It’s Memorial day as I write this, and I’m in a pensive mood…

I was at Chris’s memorial service yesterday, and I’ve been to a few of these lately – and among the food on a table was what appeared to be a rather out-of-place crumpled up McDonald’s bag.

I didn’t think much of it until I heard the story behind it. See Pat, the fellow who brought it, had been best friends with Chris, and they’d spend hours driving around, sometimes in Chris’s tow truck, sometimes not, and as often as not, they would end up stopping at a very particular McDonalds, where the two of them would order 11 cheeseburgers.

The question was asked, “Why 11? And who got to eat six of them?” and Pat said he wasn’t sure exactly where it came from, likely Chris going through the drive through with his truck to get some dinner, a hankering for cheeseburgers, and the clerk asking the simple question of “How many?”

Chris and Pat shared the unspoken question with a look, shrugged their shoulders, and next thing they knew, they had 11 cheeseburgers to share and accompany the conversations ranging from the nature of gravity to the physics of electricity and radio waves as they waited on the next call.

And over time, it became a tradition.

Every time they went to McDonald’s, they ordered 11 cheeseburgers.

In a bag.

Every.

Single.

Time.

It became almost sacred, the way Pat told it.

And it got me thinking…

I’m in that stage of life when it’s becoming obvious that there’s a changing of the guard going on, where you realize, sometimes slowly, sometimes with a stunning realization, that you’re now the very close to being the oldest generation living in your family, where you used to be able to have conversations with grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, who simply aren’t there anymore for you to have conversations with.

And with Chris, I realized that it’s not limited to people older than you.

It made me wonder, what kinds of little things will be precious to you when someone close to you leaves this life to live on in your memories?

I really started wondering…

There are friends who know, for example, that I will only call them a butthead if they’ve earned that privilege. (Of course, I have to explain to them that it is a privilege, a badge of honor, to be called that, only then do they get it)

I think of my dad, who I used to simultaneously love and get frustrated with, who loved me as best as he knew how, and I realize I miss hearing his greeting, “Hello sonshine.” Or yelling at us to shut the living room door as we ran out it.

I think of Glenda’s peaceful presence, and her laugh, as she took life, and death, in stride and made it work.

Betty – how we were able to take off the day to day masks we wear to protect ourselves, and just talk about the stuff that really mattered.

I think of people who are still part of my life, and realize there are things that are inexplicably special, things that have become the “11 cheeseburgers” of our lives…

The Grand Coulee Dam.

“How are things in Gloccamurra?”

“Delays, Delays…”

Butthead…”

Yasuko’s…

A shoe shine kit.

A jar of homemade Quince jelly.

An Egg carton.

A root beer can.

Sitting quietly with a friend at an airfield.

A phone call from a long-lost friend.

A tennis ball cannon made of a bunch of pop cans and masking tape..

An old Saab.

Two rocks, now shiny, that I’ve carried around in my pocket – one since 1997 (my son’s first day of kindergarten) one since 2010 (his first day of college)

“Hey Du…”

A pair of red Converse High Tops.

And so many others.

It’s not what they are, it’s what they symbolize.

Things that in and of themselves, mean nothing to someone who doesn’t share a history with you, I mean, it’s a bag of cheeseburgers… it’s a greeting… it’s an old car.

But for Chris and Pat, it was more than a bag of cheeseburgers – it was friendship, (and it was theoretical physics) and it signified that all was right with the world.

And maybe – just maybe, you’ve got your own version of a bag of 11 cheeseburgers and a bunch of memories.

What are they?

Write as much or as little as you’d like, but I know we all have them, I’d just never seen it done the way Pat did it yesterday.

And as little as I knew Chris directly, the hole he leaves in people’s lives is very real.


I was talking to my mom about a story I was writing awhile back, about a little bicycling adventure in Germany about 37 years ago, and she chuckled a bit, and then started to tell me a story that had happened 26 years before that.

And it made me smile.

You know how you talk to your parents and forget that they were young, once, too? That’s how it was with mom in this conversation. As she told the story, the mom I was seeing in front of me transformed into a much younger woman, full of youth, life, laughter, and stories.

She talked of adventures that I’d never heard, but then she got to telling the story of the trip over the Susten Pass.

The Alps.

In Switzerland.

On a bike.

And I saw the time machine show up, with the door wide open, beckoning us inside.

We stepped in and I started to listen to a fun story that I’d heard before, but the more I listened the more I realized I’d not only heard the story before, but there was a connection to that story I was writing.  We’ll get to that one in Part 2.  But for now, I leaned forward and listened, and I recorded it.  And then realized she’d written it down years ago.  She sent me a copy – we found some pictures, and I’ve done a little bit of editing below, but the story’s hers, so sit back, and imagine hearing the story below in mom’s German accent about the trip she, her brother Walter, and his friend Wolfgang took, from Germany, to Switzerland, and back.

That said, here’s mom:

“While Walter was still in Seminary in Frankfurt, he, Wolfgang and I had planned to tour Switzerland by bicycle during their summer vacation. In those years the roads were not nearly as crowded with cars as is now the case.

Mom’s view of the road to Susten Pass… then…

It was beautiful!

I had traveled to Switzerland by bus, by car and by train but I never enjoyed the scenery more than when I toured it on a bicycle. Instead of driving past mountains in minutes, it might take a whole day of riding to finally get close to the mountains we were able to admire for so long. We had plenty of time to let the beauty really sink in.

That year, Walter had a summer job in Winterthur (Switzerland) with a surveyor. His friend Wolfgang and I traveled through the Black Forest to the Swiss border and further inland to meet and team up with him for our tour. The nights we spent in youth hostels which were all over the country.

Near Steffisburg we stopped and asked a farmer if we could pitch our tents on his property. Herr Wittwer (the farmer) agreed, but then took a look south toward the Niesen, the nearest mountain, and shook his head.

“I better get some straw down for you in the barn. See those dark clouds pushing through between the mountains? That’s a nasty thunder storm and it will be here in a few hours. That way, no matter what the weather does, at least you’ll have a roof over your heads and stay dry.”

I gladly accepted his offer but Walter and Wolfgang pitched their tent outside. I took my sleeping bag into the barn, bolted the big barn door shut and nestled down in the big pile of straw. I was less afraid of the mice in the barn than the lightning and thunder outside and a soaking wet sleeping bag. You see, our camping equipment in those days was very primitive. Our tent did not have a floor. So while the tent might have protected us from water coming from above, there was nothing to keep water from seeping in under the edges.

And, just like Herr Wittwer had said, the storm didn’t wait long to reach us. As it got closer, not only was the thunder much louder but the echoes bouncing back from the nearby mountains were like a continuous amplified drumroll.

I was so tired from the many hours of pedaling the bike in the hilly country I fell asleep in spite of the noise. In my dreams I wondered why the whole barn was being torn down and why human voices were mingled in between the booms of the thunder, and why did I keep hearing my name in between all of this?

During the eerie stillness of a moment between thunder claps the human voices finally reached my consciousness and I recognized my brother’s voice: “Irmgard, open the door, please open the door.” The rain was coming down in torrents and Walter and Wolfgang had soon seen the wisdom in my decision about sleeping in the barn. There was plenty of straw on the barn floor for all three of us and like contented cows Walter and Wolfgang bedded down on the dry straw for a much needed night’s sleep.

THE TRIP OVER SUSTEN PASS.

The next morning, Walter and Wolfgang had to wring out their tent and clothes from the storm.  Not only was our camping gear primitive but our bikes were at the beginning of multiple-gear-development. Walter’s and Wolfgang’s bikes each had three gears. That was the most that was available at the time and really, who would want or need more than three gears anyhow? Right?

I would soon see the benefit of those three gears, as my bike had only one.

In the lowlands, the one speed bicycle Mom pushed over Susten Pass

Walter’s and Wolfgang’s bikes also had special (caliper) brakes, the ones which grab the sides of the rims of both wheels.

Mine did not.

My bike had a different system. Under the handle bar on the right side was another, thinner bar reaching to the center of the handlebars. There it was connected to a bar going straight down to the rubber front tire. There was a u-shaped metal frame attached (about 1 x 1 1/2″) and a hard rubber pad was slipped into that frame. By pulling the brake handle up, the rubber pad was pushed down against the tire, which slowed down the bike somewhat. The other braking possibility was the coaster brake in the hub of the back wheel. By pushing the pedals backwards, the back wheel would apply the brake.

This system was sufficient for normal country.

But his was not normal country.

This was Switzerland.

Our rather ambitious plan for that one day was to get over the Susten Pass.

SustenPass_Looking_East

Susten Pass, looking East

We had to get an early start so we would get as many kilometers behind us during the coolness of the day, and to do that, had to leave before the tent and everything could dry. At the base of the mountains we made relatively good progress, but when the road started climbing, things changed. Often Walter and Wolfgang could have gone a while longer with their extra gears, but no matter how hard I tried to pedal, my bike came almost to a standstill when the incline got too steep.

Steffisburg-SustenPass

It got a bit steep once we started climbing…

So we had to walk.

Hour after hour we followed the serpentines up and up. Looking over the edge we saw the road wind up like a snake in tight curves.

Panoramio’s view of the same road to Susten Pass, now. Courtesy of AGW (click on photo for original)

 

After seven hours of walking, pushing our bicycles step by tired step, we finally saw the sign:

“Susten Pass 2224 meter”.

We’d finally made it, the three of us were hot and thirsty, and Walter’s cold, wet tent was slowly drying.

We took a short but well deserved break at the top and strengthened ourselves with “Landjäger“, bread, some good Swiss chocolate and water.  And we even allowed ourselves a few minutes to lean back and appreciate, admire and enjoy God’s handiwork in that beautiful setting. But since the ascent had taken so much longer than anticipated, we couldn’t allow ourselves too much time to enjoy the scenery at the top, so after a few minutes of cooling off to the point of being a little chilled, we saddled our bikes and looked forward to a fast, fun run down the switchbacks to the lowlands again.

SustenPass_Looking_West

But the other side of the pass was in full sunshine, and the further down we got, the warmer it got, so we let the bikes fly down the mountain road and loved the feeling of the wind in our faces, cooling us off after the long climb up the other side.

A long-held sigh of relief escaped from each one of us.

Going down should be a breeze, right?  We couldn’t help but wonder how much shorter the down-hill time would be.  We’d make up all the time we lost, it would be great.  Walter rode in front, Wolfgang in the back, with me in between, and even though it was easy (and fun) to let the bicycles go fast and hang on, it wasn’t safe to go too fast or we’d lose control on the many hairpin turns. It was good that Walter and Wolfgang had those new brakes, because it was all downhill, and we had to brake constantly so we wouldn’t overshoot the hairpin curves.

But remember, I didn’t have those brakes.

I had two other brakes.

I had that pad of rubber that was pushed down on the front tire by a lever I squeezed with my right hand, and I had the coaster brake for the back wheel that worked when I pedaled backwards far enough to make it work.

And remember, while this system was sufficient for normal country. also remember that this was NOT normal country.

This was Switzerland.

And we went down the mountain.

Elevation from Susten Pass to Wassen

Elevation change from Susten Pass to Wassen. Downhill all the way.

And we went fast.

Our leg muscles, finally rested a bit from the 7 hours of walking and pushing our bicycles up the one side of the pass, welcomed this change of pace on the other side very much, and for a few moments, the scenery enveloped us at a level you just could not get in a car or a bus.  It was exhilarating.

I’d just gotten to feeling comfortable on the bicycle, riding fast enough to be fun, but braking enough to be safe. I think it was maybe 5 kilometers, when I heard Wolfgang behind me yell “I am smelling burned rubber’. We all stopped at the first spot we could get off the road to check for the cause of that smell.  Sure enough, With all my braking, that rubber pad that was my front brake had gotten so hot from the friction that it started smoking, wore out and disappeared, never to be seen again. After we stopped and inspected it, we decided that it was safe to go on, but slower, and more carefully, because since there was no bicycle repair place at that elevation, we had absolutely no choice to slow me down but to use the other brake in the hub of the rear wheel.

I tried my best not to use it excessively and just let it roll on the straight stretches but pushed the backpedal-brake system to it’s limit to make it safely around the first hairpin curve and the second, and the third and so on.

We may have gotten about 10 (don’t know how many of course) kilometers behind us , when I heard Wolfgang’s voice again loud and clear: “Your hub is smoking”.

He was such a nice friend and biking buddy but I sure didn’t want to hear his voice again, especially not with more bad news about my bicycle.

And even more especially, about smoke.

But, what choice did I, did we all have?

We all stopped.

The brake was so hot that it didn’t work very well anymore, and that wasn’t safe.

So we had to walk.

What choice did we really have?

And we walked, and walked, down the other side of Susten Pass, holding our loaded bicycles back, and we let it cool down.

It gave us more time to enjoy the Alps that so many people want to see.

How can you get tired of so much beauty?

We weren’t tired of the beauty, but we were getting tired of walking.  We checked the brake on my bicycle, and it had finally cooled off, so we started to coast downhill again.

We’d spread out a little bit by then, and the breeze cooled me off, and I realized that the brake, not being used right then, could cool off too the next time it got hot.  So that gave me an idea, and I let the bicycle go down the hill as fast as it would go… The wind was rushing in my ears, and I could barely hear Walter yelling at me that I’d get myself killed if I rode that fast. I braked hard at the next curve, heating up the brake until I could feel it weaken, leaned deep into the turn, made it around, and let the bicycle fly again. The brake cooled off while my brother’s frustrated shouts faded behind me.

But remember, this was Switzerland.

And soon the brake overheated again, so we had to alternate walking and riding for the rest of the afternoon until we finally made it down into the lowlands at dusk, where we found a place to stay for the night.

Over the next few days we got out of the Alps and into Later, we stopped near the town where Walter had worked, and I wanted to write a postcard to our mom so that she would know we were okay. After all, it had been many days since we’d been home. Walter said we’d get home before the post card did, so I didn’t get one.

We kept heading north on flatter ground, eventually making it to Germany, and much later,  finally made it to our hometown, where things looked like – well, home.  Wolfgang headed back to Frankfurt, and we made our way home, walking our bicycles into the driveway beside the house.  Our mom heard us go by  through the kitchen window, and on hearing us, came out onto the veranda to make sure we were okay.  Once that was established, the first thing she said to us as my brother and I climbed up the back steps was, “You’re back! What were you thinking? We were worried you’d fallen down a mountain, What kept you from even sending a postcard?”

We stepped out of the time machine, mom and I, and laughed at some of the adventures she’d had, and then I told her a similar story, also of a brother and sister, coming back from a bicycle trip, climbing up those same steps, and explaining to the same mom (her mom, my Oma) why we were late.

But that’s for part 2, coming in a few months.

Take care out there, folks.


The time machine surprised me this time.

I was making a sandwich for lunch the other day and saw it sitting there, looking just like the bottle of Thousand Island dressing in the fridge.

It reminded me of a young boy and his uncle, who was making him a sandwich.

“Ham or bologna?”

“Uh… Ham?”

“Cheese?”

“Okay…”

“Thousand or mustard?”

“Uh… Thousand?”

Uncle’s hand in the plastic bag of bread, “Two slices or three?”

Eyeballs of young nephew got real big…

“You can have three slices?”

“Suuuure!”

“Okay,” (feeling like a king) “Three slices then…”

A certain uncle made two of the biggest sandwiches that nephew had ever seen, with relish, and lettuce and all that is good in sandwiches.  And he made one for himself, and one for the nephew.

And they both sat on the porch had a most wonderful lunch, I still remember, to this day.


After close to 30 years with Ballard’s Troop 100, Scoutmaster Paul is hanging up his hat, and I started thinking of the one thing about Paul that stood out.

There are so many wonderful things I could say about Paul, but there was indeed one thing that stood out above all else, and it seemed to encompass all those other things. It was The Paul Mile.

See, when we were in the troop, the phrase we often heard the phrase, “Oh, it’s a Paul Mile.”

We didn’t know where that came from until our trip to Norwegian – where we had to drive for about 5 hours before hiking in to one of the most beautiful spots on the planet.

Paul had said, simply, that it was a mile from where we parked our cars to where we were camping, so – well, a mile’s a mile, right?

I looked at it on the map, measured it with dividers…

Yup.

It was a mile.

But what we didn’t take into account was that the mile was “as the crow (or seagull, or mightily thrown rock) flies,” not as a scout walks.

 

Not as a scout, distracted by every bug and stick and rock walks.

Not as a scout, who’s wearing a pack for the first time, walks.

Not as a scout, who’s seeing the miracles of the outdoors for the first time, walks.

 

On the way, scouts learned how to build fires.

And how to camp in the rain.

And the mud.

And the snow.

 

Scouts learned about responsibility, and being prepared.

And they learned about being just a little more than prepared and to help those who were still learning.

Lessons were passed on from Paul to scout, and then from older scout to younger scout.

 

On the way, scouts conquered their own fears.

They climbed mountains and crossed valleys.

And some traveled to countries they’d only read about.

They grew more than their faraway parents could possibly imagine.

 

They ate.

Some learned how to cook.

Some learned how to cook well.

And as they grew up and grew older, they ate better than they expected.

 

They laughed.

And told jokes.

And lived stories they would recount years later.

 

They waded in the Pacific

They floated down rivers, and showered in waterfalls,

They swam in lakes cold enough to – well, they were cold.

They made friends.

 

And they grew from Tigers all over…

To cubs in the pack…

To Scouts, in Troop 100.

 

And while some of the steps were longer than expected.

And some were steeper than expected.

And, living in Washington, a lot were wetter than expected,

Looking back, they were all better than expected.

 

And on one cold, clear night, shivering on a Pacific beach at the end of the most memorable of all Paul miles, some saw stars in the heavens they’d never seen, before, or since.

 

See what scouts didn’t know is that a Paul Mile, like life itself, isn’t about the destination.

 

It’s about the journey…

 

Take care, Paul, may your Journey continue.

 

Paul Hendricks, Camp Meriwether, Oregon, 2006

Paul Hendricks, Camp Meriwether, Oregon, 2006

The Roush family, including Michael, Eagle # 128


I was walking in to work the other day, a normal day, just another guy on his cellphone, walking down the sidewalk, in my case, talking to my mom on the phone… Most days when I walk this sidewalk, I walk it lost in thought, shifting gears from personal life to work life, thoughts drifting… the background noise of traffic, the cars, the buses, the jackhammers and the like, was just that, background noise, when a fellow rushed past, and did something I had never seen before.

Well, I had, but not there.

See, I usually walk down this one street past a church – you can see it here.

Like most people, I walk down this sidewalk without looking, without seeing…

IMG_4208.JPG

Not only are the sounds background noise, but the sights are, too, if that makes sense.  They are so often ignored, rarely acknowledged.

But this fellow appeared from around the corner.  He was wearing faded, torn jeans, worn running shoes, and an old dark blue jacket that barely covered what it needed to cover.

I wasn’t sure whether to dodge out of his way or brace for impact, but I did dodge, and kept walking.  Curiosity turned me around and I looked back to see he’d stopped running.

He’d stopped alright, but he wasn’t standing.

He was kneeling.

No.

He was doing more than that.  He was praying in a way I’d definitely done, but very rarely seen.

l

He appeared so deeply, profoundly distraught that I was speechless, and I stood, rooted to the spot.  I added my prayer to his, but couldn’t decide what to actually *do*.

I couldn’t tell what he needed physically – I mean, he’d run around the corner so fast, so he was physically okay. He was praying, and praying hard, and to interrupt seemed… I don’t know, out of place?

My mind went all over the place…Why was he there? Was his family in danger? Hurt? Had he done something wrong and was there literally at the feet of Jesus, asking for forgiveness?

I didn’t know.

And I didn’t ask.

I felt very much like one of the characters in the story of The Good Samaritan – only I wasn’t the Samaritan who helped the fellow.

I was one of the other guys.

Who for whatever reason, didn’t help.

And it got me thinking.

Like the other guys, I had my reasons, all of which have the strength of wet toilet paper when I look back on them.

How many times do we not help someone out when we could?

How many times have we let someone down when we could have helped them up?

How many times…

Then I got to thinking just a little more about the figure this fellow was kneeling at the feet of…

The fellow whose birth an awful lot of the world is celebrating in one form or another this month.

The first bit of the story – the one of The Good Samaritan – quoted from the book of Luke,

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Now at this point, it says clearly in that last verse, that he wanted to “justify himself” – He was an expert in the law, Jesus knew that. This guy was looking for a way out, a loophole. He was trying to do something that should be familiar to all of us: find a way to obey the law and be comfortable doing it, so he asked that second question:

“Who is my neighbor?”

Unspoken there is the question, “Who isn’t my neighbor?” “Who do I even have to acknowledge?” More simply put is this: “Who can I ignore?”

And then Jesus told this story:

30-32 “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

 (from the book of Luke, chapter 10, The Message Translation)

So a little history here:

A priest walked by…

He. Walked. By.

The priest… the holy man who should have been able to do all sorts of things to help the injured traveler, not only walked by, but actively avoided him by walking on the other side of the road. Understand, this was not, shall we say, a good neighborhood. (the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to have bandits and the like, but you’d think someone seeing an injured person would try to help that person, rather than walking off to the side and avoiding him.)

But he didn’t.

It wasn’t convenient.

A Levite walked by…

Levites were special people according to the Bible. They were from the tribe of Levi, They were supposed to watch over and take care of the priestly duties in the Sanctuary. They couldn’t inherit land like all the other tribes, and they had extra responsibilities, but they got the best of everything in return. That didn’t mean they were perfect, but they were definitely considered special. Some translations imply that the Levite actually went over to look at the fellow, but then went on his way, not touching him, as that could have made him unclean. (there were many rules about touching dead bodies, which would prevent people from doing the things they were supposed to do), so that was his excuse…

And he kept walking.

It wasn’t socially acceptable.

It’s just that both he and the priest were walking *from* Jerusalem, meaning their tasks, ritual and otherwise, were done. They were going home. Their duties were done. The excuse of being unclean would have been pretty much a wash.

And then a Samaritan walked by.

Understand, at the time, the country of Israel was split into the northern and southern halves, and while those halves could trace their lineage back to common ancestors, they had definitely diverged in culture, beliefs, and – well, prejudices.

It got to the point where people would not only walk to the other side of the road to avoid each other, but would actively go out and try to wipe each other off the map (see here).  We see this kind of stuff on the news even today.

The Samaritan was treated as not only an enemy, but a much less than second class citizen, one to be avoided, one to not speak to or associate with.

So when Jesus talked about Samaritans, he wasn’t being gentle about it, he was being pretty hard core, and telling the Jews there to love their neighbors.

Period.

Not just when it was comfortable.

Not just when it was convenient.

Not just when it was socially acceptable.

And he used what they thought was the lowest form of life on the planet to get that point across, with all the gentleness and finesse of a sledgehammer.

“Here, see this guy? The injured one? The Hurting one? The one down on his luck? He needs help, and he needs it now. And you guys are too ‘Holy’ to do it. So who does? The guy you hate (the Samaritan) helps the guy you say is one of your own more than your holiest of people. Take that and think about it for a bit, THEN tell me who the neighbor that you’re supposed to love actually is.”

So much harm has been done to people in the name of religion.  Be it physical harm, psychological harm or whatever, to the point where Christians are parodied, and become caricatures of what God meant us to be.  And the people causing harm in the name of religion (on purpose or by accident) are missing the point altogether.  The folks who need our help are often ignored, rarely acknowledged, or are simply relegated to the same background as the normal sights and sounds of the city.

What did Jesus Himself say we should do?  He put it in pretty simple terms.  You’ve heard of the 10 Commandments.  The religious types of his day, trying to trap him, asked, “What’s the most important commandment?” and in that story above, Jesus narrowed it down to two.

There’s quite a bit said in the Bible about the “Body of Christ” – and for a long time I had a hard time getting my head around that concept…

Then I realized that we – those who are supposed to be following Christ, imperfect as we are, are His body here on earth.

We are His hands.

We are His feet.

We are the ones who are supposed to help…

And I realized that that traveler from Samaria, reviled by so many in his day, still had lessons to teach 2,000 years later…


My wife and I were grocery shopping the other day, and on kind of a whim, I bought about a half a gallon of fresh squeezed cider. Not the frozen concentrate, not the stuff that’s so clear it looks like it’s already gone through you once. This was the real stuff, and I wanted it because – oh – here, hold the bottle and just come with me into my time machine… Let’s go back about 40 years or so to when I was a kid…

My dad was off at college to get a degree for his second career while we were trying to live off his military pension. Mom was using ductape and paperclips trying to make ends meet, and doing her best to keep us from being worried, or even aware of how little money there really was.

So we had our own little special things that didn’t cost much.

Among the many things we couldn’t afford was soda – or pop – whatever you call it in the part of the country you’re from.

So we did something else.

We made it ourselves.

We had apple trees, and we had my grampa’s cider press, and we put the two together and made apple cider, just as the last of the apples were falling.

There was a special time, several weeks after the cider had been made, when it started to ferment a bit, and get fizzy. Understand, we kept it outside. It was just cold enough to keep it from fermenting too fast, but not so cold as to preserve it perfectly. If you haven’t had this treat, you’re clearly missing something – it’s something they try to sell in stores – you can buy “hard cider” just about anywhere now, but what made this special was that time in the fermentation process where the sugars were just starting to turn to alcohol. There was a mixture of the still-present, but fading sweetness, that was a being replaced by the zing of the bubbles and alcohol that you simply can’t get from a store. It’s a transitional state… Not too sweet, not too… Hard, I guess. And that was the perfect time to have it. Usually about the second half of November through the first half of December was when it was best…

That’s when I especially looked forward to Friday night… Pizza night.

Pizza wasn’t delivered out where we lived, so we made our own. Made the dough from the USDA donated flour we got because we were too poor to afford any. You could smell the yeasty warmth of the dough rising throughout the afternoon. We grated the cheese from the USDA commodities donated cheese we got. We put the homemade pizza dough in a flat rectangular baking pan. I never understood people not eating pizza crust, for us, the corner pieces were fought over.

So that time at the end of fall and beginning of winter, that was when, if the cider wasn’t frozen from being outside, it would be cold as I brought the bottle in, then fizz as I opened it, sometimes fizzing and leaving little chunks of ice all at the same time, and we pretended we were like the rich people who could afford soda.

What I didn’t know then was that it beat anything you can get in a bottle or a can today. We’d squeezed it ourselves, from apples we’d grown, and it had aged either on the back porch or out in the pump house, which was always pretty cool anyway.

It was a family meal, at the dinner table, and it was special.

When the last of the hot pizza was gone, washed down by the last of that bottle of ice cold cider, I leaned back, trying to decide which felt better… the savory pizza still warm in my belly, or the last bits of sweet coolness from the cider fading in my mouth.

And it got me thinking – standing there in the grocery store, with a rather expensive bottle of apple cider in my left hand, something just clicked. Growing up, we often forgot how poor we were financially, because we were so rich everywhere else.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks…


It’s been a few years since I had my introduction to sailplanes, and after much prodding by my friend Greg, and me saving up to fly again, I was finally able to take advantage of some time a few weeks ago and go out to the airfield again.

It’s a quiet, grass field out in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a dead end road about an hour and a half out of Seattle. The last bit of the drive was through a forest that, in the light I was seeing it, looked like it easily could have been home to Hobbits or Dwarves or a possible dragon lurking back in the underbrush.

I smiled a little to myself and kept my eyes wide open, looking deep into the woods, imagining I might see one.  The road turned left and I emerged into a clearing, a fence to my left, and some cars parked neatly on my right. The Fairies that I’d imagined would have been at home with the Dwarves and Hobbits in the forest had taken the elegant shape of sailplanes taking off and landing on the other side of the fence.

Greg came up to greet me, his traditional peanut butter sandwich in his hand. He’d been sitting in one of several plastic chairs lined up in the shade on the south side of the field. He got one out of the shed for me, and invited me to sit down and chat while he spliced the end of a tow rope.

Part of me really wanted to get in the air, but another part of me was just happy to enjoy the peace and quiet of the fall colors, the fresh air, and the occasional gentle breeze.

There was another flier that visited every now and then. It was a dragonfly (or maybe it was a baby fairy) and its wings almost imperceptibly thrummed as it inspected us.  It was never in one spot long enough for a good picture, but it emphasized the almost palpable quiet there. I mean, there can’t be much background noise if you can hear a dragonfly…

It was nice.

I heard the towplane fly overhead , looked up, and saw that someone was enjoying a ride in the same sailplane I’d gone up in a few years ago.

I smiled again.

SuperCub_Schweitzer233.jpg

The Super Cub pulling the Schweizer 2-33

His peanut butter sandwich finished, Greg now had both hands free and we chatted some more while he continued working on his towropes, with the dragonfly checking in every now and then.

PW-6U_Takeoff.jpg

Someone runs alongside to steady the wing until the ailerons take effect

The tow plane – a hard-working Piper Super Cub flown by a an equally hard working gentleman named Patrice, pulled many planes up into the sky, including the PW-6U we’d be in.

SuperCub_PW6.jpg

The Super Cub pulling the PW-6U into a gorgeous blue sky

The afternoon went on, and I saw it go up and down a few times…

I could sense my eagerness, verging on impatience, wanting to get in – but there were people ahead of me in line, and they had to go up first, and the tow plane needed gas, and a student needed scheduled practice, all valid things, but all making me feel like a fidgety kid peeking around everyone else standing in line for a ride on the roller coaster at the fair.  The only thing missing was the smell of cotton candy and popcorn wafting in the breeze.

So I waited, and chatted with Greg, and John, the fellow I’d gone up with the last time, and a few others, and the afternoon wore on – no – it didn’t wear on, it was better than that. It passed, pleasantly, softly, gently.

The shadows grew longer, and longer, and finally, as the sun was casting its last warmth over the horizon…

Bandits1200.jpg

Bandits! 12:00! – Now it was our turn behind the Super Cub

…we got in.  With Greg in the back, me in the front, and Patrice in the tow plane, we all took off and headed for our release altitude. As low as the sun was by that time, Greg said it would be a “sled ride” (all downhill) as we needed to be down before the sun actually set.

We kept climbing, turning gracefully behind Patrice.

At one point, I looked out the right side and was speechless at the absolute majesty of Mount Rainier, almost close enough to touch…

Mt.Rainier_Sunset_PW5.jpg

I smile every time I see this picture, and remember this moment.

 

…and then, looking closer at the picture, realized it’d be a good idea to not wear a striped shirt next time I flew. (How cool, I’m already thinking of a ‘next time’)

Greg had me pull the release for the tow rope.  It sprung and coiled for a bit before straightening out as Patrice flew back down to the field off to our left. We found our way along the big ridge behind the airfield, turned again, and given the sled ride nature of the flight, Greg flew, and I was just in awe of the beauty around me.

Can it get more beautiful?

Can it get more beautiful?

He asked how I handled steep turns, as he was going to burn off a lot of altitude very quickly to get down in time. I grinned as he banked hard and did an amazing corkscrew into the pattern,  extended the spoilers,

Moon_Landing_PW6.jpg

We had our own moon landing that day

and put the setting sun behind and the moon in front of us as we approached the field. We squeezed right between the trees, and the gentle hiss of the sailplane was replaced by the shuddering rumble of the landing gear on the grass, quieting down to silence as we rolled to a stop right where the plane needed to be put away…

We got out, I turned around and saw the sun setting behind the trees as Greg got my Nikon out of the front cockpit.

PW6_Sunset_Landing.jpg

The PW-6U on the field after the sun had set

I heard something ticking off to my left, and as I turned, I realized it was the engine of the Super Cub that had taken us up, still cooling off and resting from its day of labor.

It was already tied down, the moon reflecting off its wings…

SuperCub_Moon.jpg

The Super Cub, resting in the moonlight

Greg helped put the PW-6U we’d flown back in the trailer and after he’d made sure the cover was down and latched, we headed over to the edge of the fields where the cars were.

I thanked Patrice for his tow, and Greg for the flight and conversation, and then headed back through the woods I’d come through earlier.

Only this time, I knew the Fairies were real.

 


We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons over the last couple of years. Life has been busy, and I needed a place to be alone with my thoughts. A lot of people, family and friends, had left our lives in that time, to live on in our memories, and fall brings memories, and “firsts” that are bittersweet and often painful.

The weather was nice the other day, so I went out to Golden Gardens where I often go to watch the sunset.

Sunset, Golden Gardens

I walked toward the water, past the sand and onto the rocky part, just watching and listening. A train had gone by a little earlier, and its fading rumble mixed with a ship’s horn…

RocksOnTheBeach

…and the swish of waves rolling over the rocks on the beach.

Rock

I wandered for awhile, and one of the rocks caught my eye, and I picked it up…

Ipickeditup

…and saw the impression it had left behind in the sand in the beach, shaped just like itself.

And I realized that each person in my life, in your life, occupies a space only they can fill. Some people exist in your life in a very specific time and place, with very clear borders, a lot like a rock on the beach.

They leave your life in whatever way they leave…

HoleIsFilledUp

…but the hole they leave is quietly filled up over time, like the sand on the beach.

waves

I pondered this as I watched the waves a little more.

And realized that only after some people leave your life – that you realize they weren’t a rock on the beach.

They were the rock that held the beach up.

 

And nothing is ever the same.


My friend Bill called me out of the blue today, and after the usual greetings of “Hey Billy!” and “Hey Tommy!” there was a pause and we both said, at almost the same time, “It’s good to hear your voice.”

We talked a bit – about life, our kids, and so on, but I pondered those words we’d said, and it got me thinking…

Those words have become part of my vocabulary of late – in part because – well, because I’ve learned a little bit about life, and I did that because I’ve had a little experience at the edges of it.

So – if you talk to me sometime, and I say that – it’s because I realize that life is short – often much shorter than we think, whether that’s for us, or for someone we love.

We can read letters from people who have made the transition out of our lives to live on in our memories.

We can look at pictures of them and recall the times we had making them.

We can listen to recordings of them talk, or tell stories of their youth.

But we can’t converse with them anymore.

And so, if you ever hear me say that, “It’s good to hear your voice.” – it’s because it is good.

It means you haven’t made that transition from this life to the next.

It means we can still talk.

And listen.

And share.

And laugh…

…or maybe cry.

We can have a chat over cup of bad coffee (usually if I’m the one making it, although much to my surprise I accidentally figured out how to make good coffee a couple of months ago)

Heck, we could do something strange, and have a chat over good coffee…

And catch up on old times.

Relive old memories.

Make new ones.

But we can only do that if we can hear each others voices.

And we could.

And did.


It’s September, and all across the country, another school year has started with all the busyness that it brings, and it brought back a smile, and a memory of a fellow I knew in high school many years ago.

Bob Sherp, an exchange student from England, almost graduated from Bethel High School in Spanaway, Washington, back in 1980. He was a good student, taking a well-rounded set of classes. I know, because he and I had several classes together, one of them being Radio Production (with Mrs. Williams) and one being First Aid, with “Brownie”.

Bob and I were pretty evenly matched, academically, in those two classes, and I would have to say that his attendance was extraordinary. In fact, every time I was in class, so was Bob – and – well, I think it’s time to start at the beginning…

See, this was High School.

This is the time in a young person’s life when not all the parts of the brain develop at the same rate… The frontal lobe of the brain, the one dealing with responsibility and mature thinking, acknowledging the consequences of one’s actions and the like, especially for boys, that’s just not all there yet. Why do you think car insurance for boys is so much higher? For that matter, why do you think most of the infantry in the Army is young?

“Go out there into that gaping maw of death and take that minefield!”

“Sir, yes SIR!”

…it’s because of that whole frontal lobe thing. They don’t have any thought to their own safety, or potential consequences. In fact, there’s even proof. Seriously.

So while we didn’t have any military types to deal with in this story, we did manage to get Jason, Tamara, Wayne and about 4 more of us frontally-lobe-challenged teenagers together to mess with the system a bit, as it were, with no idea of the consequences that were to follow… You see, every quarter, we had to register for our classes, and at that time, we’d all troop into the gym, where things were semi computerized. That is to say the forms we were to put our class requests onto had been computer printed with our names and other information on them.

On paper.

…and later this paper would be scanned back into a computer, but all of the registration and filling out of the forms in between was totally manual.

On paper.

When we entered the gym, there were tables all around the edges, with boxes on them full of these forms, and letters indicating that forms on this table were for students with last names beginning from A-C, and the next table was D-F, and so on. Behind each table sat someone’s mom, or former student’s mom, who had volunteered to help get the 1800 students registered over the course of the day.

There was a lot to do.

There were things to correct.

…and there were lots of spare forms.

Heh…

Remember that bit about messing with the system? Here was an opportunity that was, in the words of Tom and Ray Magliocci (of Car Talk fame) “Unimpeded by the thought process.” Well that’s just a perfect definition for a teenager, especially some ‘frontally lobe challenged’ teenagers who were up for a laugh.

And the thing was, while we were up for a laugh, we didn’t want to get anyone into trouble, least of all Bob. He had to be visible enough to be known, but completely invisible from faculty and staff.

Well, staff.

The six of us got together with our favorite teachers and asked them if they’d be okay with having an extra student in their class, and would he pass if he were there…

To a teacher, the answer was, “if he does the work, he’ll get the grade…”

Cool!

Now because I was the most honest looking of the bunch, or because I was the most frontally lobe challenged, I’m not sure which, I was picked to go to the table marked S – T, get one of the spare forms with some level of excuse that I’d lost mine, and have them fill it in as needed, and surprise of all surprises, Bob Sherp was born.

Right there, in the middle of the gym, at Bethel high school in Spanaway, Washington. He was a big baby… 180 pounds. About six feet.

Oh, and about 18 years old.

Bob got to be with me in the first aid class, in large part because I got along well with Brownie, and her take of, “If he does the work, he’ll get the grade…” It did kind of bug me though, every now and then – because I was literally doing twice the work of a normal student, and strangely enough, whoever’s homework I did first (Bob’s or mine) generally got the better grade.

When I got a worse grade than Bob, I knew something was a little off – but what was really cool in all of this is that I really learned my first aid.

Another class I “had” with Bob was the Radio Production class.

Selected people from the Radio Production class did the announcements for the entire school every morning.

And Bob did the announcements, every Monday morning.

We’d decided Bob would be a foreign exchange student from England, in large part because I could do a pretty good English accent.

So I was the voice of Bob Sherp.

Every Monday, I’d leave class, get the stack of announcements at the front office, sort them by subject, and stack them on the PA system in the corner. Now because of the way it was set up, I’d have to stand, facing the corner, holding the mike key down with my left hand while holding the announcement I was reading in my right, and every Monday morning started exactly the same way, with a stunningly enthusiastic deep British voice, “Good Morning! Bob Sherp here once again, with your Monday morning announcements!” – and then I’d go off on a riff and ad lib my way through the announcements, making “British” comments and just being way, WAY too cheerful for a pre-coffee high school Monday morning… but it’s what I got to … sorry, it’s what “Bob” got to do, and “Bob” loved it.

What “Bob” didn’t realize is that while standing there, alone in that corner, back to the office, when everyone was supposed to be in their homerooms, he had a captive audience of about 1800 people, all students sitting there in their classes with nothing else to do but listen to some English guy tell bad jokes and talk about which clubs were meeting that day, when “spirit week” was, and how important it was to register for your SAT’s.

The funny thing was, NO one outside the Radio Production class ever knew who Bob was… No one had ever seen him. In fact, the folks in the radio Production class might not have been sure, just like Superman and Clark Kent, Tom Roush and Bob Sherp were never seen together… or, for that matter… heard together, I guess. It got close once… The student body president happened to see me leave the office one Monday right after I’d – er – “Bob” had done the announcements and asked if I’d done them.

“Nope,” I said, barely edging out of the English accent in time, “That was Bob Sherp!”

“Oh, – he sure sounded like you…”

I made sure no one ever heard “Tom” speaking in an English accent after that.

What’s funny about the whole thing – at least for me, is I honestly had no idea what kind of storm I was creating with Bob. Like I said, NO one ever saw him, and I found out much later, an awful lot of people were trying to figure out who this guy was.

A young sophomore named Bitsy had heard “Bob’s” voice every Monday morning, and just had to meet him, so for an entire quarter, she and a number of friends she had enlisted to help staked out the hallways between classes, ears tuned for any trace of the owner of a British accent she’d heard, and memorized, and wanted to meet. But her attempts were in vain, and she never heard “Bob’s” voice.

However, as with all good things, it came to an end. It seems that somehow, somewhere, they started poking around, and apparently Bob was called to, of all things, the office – the same one he (and I) did the Monday morning announcements in. Unfortunately, I had a P.E. class outside at the time of those calls, and I never heard the announcements. The others in the group of us who’d ‘created’ him thought I’d heard them, but didn’t tell me – so after a while, Bob, bless his heart, was expelled from school for being absent – even on days he’d been there first thing, giving those Monday morning announcements.

So Bob was kicked out and didn’t graduate, I did and went off to college, and a couple of years later, I was home for a weekend, when two friends, Wayne and Bitsy, yes, that Wayne, and yes, that Bitsy, who’d become a bit of an item, came over to visit, and as we were chatting about old times, the subject of Bob came up.

Wayne and I looked at each other, grinned a little, and felt the situation was about as ripe as it was going to get so he (who as you know had been in on the gag from the beginning) said to Bitsy (who clearly hadn’t, but SOOOO wanted to meet Bob), “Hey you wanna meet Bob Sherp?”

Bitsy’s eyes got huge.

She looked up at Wayne, almost in awe.

Really?”

Wayne knew about Bob? This was too good to be true. And then, Wayne’s and my eyes met, and unspoken, I took my cue…

“Good Morning! Bob Sherp here, once again, with your Monday morning announcements!”

Bitsy’s face went into instant, total shock followed immediately by

  • Absolute delight at finally meeting “Bob” to
  • Excitement at having the answers to her questions
  • Total shock at realizing someone she’d known (Wayne) had had the answers to all her questions all the time even if he didn’t realize the questions were there
  • and then finally realizing Bob was someone she’d known all along.

In the end, she wasn’t sure whether to hug us or clobber us, but we all had a good laugh afterwards.

Apparently this had really been a secret that those of us in on it kept very well, and people, especially Bitsy, just wanted answers, Wayne had them, and true to his word, he never, ever let on that he knew that the mysterious foreigner Bitsy had been so eager to meet was a guy who’d sat next to her in class a few years before.

Wayne and Bitsy became even more of an Item a number of years later, and when I talked to her about it while writing this story, her memory of it was just as sharp as the day she’d discovered who Bob was – er – is…

And of course, it got me thinking…

Remember that thing I mentioned about the frontal lobe and not knowing what the consequences of our actions would be?  On this one, I still don’t.  It’s been years since this happened – and only with the publishing of this story will I find out what kinds of memories will be brought up in all of it.  I just know that for me, (and Bob) it was a tremendous amount of fun to step completely outside of being the normal person that showed up for school every day and become someone else, to be able to make people laugh, smile, and wonder.

So for those of you in my class (Wayne, Tamara, Jason, and a few others) who made it all possible – thank you so much for your help!

Heh, I just realized this, we made the first Avatar… Before there were avatars online, there was Bob Sherp.

In real life.

So for those of you who’ve been wondering all these years – you now have your answer.

For Brownie and Mrs. Williams and all the other teachers – you’re gems.  Thank you for playing along with us in all of it.

Oh, and Bitsy – Bob says hi.  ;-)

(and this is published on Monday morning just for you)

Tom Roush

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