I lost my lifelong friend, Lannie Hough, two days before Christmas. I didn’t find out until the following Friday. And just in time to miss the memorial serv ice.
Lannie and I grew up two doors down and since I was the youngest he became like my little brother (I'm 4 yrs. older). As kids, we played basketball in my front yard (you might remember the old rim on the oak tree), football and baseball in the side yards. I wrote in MY HOMETOWN about our experiences at his mother Effie's restaurant. His dad, Atlas, ran a gas station next door. It was inspiration for my Best Hamburger columns, which were so popular back in the day when a was a columnist/editor with The Citrus County Chronicle.
In fact, MY HOMETOWN was dedicated to Lannie and Blly Winn, my best two lifelong buddies.
We were constant companions from the time he was 3 or 4. He was athletic. He would have made a great football player in high school, too (the coach needed a punter) but his mom wouldn't let him play. He was an outstanding basketball and baseball player. He pitched and played the infield in baseball.
When he attended what is now College of Central Florida, his mother helped us find an apartment where we were bachelors together.
When grown, we were still very close until we got into old age.
He was known for barbecue. It was an old recipe that was passed to him by a friend, Bill Weinfurter, when he moved away -- a vinegar-based, North Carolina style. When we held the Freedom Fest to raise funds to build the playground behind City Hall, I asked Lannie to barbecue for us for the Gospel Sing fund-raiser.. We got the meat donated through a couple of our friends, It was the most successful thing at the festival. He was there before daylight and didn't go until he cleaned up around midnight.
It was just one of many, many things Lannie did, always smiling through his beard, although early in his adult life he mostly just had a mustache.
A couple of personal things. My son Bobby was diagnosed with leukemia. in the early 80s and on one occasion was in All Children's hospital in St. Pete with a life-threatening fever of 107.3. I was in Citrus Memorial from heart problems, so they didn't tell me about Bobby. When I got homeone evening, I got to our home near Lake Rousseau, they told me. I called Lannie right away and asked if he could take me to St. Pete. He immediately said, "No problem,”” and was at the house about 11 p.m. to pick me up. He not only drove me to the hospital. When he arrived at the hospital, he stayed until he was sure Bobby was going to be all right. I found out later that he had to be at work early the next morning with almost no sleep.
That's the kind of guy he was. He would do anything anyone asked of him, and do it cheerfully. And his wife Carla supported him wholeheartedly.
And I've sure others have told you, slow-pitch softball was a big part of his adult recreational life. When we both liked in New Port Richey, we drove together to Crystal River a couple of nights a week to play softball. We also traveled for tournaments. Some of those rides back after we had won another game were some of the best times of my life.
There also were times when we did some loony things. Once we decided on a Saturday afrternoon that we wanted to see the Tampa Bay Bucs play Atlanta Falcons the next day. Only trouble was, it was in Atlanta. So we piled in his car with Lannie's wife Carla driving and Lannie's two kids in the back seat with me and we drove to Atlanta, stayed at his sister's Roberta's house there, then went down to the stadium early Sunday morning to find tickets to a sold-out game. The scalpers wanted too much, so we went back to Roberta's house and watched the game with her family before driving home. We were at work Monday morning.
After we retired and I moved away, we rarely saw each other. When we did, it was like all times.
When I was in Hospice for eight months, I could count on one hand the number of visitors I had. The very first ones were Lannie and Carla. I will always love them for that.
Lannie's passing left me devastated, especially because I didn't know about it. When Vonda Levins posted it on Facebook on the day of the funeral, my sister Alice Hope saw it and called me; By then, it was 2 p.m., several hours after the memorial service. It has been very hard to accept and I'm still in shock.