My family celebrated life and death last weekend.
While we were gathering to visit with Erica and Chris who were in from Seattle, we learned of the death of the last standing member of my mother’s generation.
“Buster died,” my brother told me as he put down his phone. We didn’t know he’d been ill, but then the call wasn’t terribly shocking.
Herb “Buster” Brown was 91. He lived with diabetes much of his adult life but made it a point to eat right and exercise. In fact, his legs bothered him too, but that didn’t keep him from golfing into his 80s. Even met his partner, Helen, at the golf course.
My mom, Gert Brown, was two when her cousin Buster was born in 1920. They grew up together in Whiting, Indiana. She told me his real name was Herb, same as his dad, and that his nickname came from the 1902 comic book character turned radio and TV star. (I was in Buster Brown shoes in the 50s, so having a relative by the same name gave him celebrity status.) When they were in high school, Buster introduced his cousin-sister Gertie to a fellow usher at The Hoosier Theatre, Frank Sandrick.
Over the years, we would get to see “Uncle” Buster at family gatherings. He was fun and laughed easily, just like Uncle Herb, Aunt Jewel and Buster’s half-brother, Bob. It was a holiday anytime we got together.
In truth, I was closer to Bob. He moved to Los Angeles in the ’60s and had a successful career insuring – as I recall – marine products. He was single, living the bachelor’s life and, frankly, I just lucked out because, he sort of adopted me.
When I turned 16, Bob bought my first airplane ticket and I flew to LA. He paid much of my college tuition, sent letters and postcards while I was at Ball State. Later, when business took me to LA, he’d treat me to dinner. When he retired and my career was booming, I’d treat him.
When Bob died unexpectedly in 1996, Buster agreed to let me fly with him and his son to Pasadena to visit Bob in his final hour and take care of his estate. That’s when I really got to know Herb Buster Brown.
Over meals and while clearing out closets, he told me the two brothers never had a cross word. I learned Buster had been in the Navy. He was stationed in the Pacific during World War II and won the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for saving shipmates. I will always be grateful for that time with Buster.
After that, I made a point of staying in touch. For awhile, Buster and Helen were just up Naperville Road, and I took golf lessons at Arrowhead where he was a starter, then a ranger. After I moved to New Mexico, I’d see him once a year or so while visiting my sister. Several times Pat and I loaded up on tollway coins and made the trek from Crown Point to Wheaton to have lunch with them.
Our last luncheon was in July 15, 2010. I taped Buster talking about his awards. We stayed in touch with cards and calls but it was getting harder to talk to Buster on the phone due to his hearing aids and my middle-pitch female voice.
We were planning another lunch over the holidays, and I wasn’t surprised when Helen said they couldn’t do it on such and such a day “because they already had plans.” We vowed to get together after the holidays, but it was not meant to be.
This weekend, while Buster and Bob Brown are golfing or fishing or laughing somewhere in the cosmic soup, Buster’s many friends and what’s left of his family will gather at Arrowhead to remember a man who loved life and made friends easily. So-long, Buster. We already miss you.