Tag Archives: Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Requiem For A Hero: Charlie Ziants (1925-1996)

My Pop – Charles Edwin Ziants – at his favorite place, the beach, enjoying his last year, 1995

Yesterday, March 17th, was St. Patrick’s Day 2015, tomorrow will be St. Joseph’s Day 2015, and today (as the old Temptations record out of Motown would extol) … “was the day my daddy died”.

Some of my earliest recollections as a child are of trying to fall asleep in New Castle, PA, while listening to his raucous  laughter from down the hallway, as he sat in front of a b/w TV  watching Jackie Gleason in ‘The Honeymooners’. I would later join him.

What a character! ‘Good time Charlie’ to the gang around the golf course or bowling alley, ‘Mr. Ziants’ to many around the power plants (coal, then later, nuclear), ‘Chuck’ to Phyllis, his wife of 40+ years  … and ‘Sir’ or ‘Pop’ to my brothers and me.

Chuck Ziants, who would later master the thing, at the accordion in 1935 Windber, PA, flanked by his Uncles Steve & Joe. And boy, could Charlie make that thing … sing!

Felled way before his time, at only 70, by Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, pop was otherwise healthy as a horse, as the expression goes. Extremely rare, CJD is often called the human equivalent of mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) … in short, he ate something that didn’t agree with him.  CJD, named for the doctors that first discovered it, is incurable and invariably fatal.

Towards the end, he and I would joke about his going out like a Viking – sword in hand,  ship ablaze, on his way to Valhalla! What really happened was … they kept his brain for further study before the cremation.

The various faith traditions around the planet have different takes on the afterlife. Buddhist tradition holds that in the bardo (the in-between-world) the spirit gets to choose the parents into whom’s lives it will incarnate. If that’s true, thank God I picked this guy.

Charlie Ziants – in a pic he sent home from Europe to his sweetie Phyllis – trying to look all macho and all that. I’d say, for only 21, he pulled it off.

Courageous – a veteran of both World War II & Korea … Brilliant – Ohio State Buckeye Grad & accomplished engineer …. Trustworthy – he raised five kids … Loving – a pat on the back or kick in the butt when needed …. Gregarious & Fun – always there with a joke, laugh, and a cold adult beverage … Supportive – a treasure trove of sage advice & counsel … Resilient & Resourceful – never without a job or paycheck … Athletic – a true bowling & golf ace … Musical – you should have heard him on the accordion & piano …  and with a Sense of Humor, coupled with a Voice and a Laugh, that could fill a hall and really grab attention.

Rumi, the Persian mystic & poet once wrote, “When you are dead, seek for your final resting place … not in the dirt, but in the hearts of men”.  Charlie even pulled this feat off too!

Charlie Ziants quietly celebrating a rather good day on the golf course with his mates, Beaver Falls, PA, 1971

Have you ever been on the interstate and found yourself in between two big semi-trucks as you barreled down the highway, knowing that you were safe from state police radar because you were ‘in the cradle’, safe between these two big guys?

I would later comfort my mother, at both the funeral and today, that Charlie dropping his body on this date – the 18th of March, in between St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s day, on his way to the ‘other side’ – did exactly the same thing.

Pop, as the family today commemorates the 19th year of your passing , may God Bless You, sir. Many thanks for your service, both on foreign shores in the U.S. Army … and on these shores raising the tribe of Ziants.

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