Lee Coleman; 1953 – 2017
It has to start with the Hiram/Ruby Hilliard clan from the Winston/Kathleen area of Florida, near Lakeland. A railroad family, Lee’s mom (Elsie) and my own (Marie) were two of the eight children (Irene, Eva, Ester, “Buddy,” Jack, Bob, Marie, and Elsie). This cast was full of charactesr; good southern food, hard love, and heartfelt laughs; kinda like M&M’s, hard on the outside but really soft and good on the inside.
The families gathered almost every year for at least one holiday – ‘packs’ of kids would scamper through the grandparents home ‘slamming‘ the screen door on each pass; driving poor old HP nuts. On those visits we shattered every semblance of peace and stillness that they had worked so hard to enjoy.. As too we are now learning as grand-parents ourselves; ‘LOVE’ to see them come; love to see them go.”
For us; they are the most wonderful memories in the best of this families cycle.
Being an air-force brat Lee’s family traveled more than a lot – we envied them for their travels, so when they did make the reunions – we ran as wildly through the orange groves as we did my grandparents home. With a new electric fence in the neighborhood we lured unsuspecting cousins into range – was more than a lot of excitement for our simple bunch.
Being close in age, Lee and I lost close contact through the years, yet having many things in common and parents to keep us informed; we were separate but acutely aware of each others whereabouts.
Through the years; funerals of those wonderful Aunts and Uncles added up; Lee made more than I and was always there when I did show
In the year 2000 Lee and his family visited our home in NC, wife Sandy, Westley, AAron and Lauren. We had so much in common. We spent a few days catching up on the years, extended family, and then out of kindness he left me a really nice leather jacket – he cared.
After that and from time to time, Lee would surprise me with a call out of nowhere “happy birthday Tom” – I loved, and very much appreciated it.
Facebook arrived providing an easier avenue for us to reconnect even visiting with Lee several times over the past ten years; he shared his life with me. While visiting, we walked a mile or so to the beach at Jupiter stopping at the local thrift-stores along the way. Lee shared stories of that extended family – increasing the admiration that I hold for Sandy. We joked about the past while skipping through the many interests and traits that we shared.
His occupation was aircraft interiors, and he was good at it – I suppose some of that hard shell of the Hilliards and Colemans had made him really good at what he did; quality control. On one visit I rode along to Miami to inspect some aircraft seats for a customer – he was really tough on those guys finding things that I would have never spotted. Lee was direct and “picky” for others to meet the expectations – great for his employer.
We were tough on our kids too. Our fathers were are part of the ‘tough-love’ generation; instilling within us not to be “cry baby’s,” observe before speaking, and to do as told – without question. We were diligent employees and workers – for we expected to work our entire life – we were expected to exceed..
Well, we did the best we could with those; as grandparents we learned that ‘tough-love’ was easier to receive than to give; grandchildren easily became the soft-spot in our lives.
Lee came home early from his 6-month “project” in Texas, with throat cancer. There’s no easier way to say it – no way around it. Over the past year he and I communicated through text and private messages; his battle was real. Lee; a “dreadful disease that I wouldn’t wish on anyone” (5/10/2017)
Lee lost that battle a month after turning 64, – in looking at a few of his last photos – I could see that Lee took his circumstance like a man. In my cousins eyes, I could sense a certain bitterness (comes from our family); who wouldn’t hate the burden this ‘dreaded disease’ puts on a family?
He wanted so much more time with his family.
One day I’m going to cry me a river, and its going to flow like the Mississippi. My lifelong buddy and cousin, Lee Coleman; will be a large part of that current of tears.
The gathering was simple, where Lee and I had once sat discussing family and extended family – this family mingled; they were each remarkable.
Above are some of the original Hilliard links, Lees immediate family had multiple links – and it was really great to meet those that we hadn’t before – family from afar.
I understand why Lee was so proud of each…..
I didn’t take alot of pictures; I think I was somewhat in a daze with how fast the past year had come – and left this void.
If your wondering where Lee went afterward; well, I think that he rode home with each of us.
He, my wife Kim and I took a lackadaisical ride up A1A, stopping along the way to watch some guy put-in for a day of fishing with his spaniel
stopped to loot a thrift store or two
and even returned to the Castillo de San Marcos fort in St Augustine…….
I think Lee’s presence reminded me that it’s not only years that pass along the way – so make time for those of your past. In Savannah we stopped and visited with a friend I hadn’t seen in 42 years, great visit – seeing ole buddies helps…
Lees presence made it home with me too, where I took him straight to the garage to see Dad’s old pickup
and even though it was a Ford I think there was common ground to be found;
Last May Lee also told me “I’m going to fix up a van to travel… would love to see the lake house.”
Yep, losing those ‘links’ to our past – is the worst part of growing up.