) and the service adjourned to “Charlie’s” — a typical Texas small town bar and pool hall — for a wake. Jay and I always talked about that, about having a wake when we were gone, and I suggested to prop me up in a burnt orange recliner with a scotch in my hand.

Jay was certainly present in spirit at his wake as friend after friend came up to tell me about Jay in their lives. In spite of repeated surgeries and increasing emotional wreckage they tell me he never complained, that he was always giving an ear and gentle counsel to them all. They knew him as an avid hunter, fisherman, golfer, philosopher and writer. Turns out that Jay and his deceased wife Carla had written a book – an audio book – Turtle Trap.  Gotta get a copy.

In chatting with folks around that smoke-filled bar, sitting on the edge of a pool table sipping a Shiner bock and munching on my share of 80 pounds of BBQ chicken, the picture became clear.  Jay had become a giant of a man in that diminutive vertical frame.

As I drove home I mulled over the afternoon. I was proud of my old friend and glad to hear of part of a life well-lived. And, yet, I was sad to have lost all of the years in between as happens so often with both friends and family. Time grabs us and the lives of our friends pass us by, and then they’re gone.

Thus I say be careful with your friends and relationships — time is not your friend, especially once you have almost six decades under your belt.

Here are my remarks, best I can recall what I said during the remembrance:

Jay and I grew up together– well, I say grew up but … (laughter) at least we got older. From about the 7th grade we just lived a block apart up an alley and traversed it often. There is a lot I could tell you since the statute of limitations has run — but not at church (more laughter from the crowd).

We learned things as young boys:  cars, Coors, girls, hunting rabbits, golf — took lessons at about age 10 from golf pro Shirley Robbins at the Big Spring Country Club. Jay was always a friend.

After high school we went our separate ways — he eventually to the Army and me to the Navy. We would have contact occasionally over the years, but not enough. So I tell you to be careful with your friends and don’t let time pass you by.

I’ll leave you with just one piece of advice, with something Jay told me every time we parted company: “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”  (big chuckles — turns out he was still fond of the phrase).

Obituary

Jay

John Raymond Hatch, Jr. “Jay” 1944 – 2010 Born in El Paso, Texas, on January 14, 1944. He would circle the globe, including a Tour of Duty in Viet Nam, before spending the remainder of his life in the Lone Star State, where he finally rested in Smithville, Texas on Monday, October 11, 2010. Jay Hatch, son of John Sr. and Mary Nell Link, graduated from Big Spring High School, spent three years in Viet Nam in the US Army achieving the rank of Captain. He earned three Bronze Stars, Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal. He married the love of his life, Carla Madison. He was an oilman like his father, but his true passion was golf, fishing and pool. Although he was a “mans man”, he would be the first to let you know, Carla was “The Boss”. After losing Carla, Jay was adopted by his Smithville family that included his friends at Charlie’s, La Caba?a Restaurant and Lost Pines Golf Club. They were a different kind of “Band of Brothers (and Sisters)” and they were his rock helping him weather many of his life’s storms. He is preceded in death by his father, mother and wife Carla and is survived by a sister, Ginger Dudley of Hugo, Oklahoma, brother Richard “Dick” Hatch and wife, Fran, of Kissimmee, Florida and son, John Hatch and wife Rebecca, of Buda, stepdaughter Kathy Carroll in Big Spring and stepson Cody Carroll of La Grange. He is also survived by several grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at the Smithville First United Methodist Church on Friday, October 15 at 1:00 p.m., with wake following at Charlie’s. Jay will be interred at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Military Cemetery on Wednesday, October 20, at 2:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions can be made to the American Legion Post 180, P.O. Box 28, Smithville, Texas 78957.

There is a guest book to sign at that link.

We have to say goodbye, R.I.P. Vogey

(the following was used as one of many remembrances at Robert’s funeral on February 16, 2009.)

Robert Voglino
Robert Voglino

Goodbye, Vogey, but thanks for the richness you gave to our lives. Our friend Robert Voglino may be gone but he was the sort of fellow never to be forgotten.

People who have died are often eulogized as having been special in various ways. In Vogey’s case it’s true. His Italian heritage (thus his “Godfather” nickname in Rotary) created an often bigger than life persona, yet gentle as a teddy bear with a charisma we will all remember.

How he came into my life was literally to define our years together and he, and those connections, are worth remembering and sharing. I want to share a unique view of Vogey from that perspective.

It was the spring of 2002 and a motorcycle tour through the Davis Mountains in far West Texas was planned. Mike Atkinson suggested that a friend of his come along, riding one of Mike’s extra bikes. Mike always had extra bikes. So along come Robert and Beth — unknown to me at the time — and away we go.

As motorcycling is more about the ride than the destination we rode and enjoyed the stimulation of seeing God’s world in that special way. Not much visiting, but a lot of riding. Until dinner at the Olympia in Fort Davis.

Serendipitiously seated together, the conversation naturally was a recap of the ride and compliments to the meal we were enjoying, and then, then the conversation turned to religion and church. We quickly discovered that we both were churchmen (little did I know the extent of his involvement) and talked of spiritual things. I soon asked “where do you attend church?” Robert answered: “Trinity, in Marble Falls.” “You’re kidding,” I said.

Laughing, it turned out that they had been attending the 10:30 service for about a year while Jennifer and I always attended the 8:30 service. I would eventually discover the depth of Robert’s spirituality.

An adult Sunday School class was eventually formed — and they let both of us attend! 🙂  I then discovered Robert’s knowledge and understanding of the Bible and of God’s will. He would often become quite emotional when speaking of his God. You see, they had a tight relationship — an unbreakable bond.

We would come to spend weeks at a time on motorcycle camping tours covering thousands of miles at a time and encompassing the entire United States west of the Mississippi.

At Eureka Springs, AR
At Eureka Springs, AR

Sharing that many meals and campsite venues meant sharing a lot of stories and feelings. We quickly became the best of friends and I understood was a large man this was, this robust Italian fellow nicknamed “the Godfather” who was truly a son of God.

You know, God must ride a motorcycle. Robert and I always marvelled at God’s world as revealed from atop the throbbing machines as we alternately dipped into valleys and crested mountain tops.

Jim Bridger National Forest
Jim Bridger National Forest

We saw God’s hand in the outdoor vistas we soaked up and in the characters we always met out on the road. But God has a sense of humor, even on the road.

It was 2004 and we had just left a wonderful vacation time with our families in Lake City, CO. Headed north and eventually to go Westerly, we passed up our intended stop for the night and pushed onward toward Craig, CO located on the northern plains of Colorado. It got dark on us, not a good thing in Colorado, and when we finally approached a town and saw a KOA we instinctively pulled in. We pitched our tents (mine as far as possible from his — you see, Robert could snore with the best of them), took warm showers and turned into our respective tents. ” ‘night Robert.”  “Goodnight, Gil – God bless.” (as Robert was prone to do).

Within 30 minutes, only exchanging a few quick reminisces of the day, we were both asleep. I could tell he was asleep, you see. Remember the snoring thing? Earplugs back in, I was soon also asleep. Then it began.

First a faint clatter. Then I heard the whistle. The clickety-clack. The distinctive clickety-clack and whistle of a train. And suddenly it was clear that it was whizzing past us just yards away. It was so close my initial fear was that we had pitched tents ON the tracks! Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, woo-whoo and on and on. And on.

We shouted to one another and laughed about our choice of campsite. We remarked about the length of the train. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, woo-whoo and on and on. And on. Then the laughter began. He laughed, I laughed, and then it became contagious as this train of at least 2,000, maybe 3,000 cars rolled by. Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, woo-whoo and on and on. And on. By now our laughter was not only contagious but hysterically out of control.

We laughed often, but that one took the cake for all time. And we had more adventures than time here allows. And we always talked. We talked of God, country and family. Always family.

We all know what a multi-dimensional person Robert was, but he could be summed up in a single term: integrity. His moral compass pointed one direction – straight up – and nobody questioned his integrity.

My only regret is not knowing Robert, Beth, Jackie and their entire family — sooner. But I treasure the years we had. You see he was the kind of fella that if God had come along and said “I want to send a guy into your life who will become your best friend, one with whom you can share your faith and your love of the open road, one with whom you can be totally comfortable —  but here’s the deal, you can only have him for about six years because after that, I’ll need a little better class of Italian biker up here” — would I have taken the deal?

You bet I would. God speed, Vogey. May your engine stay in tune with that throb of the motor and gentle purr of the exhaust with the wind always at your back and the sun on your face, as you wind along God’s highway.

The obituary:

Robert Voglino

May 19, 1947 – February 12, 2009
Robert Voglino, 61, of Kingsland, went home to be with God on Thursday, February 12, 2009. He passed away at home surrounded by his family, after a courageous battle with brain cancer.
Robert was born May 19, 1947 in Hamilton, Texas to Jackie and Albert “Shorty” Voglino. He grew up in Odessa, graduated from Permian High School in 1965, and from Howard Payne University in 1970. There he met Beth Gardner, his wife to be for 38 years. The couple moved to Ft. Worth, Texas where Robert attended Southwestern Theological Seminary.
In 1972 Robert joined the U. S. Air Force and served in Big Spring, Texas. He remained in the Air Force reserves, retiring with the rank of 1st Lieutenant in 1982. Robert, Beth and their family remained in West Texas moving to Kingsland in 1985, to enjoy living in the Texas Hill Country.
Robert enjoyed a successful career in sales, and retired in 2000 from Central Transportation in Austin as a moving consultant. He joined the Century 21 Real Estate team in Kingsland, building a clientele until his illness. Robert was a charter member of the Daybreak Rotary Club of Marble Falls.
He is survived by his wife, Beth Voglino; daughters: April Burney and husband Brian; Annah Jimenez and husband Anthony; Esther McCormick and husband David; granddaughter Avah Jimenez; mother Jackie Voglino; brother Richard Voglino; sisters Toni Freels, Roslyn Voglino; many uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, and numerous friends.
Robert lived his life fully and deeply. He enjoyed a personal relationship with God and shared this with many others. He loved spending time with his family. In a recent prayer he thanked God saying he was a “blessed man, more than [he] could possibly have dreamed.”
God gave Robert a beautiful singing voice. He sang with wonderful friends and groups throughout his life, the first being the Sherwood Singers of Odessa, the final one being the Hill Country Blenders.
Robert impacted many lives throughout his journey on earth. His passion for life, his steady personal strength, his ability to be a true friend, his being the light in his wife’s eyes, and his love, guidance and faith as a dad, will all be greatly missed.