Monday morning was rainy and busy in Waco. Despite the weather and the press of business, my mind was 180 miles south at a church I have never visited. In San Antonio’s Episcopal Church of the Reconciliation, people gathered to celebrate the life of Bud Storrs, who had died after almost ninety-two productive years in our world. Bud and his beautiful wife Betty were my parents’ good friends. It is a testament to Bud’s young-at-heart mindset that I always viewed him as a contemporary of my dad, who was fourteen years younger and, in many ways, of myself. I will stop short of giving my own age.
For me, the ability to bridge a large gap in years was evidence of Bud’s special genius. A relaxed manner, a quick sense of humor and most of all, a sincere interest in the people in his life made Bud everybody’s friend. We pay way too much attention to our tribal status these days. Our relationships result almost exclusively from our age, race, religion, economic status and/ or political point of view. Bud would have none of that and in fact, I doubt those things ever crossed his mind when he talked to someone. People were Bud’s treasure and he collected quite a bit of it, in all shapes and colors.
That treasure was on display every Christmas Eve for fifty years at the Storrs’ family open house. Before or in between church services, people from all over San Antonio would drop in for a quick drink, a tasty snack and a hearty laugh. Christmas has always meant one thing to me, specifically, that in some way God is with us on this earth; that we do not have to face life alone. What better witness to that sentiment than to gather people close to you to celebrate? When M’Lissa and I emigrated to Dallas, we re-enacted the Storrs’ open house, moving the date up by a day. It is among the favorite things we have done as a family and I have Bud to thank for that.
Beyond conversation, however, Bud’s greatest gift to me came from hours spent on the golf course. Volumes have been written about golf as a gentleman’s game and the lessons it can teach. While true, that tack is not the one I am taking, because I am sure the result would have been the same if we had been fishing or woodworking. All I know is that as an adolescent I spent 4-5 hours many Saturday mornings playing golf with Dad, Bud and a fourth, usually at one of San Antonio’s military courses. It was the 4-5 hours, not the golf that was important.
More than a girl, a car or a fortune, what a teenage boy wants most of all is to be a man. You figure out how to do that by watching the men in your life. You know you have made it when you can be comfortable in the company of those men. For those without good role models, the road can be rocky and the results predictable. If you who know my Dad, you know I won the lottery in that department, but being comfortable in Dad’s presence was something of a cheat. He was pre-disposed in my direction and I was at least smart enough to recognize that tendency. So it was important to earn “independent verification.”
As much as anybody outside my family, Bud gave that sense of adulthood to me. Nowhere near his equal on the golf course, Bud devised the “bingo-bango-bunco” game in which quarter bets were won by being first on the green, closest to the pin and first in the hole based on the order of play. More often than not, luck was as important as skill and I could compete. Bud would praise my occasional brilliance to the heavens and lament my more usual goofs with stories of his own bad luck. But in his own gentle manner he also expected play by the rules, courtesy to others on the course and your best effort At the end of the round, quarters and laughs were exchanged; I drove home with Dad sitting a little taller.
That was the Bud Storrs I knew, equal parts gentle and generous. The Bud Storrs I would have loved to have met was the one only slightly older than the teenage me. The Bud Storrs who joined the Army Air Corps as soon as he turned eighteen and shortly thereafter found himself flying B-17s over Europe in a world gone mad. The B-17 was a magnificent machine based on one characteristic. The plane was built to be durable. Not durable in the sense that its engines and propellers would rotate forever. Instead, durable in the sense that the plane took more than one enemy fusillade to bring it down. While initially that trait seems reassuring, there is a corollary: the generals who deployed young men like Bud in these craft expected them “to stay in the fight” as bombs and bullets flew. Bud stayed the course despite the danger to his own life and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Meaning he was a hero to more people than just me.
Bud would talk about the Air Force with reverence, but never about himself. For all his abilities as a story teller, the details of his heroism were never a topic. Of course, that absence only made the man bigger. I could not be there on Monday, but come Christmas or the next time I tee it up, Bud will be there, with a laugh, a smile and a life lesson.