I lost my best pal two days ago.
My wife, Ethel Lyon, was my middle linebacker, and over our 53 years together, I came to believe that she was indestructible. She survived cancer and emphysema and 12 major surgeries. But always, she came back, and she was fighting to the end.
It all started in the darkroom of a newspaper building in Champaign, Ill., in the summer of 1964. She went to work as a technician there. I was a sportswriter. I asked her out on a date. She said no. I said to myself, “Try it again.” She said no. Finally, she took pity on this wretched wretch and said, “OK.”
I took her to a par-3 chip-and-putt course for our first date. She had never held a putter in her hands before. I was 4-under through five holes. She was singularly unimpressed. So I thought, Well, we’ll just teach this girl some lessons over what’s tough and what’s not. So I gave her the putter and said, “Try this one.” It was downhill, side-hill, a nasty sliding putt, and she ran the damn thing in. Then she flipped the putter to me and said on her way out, “What’s the big deal here?”
That was July. We got married around Thanksgiving, a crisp November day. The two of us stood before a minister and pledged to spend our lives together, us against the world. Daunting odds, indeed.
We traipsed back and forth through the Midwest for eight years. Then, in the summer of 1972, I told her, I won’t uproot us anymore. We’re going to work for the Inquirer in Philadelphia. Bright lights, big city, big time. And winners, nothing but winners.
The first year we were there, the Eagles went 2-11-1. The Flyers missed the playoffs on the last shot of the last game of the season. The Phillies conspired to lose 97 games. And the 76ers set what was then a record for ineptitude. They were the 73ers — 9-73.
I turned to her and said, “Good God, what have we gotten ourselves into?”
My roommate didn’t much care for sports. It probably was just as well. That way, I didn’t have to bring home my work with me. And she was always keeping me grounded. Always. The late evangelist Billy Graham spent 64 years of his marriage on the road, and his wife stayed home and kept the fires burning. Somebody asked her, “Did you ever think about divorce?” She said, “Divorce? No. Murder? Maybe.” My roommate would have understood.
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When we made our pledge to each other, they said it would never last. But it did, and we came to believe that you get out of marriage what you’re putting into it. A woman asked me the other day, “How long have you been married?” And I answered, “I can’t remember when I wasn’t, and that’s a good thing.”
It had a happy ending, of course, and that was mostly because of her efforts. She raised our two sons, Jim and John, and our family grew: a daughter-in-law, Sandy; our two grandsons, Evan and Joshua; and the beacon of our existence, our great-grandson, William Carl Lyon II, who just turned 4.
We had a lifetime together, and I still wish for more.
So for now, sweet lady, wait for me on the other side.