Victoria Relay for Life gives early honor for man with terminal cancer
April 8, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated April 7, 2012 at 11:08 p.m.
Guttural gasps for breath escaped Bill Navratil as his weak, jaundice-tinted hand reached for the oxygen mask.
Navratil just received one of the most pleasant surprises of his life; sadly, he knows it comes at the end.
"Oh, boy," he said, his gasps turning into soft wheezes and then eventually - a smile.
"That was sweet."
Members of the Victoria County Relay for Life realized Navratil's unrelenting cancer might take him away from being at the Relay in two weeks, so there was only one thing to do - bring the event to him.
DEDICATED TO MUSIC
It does not take much for Navratil to flashback to his younger days, even the healthier days only three years ago.
Navratil, 81, continued the upkeep of his grandfather and father's business, Navratil's Music Shop. The shop turned 101 years old last year.
His memory goes to those long-ago days. Navratil remembers the nights where he would play for 15 cents a night and, on the better nights, for a dollar.
"Ain't nothing like being in an 18-piece orchestra, all that brass hitting you," Navratil said. His color seems to come back when he talks about music. "You get cold chills."
In the Air Force, Navratil was able to perform for the greats, such as comedian Bob Hope and President Harry Truman.
Navratil took over the family business in 1957. He put a store in Wharton in 1959 and in Victoria in 1965. The original store opened in Brenham in 1910.
Paige Weaver, chairwoman of the Relay for Life, remembers visiting his store as a kid. Weaver's grandmother is good friends with Navratil.
"You got a guitar, didn't you?" Navratil said.
"It's when I started in band. I got my flute," Weaver said smiling.
"Wow, that old," Navratil said.
Three years ago, just before the Navratil Music Co. turned 100 years old, Navratil noticed he was losing 10 pounds a month.
Navratil's CT scan played out the notes of his future - he had colon, liver and lung cancer.
Doctors told him if he didn't do anything, he'd have about five months to live. Navratil did not want to give up, so he took chemotherapy and other treatments to fight the cancer.
Eventually, the treatment became too much and he recently stopped receiving chemo. That's not to say Navratil has not come to terms with death.
"Sometimes the cure is worse than, well, you know," he said.
The western setting sun cast a special glow on the Pink Heals firetruck outside Navratil's apartment complex.
Navratil is no longer able to walk, but his feet tapped the foot holders of the wheelchair as he was stopped right next to the truck.
Navratil wiped his tears as Weaver slipped the purple-laced gold medallion with the word "Hope" around his neck.
"I cant' even express my gratitude," Navratil said.
"It's all for you," someone said in the crowd of about 20 people.
Members of the Victoria Relay for Life also gave Navratil a signed poster and a photo of the members holding a banner that read, "I Am Hope." The photo was taken in front of his music store in Victoria.
Weaver and the others still hope Navratil can make the Relay April 27, but they also realize this may be it.
Wheeled toward the truck, Navratil took a black Sharpie in his left hand and added his name on the truck filled with hundreds of signatures of other cancer survivors and family members.
"There's never a dull moment," he said, laughing.
If there is one thing Navratil has learned, it's that music is a universal language.
The Internet has changed the way customers view music shops.
"In the smaller towns, they wouldn't question us," he said.
Something has to be done for the smaller businessmen, Navratil said. Music shops need to do more than just sell instruments; they need to know and care about each one of their customers. This is the work ethic Navratil had his entire life.
For Navratil, what makes life beautiful is music. He loves Big Band, swing, jazz and, of course, Frank Sinatra. But music is for the person, and everyone is different, he said.
Navratil sits on a hospice bed in the middle of the living room, three paintings of scenic landscapes hang above his bed.
Life has led to this moment for Navratil, and he doesn't regret one bit. All he asks is for the music to continue.
"Dying is not death; you're just going to a new place," he said. "I always have hope. You never know."