By Tom Burns
On Dec. 1, 1991, my life changed forever when my dad, at the not so old age of 55, passed away from heart disease.
I know that I am not the only person ever to lose a parent, and while my dad was young, I have seen much sadder and more tragic events affect people I know. Nevertheless I miss my dad terribly, and every day there is a reminder of him, something that pulls him from the past and into my current consciousness.
While most are nice memories, some connections come without warning, and pass before you know it.
For example, my dad loved Bob Newhart, and as a child I could recite, word for word, the “driving instructor” routine from the “Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart” album. A few years back (2011), Newhart was performing at UB so my wife and I went to the show. Even at 81 years old he was great, telling stories of his life and career. And to my delight he finished with the “driving instructor.” I loved it, and throughout the show I was reminded of my father. However, when Mr. Newhart walked off stage, I thought, "There goes a piece of my dad I will most likely never experience again."
It happened again this summer when I was selling photography at a local art show. A gentleman walked into my booth and asked me a couple of friendly questions, and followed those with, “I worked with your dad at the post office.”
It’s amazing what those simple words do to me. While I probably didn’t show it on the outside, I was happy, sad, and felt empty and full at the same time. It would have been weird, but part of me wanted to hug this gentleman, knowing that he knew my father.
It happened again in October when I read Sean Kirst’s piece about the naming of the Bisons ballpark as Sahlen Field. The story began with “Ted Wyatt, in one sentence…” and went on from there. I scanned the article quickly, and there — I found it, “Wyatt, who worked both for the U.S. Postal Service…” My dad used to speak often of his postal colleague Teddy Wyatt. Another connection.
“Tom, yes I did work with your father, and I heard all the stories about you and your brothers and sisters,” Mr. Wyatt said excitedly on the phone after my brief and probably awkward introduction.
“How is your mother doing?” was his first question, in a genuine and caring tone. He sounded equally saddened when I told him of her passing 10 years ago.
I then filled him in on my two brothers and two sisters, and our lives. He seemed to be listening intently, and again, his genuine concern for each of us came through easily during the phone conversation. It was clear to see why my father had struck up such a good working friendship with Teddy Wyatt.
We chatted about nothing and it felt like everything. He told me he had retired from the post office in April 1991 and moved to Virginia, eight months before my father’s passing. He then told me stories of watching Luke Easter and the Buffalo Bisons, the reason he was mentioned in the initial Kirst newspaper story.
When I told him coincidentally that I was one of the PA announcers for the Bisons, he said “I am going to come to Buffalo, go to a Bisons game, and listen for the announcer to introduce the players and say, 'Tat’s Jim Burns’ son.' ”
I certainly hope he does.
Tom Burns is a communications professional at Niagara University and public address announcer for the Buffalo Bisons.