Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Hi Bill

Today I have been thinking about a time during my junior year at Pitt when I was living in a large two-bedroom apartment on North Craig Street with three roommates. Everything was going great for me at that time. I had everything under control and was ready to take on a bright future.

My parents (James & Marie) and me
Unfortunately, a phone call from Mom on an October evening hit me like a punch in the gut. She told me that Dad had died that afternoon. As you know, he had struggled with many medical problems in the past including a heart condition. However, he had always survived and had been doing well. That day, he had walked down the long driveway on our acreage to get our mail and Aunt Helen’s mail (she lived next door to us as you know). Then he walked back up the driveway and took Helen’s mail to her house. He walked inside the back door of her house and collapsed on the floor. She called an ambulance, but when they arrived there was nothing they could do. He was gone.

When Mom told me on the phone that he died, I could not process those words, “Dad died this afternoon.” As you know, he was a tough guy, who could do almost anything and he would never give up on anything he thought should be done. He was also a wonderful person who loved Mom, the two of us and our extended family, and we all loved him very much. We could always count on him being there to provide whatever support he could for us. However, suddenly he was gone at the age of 54.

I hung up the phone after a very brief and surreal conversation with Mom, who was of course devastated. Then I just walked out of the apartment without saying anything to my roommates. I walked around the sidewalks of Oakland and around the Pitt campus for a long time just trying to process his loss. I finally realized that I was exhausted from walking, so I sat on a bench inside the Cathedral of Learning for hours still processing. The Cathedral was not a church, but the “Commons” area felt very much like a house of worship. Eventually I realized that I should go back to the apartment.

Of course I told my roommates about my father’s death and that I would be leaving for home the next day. They expressed their sympathies and they agreed to let my professors know what happened and give them some assignments that I had worked on. At that time, I didn’t really care what the professors did about my assignments or what I would miss in their classrooms or lecture halls. I just wanted to get home and discover that the whole story was some kind of wicked mistake.

The next day I caught a train from downtown Pittsburgh to my home town. I had a free railroad pass because Dad had retired on disability from the railroad. Anyway, that was a long and sullen train ride to a home that I knew would never be the same. I don’t remember how I got from the railroad station to my house, but I think you may have met me at the station.

The next few days were very difficult and strange. Dad should have been there with us but he was gone. I had been home for a weekend a few weeks earlier and I had talked with him (strangely) about the Theory of Relativity. I was taking a beginning physics class that semester and I found Relativity to be fascinating. Dad was very interested, but I couldn’t really explain it very well to him. However, I looked forward to talking about it more with him after I finished that course.

Enduring the funeral and burial was another difficult challenge for me. Of course Mom was heartbroken and our attempts to help her were ineffective. We did help her make arrangements for the funeral and burial. I know I was not much help but I was there with the two of you when you were making some of the arrangements. I’m sure you remember the viewing at the funeral home. Lots of people, including family and friends, came to pay their respects. One of the hardest times during that viewing was when Grandpap walked up to the open casket. As you know, Grandpap was a very tall and very strong man, even at his advanced age. However, you and I had to accompany him to the casket and he almost collapsed when he looked down at Dad’s body. We had to grab him and hold him up, and I will never forget how much sadness I saw in him. Of course you know the burial was at Alto Reste Cemetery very close to our house. It was extremely hard for me to visit that grave for many years. When I was young, my neighborhood friends and I played in that cemetery, including sledding on the icy roads in the hilly sections during winters and riding our bikes in warmer seasons. We often got chased out of that cemetery. Dad’s (and Mother’s) grave is on one of those sledding hills that we enjoyed back in the day.

I returned to my apartment in Pittsburgh far too soon because I was in the middle of a busy semester and I couldn’t miss too many lectures and assignments. However, I struggled to finish that semester, especially that physics class that didn’t seem to matter anymore. I eventually took advantage of some counseling on campus and I was introduced to some very interesting, pleasing, and legal (imagine that) drugs that helped keep me under control. However, I got the best help from the pastor at the Lutheran University Center. Charles (Chuck) C. was a wonderful compassionate man who was fascinated (or maybe he pretended to be fascinated) with my life and my relationships with my family and friends. I remained good friends with him through college and for a while after. He eventually conducted the marriage ceremony for Pat and me at LUC.

Obviously I still struggle with the realities of Dad’s death. His loss was tragic for us, but he lost more than we did. He didn’t get to grow old with Mom and they loved each other dearly. He never met Pat or Rayna or Zeb. He never attended my graduations from Pitt. (I didn’t attend those ceremonies either. They just didn’t seem important to me). Mom was never the same after his death, although she struggled on for 30 years.

Well, I’m sorry to bring up these sad memories. However, we need to realize that he loved us and would be very happy and proud of us for the lives we have had.

James E. Hallman - R.I.P.

HS Graduation Photo

James and Marie

I promise to be more upbeat in my next letter.



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