The Roanoker - May/June 2015 - 12
FROM THE EDITOR
The Last Man on Earth
Yes, a man can live to be 98 years old, but not often carrying the same convictions
and approaches to life he held in elementary school.
MY FATHER DIED EARLIER THIS YEAR,
at age 98, having lived in at least parts of 100
The world changed immensely over that
time. He did not. Years ago, I charged him
with being a 19th-century man trapped in the
20th century. He repeated this with some pride
whenever the opportunity came up, for the rest
of the 20th and into the 21st century.
He was a German man. Born there, and remaining deeply loyal to his tribe despite his view
that nation states are a foolish, destructive thing.
His ladyfriend of 30 years was completely tolerant of his late-life crush on German Chancellor
Angela Merkel. And to the end, more than nine
decades removed from his homeland, his German
was as fluent and without-accent as his English.
He was, perhaps above all, a student. He
spoke often of his favorite childhood teachers
- by name - and reveled in talking about the
The late Walter Rheinheimer's warm smile, at
Thanksgiving 2014, belies his serious mein.
12 MAY/JUNE 2015
He was, perhaps above all, a student. He
reveled in talking about the recognitions and
responsibilities that came his way by virtue of
being the very best pupil one could be.
recognitions and responsibilities that came his
way by virtue of being the very best pupil one
His sons, grandsons and his great-grandsons
after them all fell victim to some measure of his
unrelenting conviction that the best thing you
could do in life was make straight A's. And when
an elementary boy came to him to brag about all
A's and one B, the first reaction was inevitably:
"Hrrumph, what was the B in?" Followed by a
request to see the books and study materials
and then the detailed critique that inevitably
found their content lacking in rigor, thoroughness and focus, as if the little student had created
His own student status was maintained most
noticeably by his lifelong practice of not just
reading scholarly books on, most often, politics and international relations, but also taking
handwritten notes as he went, in tiny, precise
lettering, complete with the page number to the
left of the entry.
I asked him one day, on a visit during the
last months of his life, if he was going to turn
those notes in to the teacher or just keep them
for himself. The immediate smile revealed his
pride as he replied, with the slightest hint of
ruefulness, that he was going to just keep them
Perhaps his other strongest other-century
trait was frugality. He never missed an opportunity to remind that, "I've paid cash for everything I've ever bought - cars, houses, you name
it. You don't have it, you save up until you do!"
Anyone who operated otherwise carried a tint
of the wastrel.
It was a measure of both his quest to squeeze
every nickel until it turned into a dime and of
the survival of his full intellect to the end and
that he undertook daily management of his
stock portfolio, which was built on the salary of
a high school teacher who had retired at age 60.
His primary hobbies both carried at least a
hint of the profit motive as well. As the possessor of nearly every stamp issued by the United
States for several decades, he sat on a collection worth far more than its proverbial weight in
gold. And he kept bees for more than 30 years,
during many of those years moving as many as
40 hives in and out of orchards during the night,
hired by growers for pollination.
It was another measure of his unreachable
standards that his glee over one of the adult
grandsons finally getting his own backyard hive
was immediately compromised by the facts that
the young man transported the hive in a manner
not consistent with his own practices, and that
the new beekeeper used a veil and a smoker
instead of wading in bare as his grandfather had
for all his beekeeping life.
The last man on earth has left us. We mourn,
those of us left behind, and deeply so, but not
without the slight temptation to set aside, if only
for a moment, the expectations only he had,
and only he had the unquestioned conviction
to relentlessly impose.
Farewell, Walter Rheinheimer.