Adam Bellow said the greatest benefit of writing was personal, and I was reminded of this when I went to see my good friend Mark Croghan not long ago. I took my sons and met Mark at Val’s Burgers in Hayward where I grew up.
Val’s is one of the oldest and finest hamburger institutions in the East Bay, a place with pictures of hot rods and Little League teams on the walls, a place that only takes cash or checks—no credit or debit cards. Mark, Hank and I had Mama Burgers, Gabe had a hot dog, we all shared fries and onion rings, and the boys and I drank shakes made with Berkeley Farms ice cream and served in old-fashioned soda fountain silver canisters. Afterward Mark snapped a picture of me and the boys standing under the parking lot sign at Val’s, a place I had been to many times as a boy. The day filled me up, physically and emotionally.
While we were talking Mark said that someone had told him that Bill Evers had died and that his obit was in that day’s Daily Review. He said he didn’t know Bill very well and wondered if I did. Sure, I said. Good guy. Played football with him, rode on the back of his motorcycle many times, just flying down Crow Canyon Road on our way to a party or nowhere in particular.
On my way out of town I stopped and picked up a paper to see his death notice. After high school Bill had joined the Navy and after finishing his hitch in the service he moved to Spokane, where he got married and had a family. That was also where he died, of a sudden heart attack, at age fifty-five.
When I got home I emailed some friends who also knew Bill from high school and without any prompting from me, they responded with their memories. I then compiled and edited what we all said, and sent it in as a letter to the Review. It isn’t much of a sendoff for a man who deserved more, but it was something anyhow and it made me feel good to do it. Here’s what we said about Bill:
Dear Editor: Being four guys who knew Bill Evers, we were saddened to hear about his death and read his obituary in the Daily Review. Bill may have lived part of his life in Washington state, but he was a Hayward guy through and through. He grew up here, went to school at Markham, Bret Harte and Hayward High, and had East Bay grease in his veins. Here are four short memories of him:
Max Lateiner: “Bill had a ‘no holds barred’ personality. I remember once he had a party at his parents’ house off East Avenue and afterwards I got on the back of his Yamaha or Triumph motorcycle. He drove so fast that I was sure I was going to die.”
Kevin Nelson: “That’s one of the things I remember about him too. Riding on the back of his motorcycle on Crow Canyon Road and to this day I am grateful he didn’t crash and kill us both. He played linebacker on the HHS football team and for a guy who loved to hit, he was an awfully sweet guy. He loved the blues and played a mean harmonica.”
Steve Bragonier: “Bill’s musical interests actually started before the harmonica. He and I were in the Markham Elementary School band sitting side by side in the 6th grade blowing a mean trombone. We were good!”
Bob Newlon: “I remember Bill as the original stud. As tough as nails. Steve Bragonier and I sometimes played tackle football with him and a buddy of his at the Hayward High football field on rainy Saturday afternoons. We’d choose the muddiest area and play all afternoon. Bill played the hardest and was always ready for more. Trudging off the field after one long afternoon, Bill finally looked whipped. Cockily I said to him I bet he couldn’t run around the track without stopping. Bill laughed and told me to put a buck down and he’d do it ten times! Damn if the guy didn’t take my buck. That was the last time I bet against him.”
Sincerely, Max Lateiner, Kevin Nelson, Steve Bragonier and Bob Newlon