Thursday, January 8, 2009
Close to Nowhere
I promised Mr. Fred many times, that when he passed away, I was going to write a really mushy column about him. We also promised him that we’d run one of those mushy, remembrance ads.
He always promised to come back and haunt us if we did!
Fred DeBardeleben passed away Sunday night, January 4, 2009. He would have been 77 on February 21.
Now that the time has come to write Mr. Fred’s “mushy” column, I’m having lots of problems. Mainly, it’s hard to write without crying. And man, he would have hated any of us to cry!
Mr. Fred preferred to be called Fred Dee -- not many people could pronounce his last name, let alone spell it. He was vastly proud of his German heritage and German name.
Irene Strickland at Jennie’s Flowers & Gifts remarked several times Monday morning while hanging a wreath on our front door that Mr. Fred was a legend in the community, having owned and operated Ben Franklin for years.
Many people have talked about his astute business acumen and his renown throughout Holly Springs. And he was really, really intelligent! He could add rate charges and changes in his head faster than I could write them down, while attempting to quote prices over the phone.
He’d often reminisce up here about “the good ole days” -- tallying votes on the big board outside on the Courthouse lawn during elections, with many friends who had since passed away was one of his favorites.
Before Graham Miller retired, Mr. Fred would go over to Miller’s Store to get the ad for that week. The two were strong friends and the clerks in the store would laugh while telling us that Graham would accuse Mr. Fred of mumbling and Mr. Fred would accuse Graham of being deaf. Both at top volume! The two enjoyed arguing with each other for many years.
I hope that others also knew the Mr. Fred that we knew and loved here at The South Reporter.
We often called him “our grouchy old man” and he’d laugh at us.
When a former news writer, Holly Wright, first came to The South Reporter, she asked me if Mr. Fred was really as grumpy as he seemed. I assured her he was and then, when he was sure to hear me, I told her that if you scratched the surface of that grumpy old man, underneath you’d find an even grumpier old man.
He threw his head back and laughed out loud at that one. And, he assured Holly that it was absolutely true!
He complained endlessly about many things here at the office, yet, he was always here and always willing to go that extra mile to make our jobs easier.
Mr. Fred disdained technology and computers, yet he became a strong advocate of email when lawyers began to email us legal notices and we no longer had to sit and proofread them together at the computer. He even learned our email address, so he could pass it out to lawyers, etc.
The Ben Franklin store opened in Holly Springs around 26 years ago. Barbara, who does the ads here, remembers him coming to the office and bringing all the little cut-outs of items to use in the ad. She often reminded him of how nitpicky he was about his ads.
As an ad salesman, he was just as nitpicky about his customers’ ads and everything thing else up here.
Most of us here at the office felt like he was our personal grandfather, and I guess, really, he was The South Reporter family’s grandfather figure.
As often as he grumped at us, we were all confident of the fact that he cared deeply about us. As hard as he tried to bury his emotions, every once in a while, you’d catch a glimpse of his true feelings and be surprised.
Sometimes, when it was slow here, we’d sit and talk about the old days and he’d tell us about his family and their growing up.
He often said that one of his biggest regrets was not spending more time with his family instead of working so much and so hard to get “material things.”
I used to tell him that he should tell his children -- I think, in the past few years, he did that. I hope so -- they need to know, especially now, that he loved them very much.
Mr. Fred loved good food also and for many, many years, prime rib was his favorite. We cooked him a prime rib for his birthday one year -- and while he always complained about birthday lunches, he never seemed to mind when we cooked for him. Any meat and potatoes dish was just fine! Add a German chocolate cake and he was a happy man.
For his 70th birthday, The South Reporter editor Barry took all of us to The Equestrian restaurant in Germantown. It was a good night, with much merriment and good food.
One of his favorite pastimes was picking on us and he delighted in teasing Beth about sneezing. He also enjoyed commiserating with my son Kris about Kris’s nagging mother and just generally ragging all of us. Because he loved us.
Mr. Fred’s health had not been great for several years before he retired and being the stubborn old man that he was, doctor’s visits were not the norm. After he retired, apparently doctor’s visits became even rarer -- without us nagging him to go, I suspect.
The last time I saw him, he was sitting in his chair in his living room, telling me I would not go over his head and haul him off to the hospital against his will. He was getting better and his daughter Julie would be there tomorrow and to leave his daughter Suzanne alone as she was sick!
After a brief telephone discussion with Barbara and the decision that we really couldn’t go “over his head” I fetched and carried for him a few minutes and we talked a few minutes more. Then, I went outside and called his daughter Julie, who, it turned out, had not been planning on coming Friday as he’d said. Suzanne really was sick though.
I think one of my many good memories of Mr. Fred will be of him chewing me out that day from his chair.
Frail, thin and breathless with pneumonia, he managed once again to put all his German authority and dignity into those orders. And, as he asked me to fix him an iced Coke and bring him a prescription bottle off the dining room table, I could hear that he loved me enough to be sure I’d fix his ice and Coke exactly the way he wanted it, even though he had just chewed me out.
Auf Wiedersehen Mr. Fred.
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