By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — There was a lot to adore about Hank Cisco, who left us Tuesday in body but never in spirit.
What I will carry with me is his love of life, his natural instinct to be a friend without having to ask what he could do to help and, of course, his encyclopedia of sayings.
Odd thing about our friendship was that Hank and I didn’t really agree on much.
He was conservative, and an ardent supporter of the current president. I’m a Bernie Bro.
He liked Doris Day, I liked Stevie Nicks.
He thought Christopher Columbus got a raw deal, I thought he got too much credit and not enough blame for treatment of the natives.
He hung out with Frank Rizzo (and served as a pallbearer at his funeral). I hung out with Abbie Hoffman (but was not a pallbearer at his funeral, assuming he even had one).
And on it went.
“If two people agree all the time, one of them is unnecessary,” he would say.
Another gem, in the same spirit: “All sunshine makes deserts.”
And he was right.
Hank may not have agreed, but he never judged. I can respect that more than someone who has no opinion about anything at all, or who tells you what you want to hear just to shut you up.
We were both necessary in a balancing act that would shame The Flying Wallendas.
In these divisive times, when agreeing to disagree is off the table before two people even sit down, I try to keep his words – all of them — in mind.
Some of Hank’s sayings – like “don’t slug it out with a bum” or “I never lost a fight in the dressing room” — were self-explanatory.
And too true.
There is one – something about a mule going blind and holding the line – that I never quite got (and that’s fine).
Another that I wrestled with was: “If you want to walk on water, you better know where the rocks are.”
Not coming from a Catholic upbringing – something Hank reminded me of from time to time – any New Testament reference may as well be in Norwegian (whisper: I’m not much better with Old Testament references, either, as I adhere to the gospels of Dylan and Springsteen).
But, now, as I look ahead at life with Hank Cisco’s memory as an angel on my shoulder and not a friend in the flesh that I can share some Italian food and laughs with, it makes sense.
Complete and total sense.
Going on without Hank Cisco will be like walking on water.
But keeping his memory alive, just by asking myself what Hank would have done or by applying one of his pearls of wisdom, will help me find the rocks.
Hank was 96 when he passed away, well beyond when the doctors said he would.
I’m going to be 55 in March.
That’s a four-decade difference.
When you have a friendship with someone that much older, there is much to be gained, particularly for the younger friend.
But the odds are that you will have to see them buried.
It’s a leap a lot of people in my generation don’t want to take. They can’t help it with their parents and other older relatives, but they put on a coat of protective armor by not wanting to go there with their emotions otherwise.
It’s a choice that is both foolish and selfish.
We were friends for the last quarter century, from the time he brought boxer Michael Grant into the sports department to be interviewed and I drew the short end of the stick by not making myself scarce.
Hank thanked me for the article in his own Hank way – by sending enough food over to feed a platoon.
When I had a health scare back in 2005, Hank came to see me in old Montgomery Hospital. It was a quick visit (he did everything quick back then), but I never forgot it.
I made sure to return the favor when Hank was hospitalized, even toward the end. At one point, my mother was in Einstein at the same time. I left her room before visiting hours ended to stop into his, only to find such a mob scene – including sisters from Mother Teresa’s order (Missionaries of Charity) saying a prayer – that I practically had to take a ticket, like at a deli, to get in the door.
I was fearful that the end was imminent, but it was not the case. Hank was his normal jovial self, and insisted we take a picture with a big boxing glove that I was asked to sign for the second or third time.
After the room had cleared out, his daughter, Mary, came in and tossed him a bag of fast food that he promptly inhaled in about 12 seconds.
The next time, another picture.
Hank was turning hospital visits into events, but he was also aware of the end, and was at peace with it.
“I’m in the 15th round, Rock,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, before getting emotional while talking about John Doyle’s crew that had come to the hospital to film “The Hank Cisco Show” (I was a guest, and a guest host, many times).
Once Hank was placed on home hospice care, I stopped by a few more times, only to find him sleeping – and peacefully (a rare, but unique, sight).
When he awoke, and found out I had been there, he made sure to call and was still full of ideas of what I should or shouldn’t do about this or that.
Each time I hung up the phone, I knew it might be the last time we will speak.
And the last time was the last time.
Sad, yes, but also moments to treasure.
I learned a great deal from being around Hank Cisco.
He lived life to the fullest, dawn to dusk and beyond. He saw each day as a gift, and treated it as such.
Even when he had health setbacks, he set goals to come back and get himself back into circulation (and on NASDtv).
He had enough reasons to quit, but he was always looking forward.
When he was made a widower a few years back, I stopped by his house on Powel Street to see how he was doing and to take him out to lunch.
Before I knew it, he was make me pasta for the lunch.
He showed me a lot of memorabilia during that visit, revealing a side I hadn’t seen before.
But nothing can top actual memories.
With those, with Hank Cisco, I have many.
There is sunshine in the desert.
And if one of us was unnecessary, it was me.
The column appeared in The Times Herald on Jan. 17, 2020