WAITING WITH EACH OTHER
by Don Marshall
WHENEVER I THINK about my friend Gene England—as I often do, and undoubtedly will for the rest of my life—three things come almost simultaneously to mind. One of these is definitely his personality: a man of many interests and well-informed in several areas, he was constantly learning, open to new ideas, helpful, generous, agreeable, even-tempered, calm, solid, reliable—and I always felt he was both very appreciative of and supportive of my interests and my projects, whether it was the books I had written, the International Cinema project I was running for twenty-five years, or my love of travel and my involvement in several Study Abroad stints.
The second thing is the specific Study Abroad that we, the Marshalls, did in London with Gene and Charlotte and their wonderful family. Although we did a total of six of those programs in various countries and with a variety of faculty members and their families, the one we did some thirty years ago with the Englands–in England, appropriately enough!—created a forever-lasting bond, for me, with not only the parents, but with every one of the children as well. To this day, Gene and Charlotte’s kids feel like my kids, as well, and I’ll forever treasure that time that I was director of the 1981 Study Abroad and Gene was my very capable and helpful assistant director.
The third thing is an incident that occurred not too long before Gene passed away. I had just finished my last semester as a professor of Humanities at BYU, and just a couple of weeks before my retirement party, I had quickly stopped by the England home on an unusually cold January day. To borrow something? To return something? I’ve long forgotten what—but as I left their house and hurried back out to my car, I slipped on a patch of icy snow at the edge of the dead lawn and pitched face-down onto the driveway. I momentarily blacked-out but came to with blood running down my forehead and onto my cheek. I could feel that I had hurt both the side of my head and my brow and also my cheekbone, but it was the amount of blood oozing through my fingers that worried me. I made my way back to the England’s door, and Gene and Charlotte both rallied together to come to my aid and, before I knew it, Gene was driving me to the emergency room of the hospital while I held a gauze-and-cotton makeshift bandage to the side of my forehead.
Because of the dangers of the slippery weather that particular weekend, the emergency room was packed with people brought in from several different falls, car accidents, and so on. I could see we were in for an exceptionally long wait, and, as I began to feel more clear-headed, I thanked dear Gene many times and told him he could leave me there to wait my turn with a doctor or a nurse, and he could go back home and do whatever he’d been doing when my fall interrupted his day. But, he wouldn’t leave me. He insisted, instead, on staying right there with me for what must have been as much as three or four hours. We talked, off and on, about many things, and I would notice him closing his own eyes and nodding off a time or two. If fact, what strikes me now is that I remember having the strange impression, even more than once, as his voice would sort of trail off into silence that January afternoon, that he was suffering himself, in some way, and that I was the one waiting there with him. It was a strange but touching bond that we shared there, and I have never forgotten it.
Several days later, I attended my retirement party with a few flesh-colored bandages and a pair of dark glasses to hide my black eye, and, within a month or two, I was traveling abroad to conduct interviews with the world’s greatest film directors for the book I was working on. Back in Utah, however, I learned that Gene himself was now in the hospital, so Jean and I went to see him. My heart immediately went out to him, thinking how he had refused to leave my side on that wintry January day earlier that year. I’ll never forget that, as we stood there by his hospital bed, holding his hand, he asked us both to kiss him—which we did. It was a very tender moment, and I’ll always treasure that time.