I received the message late in the afternoon. A copy boy handed me a piece of paper with a phone number and note saying, “ Please Call”.
I didn't recognize the number but as soon as I heard the voice on the other end, I recognized the voice of Carol the wife of my friend Leland Moore. Carol said that she had bad news. Earlier that morning Leland had passed away. He was 55.
Leland was a real contradiction. He was a big black man who seemed to have a scowl permanently fixed on his face and at nearly 300 pounds, his size alone could be intimidating. But he was a gentle teddy bear. He could be brought to near tears by a sappy movie or someone's sad story.
In 1968 Leland graduated from highschool in his home town of Tonawanda, New York, jumped on a bus and headed to Buffalo where he walked into a Marine Corp recruiting office and enlisted.
After Parris Island it was off to Vietnam. He saw a lot there. And when he came home he had changed. I remember he told me that he had seen enough suffering to last a lifetime and didn't want to be the cause of any himself.
“I would like to make people smile. “ he said. “I'd want folks to smile ....... hell, even at my own funeral”.
So my friend Leland was gone. I drove down to Tonawanda and directly to the funeral chapel. Carol met me as I walked in. We hugged, then she took me aside and informed me that her husband had left instructions as to his funeral arrangements. She said reather cryptically that she had had a bit of a problem with the funeral director.
“Well,” she said, “ you go on in.”
I was a bit confused as I walked into the small viewing room. My friend looked pretty well the same as when I had last seen him 4 years ago. Perhaps his hair had a little more gray. Face a mite thinner. I looked down and understood what Carol had been trying to tell me.
Around his neck he wore a bright yellow emblazoned with little smiling faces.
As I left the room I realized that Leland had made good on his word. I was smiling.