I just lost two of my best friends, Paul Filer and “Willy the Wonderdog”. My best friend and my good old dog gone on the same weekend. I felt like I was living in a country western song.
My friend Paul Filer died unexpectedly on Sunday, May 2, 2010, in the presence of his beloved wife Vel, my wife Terry, and close friends, shortly after receiving the Last Rites of the Church.
Paul was a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a 19-year-old boson’s mate on the destroyer Aylwin, he survived the Japanese attack and went on to fight World War II from its first shot to its last.
Paul was a wonderful singer, and as a youth sang with Hoagie Carmichael’s band. Possessing a great Irish tenor voice, his favorite song was “Danny Boy”, and nobody sang it better.
After the War, Paul was an executive with the Pepsi-Cola company in California. Paul had to retire when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which eventually cost him his eyesight. With the onset of his blindness, Paul and his lovely wife Vel moved to Aitkin, Minnesota, where they purchased the Farm Island store. There they befriended a young dentist, Bill E. Stein, and his family, and we have been friends ever since.
Paul was a scratch golfer in his day, and even when his eyesight was failing, we used to play the Cuyuna Country Club, the “Poor Man’s Interlachen”. All you had to do was line Paul up, tell him the distance, and his grooved swing would come through. When Paul was on the green, you would tap the cup with the flag and Paul would figure out the speed and distance. Once, on the third hole of Cuyuna, Paul sank a curving 30-foot putt. His neighbor, Ken Hakes, was putting out on the adjoining fifth hole. Looking on in amazement at the 30-footer, Ken said, “Paul, is that you?”
Paul had a weekly golf match with a couple of the local lawyers. They always played late and were often still on the course after sunset - which was a great advantage to Paul. Heck, I’d pick him over Tiger Woods in a midnight match under a cloudy sky. Well, these two barristers figured out that if Paul was ahead in the money, all you had to do was point him a little offline. Oh, well.
Paul was an excellent fisherman, too. Twenty-nine years ago, we made a trip to Ralph Plaisted’s arctic fishing camp in far northern Saskatchewan. Paul, at the time almost totally blind, hooked and landed a 20-pound lake trout. It was a joy to watch him play the fish; it was like Itzhak Perlman playing his Stradivarius.
It was always so much fun to go out to dinner with Paul and Vel. We would never fail to pick a place where there was live music. Invariably we would coax Paul into singing “Danny Boy”. As Paul told me long ago, “The final verse will tear your heart out!” Well, here goes:
And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.
And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me
I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
Paul would have been ninety this August.
Any given day never fails to remind us of time passing as well as time passed. Even as we still have the great living Americans of Paul’s generation with us, the oncoming vast hoard of “Baby Boomers” are fast approaching their turn.
Last issue we had a wonderful article by Dr. Chris Carroll about providing dental care for babies. One technique for treating the very young was to have the dentist sit knee to knee with mom and have the baby on her lap. A few weeks ago our office received a frantic call from some elderly friends whose mother/mother-in-law was suffering from a bad toothache. Mom was approaching her hundredth birthday. I didn’t know what I could do, but we had to do something. The dear lady could not be transferred to the dental chair, so sitting knee to knee, my chair to her wheelchair, and with the reassuring presence of her children, we were able to extract the two offending teeth. That was a good day.
As I enter into my senior years, it is quite an experience to see the folks who were in the older golf foursomes at Cuyuna - the school teachers, the politicians, just all of that older generation - age with various degrees of success. Some have died, some are in assisted living, and some are suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Yet there are a handful of centenarians still on their own, still revered by their families, still going bowling, playing cards, and tending their gardens. What a joy and honor to take the time to sit and visit with them when they come in for their dental appointments. What fun and what a challenge it is to invent and “tailor-make” new treatments and restorations just to suit their state of life. Composites and bonding agents are wonderful things.
Three weeks ago I was making flight reservations for the ADA Annual Session in Orlando. While giving all the information to the ticket agent, the time came to divulge my date of birth. When I did, the agent exclaimed, “Why, you sound so young!” I was flattered, but resisted the urge to brag: “Yah, and I’ve still got pimples, too!”
*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minnesota, AitkinDent@AOL.com