In the Gazette newsroom, we all knew the stories.
And over the course of about a year, Bill Eville, managing editor of the Gazette, shared in intimate essays with the rest of the Island community the challenges of raising two small children, Hardy and Pickle, and supporting his wife, Cathlin, through diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer.
A mentor to the reporters and a steady presence, his occasional confidences and his essays in the Gazette gave us glimpses of his reality. Like Pickle hoping she would die before her father so she wouldn’t miss him, or the pain of watching Cathlin leave him for a few days following a treatment. There were also moments of joy, when Cathlin rang the celebratory finish bell on her last day of radiation and how a search for a magical unicorn with his children marked a return to normalcy.
“All this help from family and the community, too, was essential, but in the end it came down to the two of us who had somehow managed to find each other, fall in love, start a family and stick by each other’s side,” Bill wrote in an essay last November.
The essays earned him the first place award for serious columnist from the New England Newspaper and Press Association this year.
Bill relived the stories last Saturday night as he and four others told tales of survival at The Moth Mainstage at the Tabernacle. Hosted by National Public Radio, the theme this year was Fish out of Water. Jenny Allen told a story of stumbling upon a surprising email in her 13-year-old daughter’s inbox. Buddy Vanderhoop regaled the crowd with the story of a harrowing 36-hour tuna fishing trip that nearly cost him and his passengers their lives. Mark Katz had the crowd in stitches over a speech he wrote for President Bill Clinton that went south. Shirley Mayhew transported the audience to the mountains of Peru where what began as a feeling of loneliness in a foreign land turned into a lifelong connection.
A guest appearance by former Moth storyteller Cynthia Riggs picked up where she left off a year ago. Ms. Riggs’s story of finding her long-lost love after 62 years has been magnetic for listeners and readers around the world. On Saturday she introduced her husband, Howard Attebery.
I was furiously taking notes for a story I had been assigned to write about the evening. But when Bill stepped up to the microphone, I put down my pen and just listened.
He told the story of his lifelong love for Cathlin, two Jersey kids who grew up in the same town and ended up walking down the aisle together. They moved to the Vineyard for Cathlin to become the minister of the West Tisbury Congregational Church when Hardy was four and Pickle was six months old.
“Life was good,” he recalled on stage.
And then there was the day he told Hardy about Cathlin’s cancer, the weekly trips to Boston for treatment and watching Cathlin become a fleeting “ghostly presence.” And the day Pickle decided she didn’t want a birthday party because she was scared of getting old.
These were all stories I’d read in Bill’s columns, or anecdotes I had heard on morning walks from the newsroom down the street for coffee. The walks became a kind of ritual for all of us, a touchstone of daily check-ins to see how he was doing, how the kids were, how Cathlin was feeling today. In the newsroom we found moments of levity where we could; at other times we were all content to just be together in that kind of quiet collegiality where there is strength in words not spoken.
Bill was holding it together. He did that amazingly well and for a very long time. And on Saturday night onstage at the Tabernacle, he let it all go.
“This spring Cathlin got her six month cancer all-clear — that was something to celebrate,” he told a sellout crowd of more than 1,500 people. “So we all got together and were having spaghetti and meatballs, laughing, having fun, and Pickle turns to Cathlin and said, ‘Mom, remember when you had the ‘cance’? Remember how we used to snuggle all the time?’
“It was a horrible, horrible year. And yet there were so many beautiful moments. Family, the community, so many of you people out there, we all jumped with open arms into cancer. And here we were at dinner, laughing, hanging out, just like any normal family. Like it had never happened. I’ve got to tell you, that’s the weirdest part of the whole thing.”
In the newsroom we know Bill’s in the zone when he settles his elbows onto his desk and places his chin in his hands, peering through thick-rimmed glasses. The reporters like to call him Coach K when he edits; he carefully walks you through your story and encourages you to keep going. His kids are part of the newsroom, too. Hardy can often be found curled up on the couch in the office, reading. He’ll look up to say hello then stick his nose even further into his book before his afternoon baseball game. Pickle likes a good fort, and frequently sets up a nook under one of the desks to watch Star Wars while we have editorial meetings. I always admired her zebra costume.
This morning Bill held two phones up to his ears to coordinate a writer and a story and we all laughed. It’s good to see him smiling and laughing again.