I have heard it said over and over again...give the people that you love their roses while they are here, because they can't appreciate them when they are gone. I can only hope that I have given my friend, my mentor and the person that if I could have had a say in it would have been my father enough of them while he was here.
When I first met Dennis Bilal Williams, he and his partner Gus were the owners of a foreign auto repair shop. Little did I know that when I walked through the doors the two of them would impact my life so deeply. Bilal, a master mechanic and musician was a gentle giant with a loving family. He was a "tinker-er" when other mechanics were stumped by a problem with car before sending it to the dealer, they would send it him. Sure enough he would find and fix the problem, and would happily pound out a beat on counter. I get tickled even now seeing the that big Chester Cheese Cat grin on his face, as he chuckled in satisfaction.
Volvo's were his vehicle of choice. I learned more about that particular car because of him. He taught about me the simplicity and safety of vehicle, and I quickly picked up the tale-tale cues of service problems. I would consult with him often when a customer called about a problem that they were having. When I first started working there I had a Chevy Nova that I use to have to start with starter fluid. I remember Gus and Bilal laughing and shaking their heads as I praddled along in my little hoopty parked neatly amongest the BMW's, Jaguars, and of course Volvo's. When my hoopty finally took her last road trip, they sold me a car.....a Volvo of course. It was a 1983 Volvo 240DL. I called her Big Shirley! I was in love after the first five miles. Big Shirley was a tank! She was 15 years old when I got her, with the exception of a little rust here and there she was in excellent condition. Bilal assured me that I would never want to drive any other car after that, and he was right! He turned me into a Volvo girl, and when they run that commercial, Volvo for LIFE. I am a believer!
In the 14 years that I have known Bilal, I have only seen him really angry once. It was a sight that I would never forget, and I would never want to see again! He was usually the calmer of the two heads, the ying to Gus' yang. He had a true heart of gold, if someone was broke down on the side of the road, Bilal would stop to help them get started again. He was the person that if someone had a car problem, and he swore he would never work on their car again when they came back to him he would never say no. I was the only female working at the shop and neither Gus or Bilal were ever condescending to me, as a matter of fact none of the guys were. I learned every aspect of the business from the running the office to writing service, and body shop repair orders. I truly believe, had we been at the shop long enough, Bilal would have had me turning a wrench on a car sooner or later. He was a great teacher, and like many great teachers he could explain and demonstrate at the with the greatest of ease. After the shop fire, our family drifted in separate directions. I answered the call of the wild and went into the direction of grooming, and Bilal was still the Master Tinker-er. Before I finally found my true path in life, it was the crumbs of knowledge that I picked up from him about my now favorite car that helped start an online parts business. A business that sustained me until the flame of grooming was ignited. We kept in touch here and there, and each time I talked to him I would always ask him about his health. Bilal had heart problems, and he was determined to treat it naturally. That was another pearl that he dropped in my basket. Researching information about the organic wellness released the inner hippie in me. It has become a strong strand of fabric in my life, to look for a healthy natural cure to things. It works just as well for animals as it does for people. When we were at the shop, I would make sure that he ate right. Although he was a vegetarian, chips were his downfall. It was not uncommon to see him strolling through the shop grinning with his hand stuffed in a bag of chips.
I remember talking with him at great length about a year or so before I went mobile about him eating right. I would always send him a card on Father's Day on his birthday Dec. 7th. As we talked Bilal shared with me that he had fallen off the wagon, and gained some weight. This was a common struggle for him, he would yo-yo back and forth especially if something was bothering him. Bilal was never one to just out and out complain, for him to vocalize something he had to have been on his mind for a while. He told me about the last attempt to place balloons in his heart had failed yet again. My concern has always been on an elevated alert about his health, but he had assured me that he had it under control. He had managed well in all of this time, so I relaxed a bit. I can only tell you that my last conversation with my friend, mentor and father-figure was a happy one. I stopped by to show him and Delores "Proud Mary" the excitement on his face as he climbed in and out of truck was priceless. He happily told me about all the people on the block that had dogs, and could use my service. It made me feel good that he was proud of me, but the real credit belongs to both people that mentored my success. Bilal taught me the value of loving what you do, and doing what you love. His passion was his family, his bongos, and his incredible talent as a Master Mechanic.
The moment between the last time I saw him laughing and smiling to the time I saw him before he made his transition seemed like just a few seconds, but it was just a little over a year.. I never got to say to the man with the heart of gold, that I love you, and I am so honored to have known you! Every time I hear that song by Beyonce "Halo" it reminds me of you. I will never forgot your smile, your hardy laughter that seemed to fill a room, and your happy bongo beats on whatever you can find when you have it all figured out. I will pour a little oil out for you, until I see you again!
I miss you so much! I never thought I would ever have to say goodbye.