Forthwith that fall, The Illidge returned to teach his classes, to regale his colleagues with stories, to Booth with his buddies, to win and lose at cribbage; the Gospel of The Booth spread throughout the land. Even Sweet Pea and son Andy drove down to indulge in The Illidge's redoubt.
Little did they know that Boothing would change drastically within two years.
That fall, The Illidge, who had been suffering from mild shingles even before the heart problems, due to a weakened immune system, encountered another foe as the leukemia worsened. His shingles became permanent, a painful disease known as post-hepatic neuralgia. It attacked him ferociously and kept him awake at night, and hurting in the daytime. Every cure was tried, from medical to hypnotism to "blue stuff." Nothing worked.
Yeah though, The Illidge would not complain, though he wore loose clothes and winced often. If you heard him lecturing in the classrooms, with vim and vigor, you would not of know of what vicissitudes and vagaries were vexing him. Some days were better than others, and some were worse than others. Sitting in the Queen Bee's nest early in the mornings with The Clark, or later in the day, he'd have his right hand up under the left armpit, almost constantly, trying to ease the pain. In the classrooms, he always stood, and most students never knew how much he hurt, his hand under his arm.
One medicine did seem to help..."Let's Booth" today," The Clark would say, about 11 in the morning.
"When? 4?" The Illidge would answer, a twinkle back in his eyes.
But by 3 p.m. The Clark needed respite, and so did the Illidge. The Brunette would sometimes say, "It's early yet."
"It's five o'clock somewhere," quipped The Illidge, sometimes between pain-clinched teeth.
Off they would go to that special Booth, medicating his afflictions with vodka, Irish whiskey, appetizers, banter, stories, and countless cribbage games, until latecomers would arrive to add joviality. The Illidge could hold his liquor, and only twice in those years did either The Clark or The German Complainer drive him "to his very own apartment" where he could "have some gruel."
His humor never ceased. Some poorly performing students in beginning advertising questioned him from time to time about their grades.
"Go into dry-cleaning," was his answer. Increasingly poor performance by students on tests vexed him more and more. The Clark repeatedly advised him to "curve" grades so at least 50 percent could pass. When The Clark, the patient man that is is, would be upset with lazy students, as would others on the faculty, especially The German Complainer, he would advise, gesturing with his free hand, "Breathe deeply. In...and out...in and out. Ommmmm."
He thought about retirement, as the pain and semester droned on, but decided for one more year. In between, The Clark did visit the Illidge and Sweet Pea in The Manse on Quentin in Wichita, to play cribbage, to lose scrabble games to Sweet Pea. To watch the continual banter between The Illidge and The Sweet Pea was like witnessing a championship tennis match, the lobbies of words and gestures and rolled eyes and humor bouncing back and forth. The Clark's neck got tired turning from one speaker to the other. And, the trio did visit the 24-hour greasy spoon, The Beacon, right next to the downtown newspaper,The Wichita Eagle. Pictures and photos of lighthouses lined the walls of the smoke-filled eatery, and the breakfasts were bountiful. In those years, so also did The Clark and The Brunette visit, sitting on the porch swing and enjoying the evening and banter, and going out to a smokey neighborhood bar--the kind that don't exist in Oklahoma.
It occurred to The Clark years later that The Illidge was a beacon to all who knew him.
The last year at UCO, the beacon began to falter. It was the hope of The Clark, The German Complainer, The Queen Bee and others that they could raise enough money to send him to Ireland. That didn't happen and remains a regret to this day. Many Booths occurred...probably twice a week.
What was held was a retirement party, with all his family present, his granddaughter dancing to the music of an Irish band, and the day closing with "Oh Danny boy."
Ever since, The Clark tears up when he hears the words, and he would hear them often in the coming year.