Last week we here at the Knox County parks had to say goodbye to one of our own. William “Buckey” Stivers passed away after being diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago.
Buckey was a maintenance worker with us for about seven or so years before he had to quit due to his diagnosis. We had heard that his cancer had returned and that he was going to start radiation and chemotherapy, but after his first radiation treatment he suffered a stroke and passed away.
Since Buckey was so beloved out here at Ouabache Trails Park, I figured it’s only fitting to reflect on all of our favorite stories of him through the years.
Buckey was a slender guy, not so tall, had deeply-set eyes and no teeth left after years of what must have been some hard living. On his left arm he had a tattoo that he said he got when he was very young, probably too young, of Casper the Friendly Ghost — with a vulgar greeting written underneath. He was seldom seen not wearing his Knox County Parks and Recreation clothing, no matter the season, and never without a cigarette between his fingers. In the cold months, Buckey loved to drink coffee and it was a daily occurrence to hear him call to the office over the CB radio to see if I’d put on a fresh pot yet.
Buckey was, indeed, beloved around here, but love can manifest in strange ways and in this case, it caused him to be the butt of all the jokes, a role that he alternately relished and reviled. If there was the opportunity for a prank, we all knew who would be the unfortunate recipient. I think the all-time favorite prank involved a discarded baby doll that was found at Ouabache Trails one day. A couple of crew members decided to put the doll in Buckey’s truck, a cigarette taped to its mouth, and with a note that read something to the effect of “Daddy, I’m home.”
Buckey was not amused and tossed the doll into the passenger seat and drove off at the end of the day. He must have later thrown the doll out of his truck where it landed on the street somewhere. Later on, the same two crew members who arranged the joke saw the discarded doll laying on the ground, by chance, and decided to pick it up in the hopes of replaying the prank the next day.
However, as it turned out, Buckey had parked his truck at Good Samaritan Hospital to visit someone there, so they put the doll back in his truck, this time with a note that said something like, “Don’t you love me, Daddy?”
Sinister. Nobody got to witness Buckey’s reaction, but the next day his angry stammering told the tale.
Then there was the time when the guys jacked up the rear end of his truck and put blocks underneath it so that when it was quitting time, Buckey would unassumingly get into his truck and try to drive home only to hear the back wheels spinning uselessly.
Buckey went through many vehicles during his time working at the Parks Department. In fact, so many that it became the basis of many jokes. When one of his vehicles died, Buckey usually left it sitting in front of his trailer and after a while a collection gathered. It started to look like a junkyard, so the ongoing joke was that Buckey was running the “Stivers Pull-A-Part” junkyard from his home. We all decided one day that Buckey had killed so many cars and trucks that he must have been wanted for vehicular murder, so, appropriately, I designed a wanted poster with his face and a recounting of all the vehicles that we had known him to have gone through since we’d worked with him.
Buckey also loved a tall tale. So much, in fact, that we became skeptical of anything he told us that couldn’t be verified. Consistently enough we discovered that he had been blowing so much hot air about something and started to chastise him with the famous phrase, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” That earned Buckey the nickname, “Spider.”
He also had a delightful tendency to proclaim his knowledge on things that it later turned out he had little clue about. This earned him the sarcastic title of “Doctor.” So by the time this all added up, we were calling Buckey “Dr. Spider Stivers.” It was a title he begrudgingly accepted at first, but later came to appreciate how much of a marker of our fondness for him it was.
But after all pranks (and the cussing out of everyone involved) was over and Buckey had to quit due to his health, we were all heartbroken. We really did love him and he really was the life of the party out here. For all his faults, at the end of the day he was a good man. He was honest, compassionate and had a strong sense of justice. As we predicted, things just haven't been the same around these parts since Buckey left. We’ll always miss him and wish his family the best.
So long, Doctor. We hardly knew you.
Rama Sobhani's column appears every other Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.