BLOOMVILLE, Ohio - Bob Harmon knows it will be his last Christmas. But he said he does not know what all the fuss is about.
He said the outpouring of attention and affection from hundreds of people who read his Tiffin newspaper column isn't necessary.
Mr. Harmon lies dying in his modest house in this village, about 65 miles southeast of Toledo. From his hospital bed in the living room, he has been able to see his own painting of Santa Claus kneeling at the manger of baby Jesus.
The whimsical, yet reverent, picture is a proper comment on the man who has made Seneca County smile with his stories of the foibles of family and friends.
His lifetime playing and coaching baseball and writing about everyday people is near its end.
Holiday decorations fill the warm front rooms. His wife and grown daughters cozy up in the glow of Christmas lights. One of them always is at Mr. Harmon's bedside to hold his hand, stroke his brow, or talk to him.
Visitors come to the door, including the mail carrier who has delivered almost 300 cards to a man who seems to have touched so many.
“I know it'll be my last Christmas,” Mr. Harmon said. “It could be hours. I'm not afraid. It's time to go home.”
Mr. Harmon, 65, was diagnosed in June with inoperable lung cancer which has spread to his brain. He described his battle with the disease in a Dec. 5 column, his last in the Advertiser Tribune.
“He couldn't write it himself. He dictated to me an I put it down,” said Arden, his wife of 43 years.
The former minor-league pitcher, coach, teacher, sports editor, county worker, and lifestyle columnist said he has friends he didn't know about.
A note in the Tiffin paper suggested readers might drop him a card. An avalanche of good wishes arrived. They are taped on every wall of the small living room.
“He got 256 Christmas cards in three days,” Mrs. Harmon said. “Many are from people we don't know.”
“A lot were just signed `Santa,'” said his daughter, Shar Harmon.
“The only thing that matters in life is people,” Mr. Harmon said. “All that's important is family and people who love you.”
Mr. Harmon, born in Zanesville, played minor league baseball in the New York Giants farm system. A pitcher, his record was 136-12, but he never made it to the major leagues.
Instead, he went to Tiffin and got a sports-writing job. He worked at the Advertiser Tribune from 1954 to 1976. At the same time, he was YMCA athletic director and coached high school and Little League baseball.
He taught physical education and coached baseball a year at Heidelberg College.
After moving to Bloomville, Mr. Harmon worked for the county as sanitarian and disaster-services coordinator.
Three years ago, he returned to the Tiffin paper to write features and the homespun column that has endeared him to readers. He concluded each column with, “At least that's the view from here,” and referred to Mrs. Harmon as “the little woman.”
“That was fun, but the truth is he always made me feel special,” Mrs. Harmon said. “Listen, he just called me `beautiful' again, but that might be the morphine talking.”
Mr. Harmon's anecdotes generated laughs for his readers:
Mortified to see a stranger turn around, she overcame that and they married in 1957.
Daughters Shar, Erin, and Cara were followed by twins Sandy and Andy.
But health problems dogged Mr. Harmon. He underwent a quintuple heart bypass in 1993 and aortic aneurysm repair in 1997.
Mr. Harmon taught himself to paint in 1988 and got serious after heart surgery. Some of his landscapes have sold for $300 to $500, Mrs. Harmon said. The Santa in the manger was a surprise Christmas gift.
“I wouldn't sell that one,” she said.
One painting hangs in a surgical lobby at Medical College of Ohio, a gift to the late Elly McEwen, a hospital volunteer.
Mr. Harmon recently was named to the Muskingum Valley Baseball Old-Timers Hall of Fame.
“He coached a lot of kids and everybody who knows Bob loves him,” said friend Roger Welter of Tiffin. “He was a [great] pitcher. The other day I leaned over his bed and he showed me how to throw a spitball.”
“I never heard a bad word about him,” Bloomville Mayor Barbara Jacoby said.
On Saturday, the Harmons gathered between the hospital bed and the Christmas tree to officially celebrate Christmas.
The day before, Bob Harmon lifted an arm and beckoned a visitor to his bedside. “Remember,” he said, holding the stranger's hand in a pitcher's grip, “always do great things for people and great things will happen to you.”