THE PAINTER
by Mike Peters

There are some in our family who reside outside the boundaries of Webster's traditional definition.  They are not blood kin.  They do not share physical traits or medical  tendencies.  Some are adopted. Some have the word "step" preceding their  relationship. Dick is not part of my family tree, but he definitely was family.

I wasn't there when Dick rolled his 300 game, but we talked about it.  He said he never was as nervous as he was in that 10th frame. His hands were shaking.  His palms were sweating.  The bowling alley was completely quiet.  Everyone was huddled around his pair of lanes to witness one man's quest for perfection.  While Dick would be the first to tell you that he was not perfect, on that  night he was. And in a lot of ways, he may have been as close to it as anyone I've ever known.

By trade, he painted houses.  He loved the macho movies of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and always watched Gunsmoke on TV. That was the only show that he would watch instead of a sporting event.  We once debated the merits of Marshall Dillon's sidekicks. Do you prefer Chester or Festus?

He drove a '65 Ford Falcon, enjoyed fishing and was a Deacon and Sunday School Teacher in the Baptist Church.  He had "Popeye" forearms, and wore wire-rimmed glasses.  Dick was a friend and a big brother.  He was a father figure, to a boy being raised by a widowed mother.  We never talked about it, but I think he knew how I felt.

He was the cavalry when I needed help.  I remember an incident that occurred during the blizzard of 1978.  Dick left his warm home, braved the deep snow and subzero weather, and drove across town to Ohio State University, where I sat stranded, the victim of my rusting 1972 Chevy Vega's dead battery.

He was a student of sports history.  Did we know that home run hitter Mickey Mantle, before all the injuries, was the fastest man in baseball?   At one picnic, he showed us the "peek-a-boo" batting stance used by Stan "the Man" Musial and then preceded to pound a single into right field.  Before cigarettes, it would have been a double.

He hung out at a bar, but didn't drink, except for the occasional brandy or eggnog around the holidays. The bar was just where he went after work, played euchre according to Hoyle and drank black coffee with his friends.  My favorite memory of Dick focuses on a Monday night.  You would arrive at the house around 7-7:30.  Didn't need to knock.  Walk on in.  You were family.  Take off your coat and sit down to a bowl of Dick's chili.  OK, two bowls.  After that, you retired to the living room to watch Monday Night Football.  There was the candor of Cosell, the wit of Meredith and the charm of Gifford.  It didn't matter who was playing.  This was the event.  This was the game of the week.

Uncle Ron and Aunt Alfreda would drive in from Dayton.  Alfreda was sister to Dick's wife Joan.  Dick's friend, Larry Hall, walked from down the street.  Another friend, Ted Campbell, came straight from work.   There were Dick's nephews,  Bill and Tom Goslee.  There were Dick's sons, Vance, Kent, Craig and Troy. I was one of the boys from the neighborhood that came.  We often brought our dates and later our wives.

The women were welcome in the front room but more often played cards on the kitchen table and talked, usually about the men and how they disliked sports.  You were allowed to sit, stand or lay anywhere in the living room as long as you didn't block anyone's view.  The refrigerator was in-bounds and no penalty was called unless you grabbed the colby cheese.  It was for Dick's lunch.  You could get a little loud and slightly obnoxious.  But one thing you couldn't do, was sat in Dick's chair.

At or around halftime, Dick would fall asleep in his recliner.  We used to tease him about it.  Some of us even made side bets as to when it would happen.  "Who had 10:45 in the pool?" we joked.  He would just open his eyes, smile and nod off again. Sometimes he'd turn over and ask if the score had changed.  We'd drape an afghan over him and shake our heads.  I often wondered how someone could fall asleep during such an exciting game and amid the noise.  That baffled me.  Now I think I understand.

Here was this man, surrounded by people he loved.  To him, the comfort of this was more soothing than a glass of warm milk.  He was paying us the ultimate compliment, even though we didn't know it at the time.  We were members of his inner circle and he felt at ease around us.  He could be himself among family.

Unfortunately, Richard T. "Dick" Burris and I do not share common ancestry.   Sadly, he died some 8 years ago. He was the father of my best friend, Vance Burris.  I was best man at Vance's wedding and Vance returned the favor a few years later.  Even though we weren't related, Dick was the first person I called when my daughters were born.  When I needed to talk, he was the first person I approached.  A soft spoken, compassionate, religious man, I knew he'd steer me straight. In retrospect, his advice, while not always what I wanted to hear, was always sound.

His Sunday School students were younger men. I never met any of them. But, as one of his older students, I can tell you that his best lessons followed a bowl of spicy chili, came from a comfortable chair and were part of the gala that used to be Monday Night Football.  Somewhere along the way, the fellowship choreographed by Dick and influenced by his gentle demeanor gave way to lessons on friendship, loyalty, respect and unconditional love.

Seems Dick had this family thing figured out.

Sincerely,

Mike Peters
npeters102@aol.com
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