Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Several of my memories begin with a search for an obscure image, and it was one of those searches that brought me to the home of Tyler and Eva Easley on College Avenue one beautiful summer afternoon sometime within the last 20 years. My friend, Eddie Steele, told me that Tyler had taken pictures for the Graham, as well as Beaver and later Bluefield high school football teams through the years, and I was searching for one player in particular, although that player’s name escapes me now.
That’s the problem with research. During the initial phase of the pursuit of information, the search intensity burns white hot. But after the years provide a few layers of dust to suffocate the passion, the topic evolves into something akin to an ice cream toothache. When I was hounding Tyler Easley on that particular day, my passion for the subject was burning bright like William Blake’s tiger-eye in the forests of the night.
By that time, I had already known the Easleys for a few years and considered both of them to be good friends. Tyler knew I was eager to find the image and humored me. We went into an apartment above the garage and looked through a couple of boxes, but I was searching for an image that was a little further back in time than the photos Tyler was showing me. We hadn’t been searching for very long when Tyler suggested that we take a break, sit out on the front porch and have a cool glass of lemonade.
If I learned anything from Eddie Steele, it was to never pass up an offer for a cold glass of lemonade. Tyler and I weren’t like sweat-drenched farm hands coming in from a hard day of hoeing corn on the North Forty. Rather, we were just a couple of guys who had been looking for a picture. Still, when we sat on the front porch of the big house over looking College Avenue, we were like kings of the world. Eva Easley brought out a pitcher of hand-squeezed lemonade with ice. The lemonade was perfect — not too tart and not too sweet. I think it was the best lemonade I ever tasted.
The three of us talked for a few minutes until Eva excused herself to go back inside the house to bring out an old photo album that had pictures of the Easley house when the grounds surrounding the estate had a flock of peacocks strutting around — getting in the windows, standing in the doorways and generally, hanging out and doing anything they wanted to.
Before Eva returned, I leaned back in my chair, took a drink of lemonade, felt the cool breeze wandering through the front porch posts, mediating the ambient air temperature into a universal comfort zone and said to Tyler: “Well ... this is OK.”
Without changing his facial expression, Tyler responded: “I suppose it is,” and I just cracked up.
From that moment on, I smiled each and every time I saw Tyler. He was brilliant, really, and had a sharp sense of humor that accompanied his understanding of the world. Some people can master the art of cutting through the superficial components of an situation and exposing the essential truth of a matter — whether it is good or bad. Tyler wasn’t one to judge. He observed. I admired that quality of his character.
Tyler’s dad, Frank S. Easley, had been a captain of industry and a model of civic responsibility. The Easley Bridge that carries U.S. Route 52 across the Norfolk Southern Railway’s Bluefield rail yard bear’s Frank Easley’s name out of respect for his efforts to bring good roads to the region. Tyler grew up in the shadow of a great man, but he didn’t seek shelter there. He went to war, faced the enemies of freedom, paid a horrible price, and never complained.
Over the years, I gathered bits and pieces of his military story from his comrades and even a little from Tyler himself. He was fighting in the Pacific, experienced terrible things and suffered an ailment called jungle rot. As I recall, Eddie Steele told me something about Tyler being cut off from his unit for several days, and was fortunate to survive at all. Without knowing any details, I knew that Tyler could see and enjoy the blessing in each day. Through his example, I learned that lesson too, and smiled each time I saw him.
Eva Easley and I threw our combined energies behind several community projects over the years, and most times when I called the Easley home, Tyler would call out: “Eva,” as soon as he heard my voice. I often said: “Tyler. What if I was calling for you?” and he would simply reply: “Eva; It’s your friend Bill.”
When I learned of Tyler’s death last week, I thought about that one perfect summer afternoon, sitting on the front porch of his home and drinking fresh squeezed lemonade. We enjoyed lots of good times together through the years, but that one exchange that made me smile back then, still makes me smile now. I think of good friends as blessings and I am honored to think of Tyler Easley as a blessing in my life.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.