A Eulogy to My Dad, Martin Frederick

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Good evening everyone. Thank you for coming to show your support for our family and to honor and celebrate my Dad’s life.  I just want to also say what an honor is to be speaking to you, please extend your grace toward me. I’ll do my best to make it through this and not fall to pieces.

Let us bow our heads in prayer: Our Father of love and grace, you know our hearts and you know better than any of us the sorrow and anguish of death. Lord, you know since you gave your son for us. Give us comfort in this time of grief, as only you can. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

In Matthew 5:4 Jesus tells us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…“

We are here to mourn, remember, and celebrate the life of my dad, Martin Frederick, some knew him as Buddy, or Bam Bam.

I’ve been home here in Pennsylvania for about two weeks now, and you may not know this but I live in Colorado currently and have been living out West for over four years. I took my job with me and work from home, but I do come back to the office about every three months. I say all this because it isn’t as though I’ve been completely gone for four years, but these past two weeks have been different.

Just last week, my dad and I were going through some things at the house and he had asked me to go to the auto parts store to get some oil we needed. I went upstairs and found the keys to an old stick shift Ford truck that was parked in the driveway. I made sure there was a dealer plate on it and left to go get the oil. I was sitting at the light by Sheetz when I was struck by a thought: I’m sitting here in old clothes, in a stick shift, beat up Ford truck, loose steering and shoddy brakes, with a license plate stuck in the rear window. This was me twenty years ago. Only then I was a naïve, self-centered teenager that knew everything, and of course my dad was an idiot. The situation was the same, though; my dad would have sent me to pick up parts in some old truck, I’d be covered in dirt and smelling like engine degreaser, and I’d be sitting there at the red light by Sheetz.

However, this time a melancholic nostalgia overcame me and I began sobbing, because even though things in North Hunting aren’t much different than they were all those years ago, this time was different. It was different because my dad, my hero, and the toughest guy I’ve ever met was dying. The red light changed, and as all the cars went past, I wanted to scream so loud that everyone would notice. I wanted everyone know that things ARE going to be different from now on.

They’re going to be different, because we’re all going to have to learn how to live without my dad – and that’s going to be so hard.

A few days ago, I as talking to my dad’s friend Dave. He was telling me a story about him and my dad that would probably be better saved for a few beers and a campfire (Dave, I’ll let you tell that one “offline”). But, I really enjoyed hearing it because it embodied who my dad was on so many levels. However, it made me realize the depth and complexity of who my dad was. He was my father and that’s how I knew him. He was a different father to my sister, Courtney – and I was always so touched to watch someone so tough have such tenderness in his heart. He was a father to Chris Jones – and I’m so thankful for their relationship and the positive influence my dad was in his life – and admittedly I was always a bit jealous of how they were able to be friends and buddies along with their father-son relationship. He was a farther-in-law to Mark. He was a husband to my mom, Barbara – and when I looked back this week at pictures from their wedding, attendees clinking classes with silverware to make the newlyweds kiss, my mom and dad smashing cake in other’s faces, I was so touched by the love in their eyes. (They probably would have been a fun couple to go on vacations with to a couple’s resort in the Caribbean, and great conversationalists to have over for dinner – if they hadn’t had us kids). To my grandma and pap my dad was a son, and he was “buddy,” – brother to my aunts Pam and Bonnie. As I look back at the pictures of him with all the motorcycles he’d built and rode, I can only imagine Gram and Pap had their hands full with a living embodiment of Peter Fonda from Easy Rider. (For anyone sitting here that’s too young, Google that later if you’re unsure about the movie reference, or better yet WATCH IT)

To the local police force, North Huntingdon Township zoning officers, and our neighbor across the street, my dad was an outlaw. (You’re allowed to laugh) – but I was always so proud of him for never wavering from his beliefs and for standing for what he knew was right.

We should all have a little more of that in us, don’t you think?

In the back of my mind there’s this part of me that always wanted to be writer. Some reclusive Hemingway type, living in a shanty in the woods, huddled over an old type writer, smoking big cigars and downing whiskey. And, I’ve often heard it said that for a novelist to write a book, he has to write about his life and what he knows. I always thought that was terribly bad news for a kid from western Pennsylvania – how could I write a book if my life was so average? Then just year or so ago, I was at a conference for work and some friends and I were having a drink around a table after the day’s work was done. Somehow, I got to telling stories about growing up, which ultimately led to stories about my dad. I think two hours went by and my friends were crying with laugher, falling out of their chairs, and at the same time sitting on the edges of their seats wondering what I’d say next. It was then I realized when the time came to put words down on paper, I’d definitely have something to say, and growing up with someone as special as my dad would make him a big part of it.

Although I have enough stories to be sitting at that cabin in the woods, bottle of whiskey, a scraggly cat dragging in dead half eaten mice, and writing my novel, I thought I’d limit myself to sharing a few of my favorite “chapters.” The relationship of a father and son is so important and complex my only fear is that I won’t properly honor the man he was, but I hope these capture the essence of my dad. If we aren’t already, I’m sure we’ll laugh, and I’m sure we’ll cry – but that’s why we’re here.

My dad was diagnosed with cancer November of 2016. Not long after that I realized when my dad passed, whenever that might be, that my mom would ask me to speak like I am here tonight. Somehow over the years, I’ve become labeled as the “spiritual one” in the family – and I don’t mind that. When hospice was in just a week or so ago, they asked if my dad would like them to send a spiritual advisor or counselor in. He said “I have my son Zach.”  I find this honor that I’ve been bestowed with both challenging and humbling. Of course, I don’t believe we are human beings having a spiritual experience, I believe we’re spiritual beings having a human experience. It’s my prayer that we can all be the “spiritual ones.”

I also know my mom didn’t want someone who didn’t know my dad to speak about him. I agree with her. None of us wanted to hear the cliché eulogy Bible verses and someone saying “I didn’t know Martin very well, but people that knew him have told me…” (Fill in the blanks). As hard as this is to be speaking to you, I’m glad I am because I DID know my dad very well, and I CAN tell you; he was hard-working, he loved his family and friends, he was passionate about boating and hunting. He was creative, artistic and talented at so many things, and he was a perfectionist that never minded having five hundred or more projects going on at once. He loved Harley Davidson motorcycles, and he didn’t just buy them and ride them – he built them. I know I wouldn’t have the skills I do, or be the man I am today without his influence.

Of course, when I was younger, before I would go out on a Friday night my dad would always say “don’t do anything stupid.” Now that I’m grown, I realize he said that because he knew how he had been growing up and didn’t want me to repeat anything. Use your imagination.

All boys believe their dad is the toughest guy in the world. If you’re a guy, I know you sat in a tree fort and had those debates with the other boys growing up, “my dad could kick your dad’s butt.” “No, my dad’s stronger than your dad, he could kick your dad’s butt.” Right? You know what I’m talking about. But, my dad’s different – Martin Frederick seriously could kick your dad’s butt. Let me explain; I once watched him step off his boat with bare feet into shallow water and accidentally set his foot down on something sharp under the surface. The clear green river turned deep red as if Jaws had just bit off the lower half of his body. Instead of going to the emergency room, he put a sock and his shoes on and continued to work on the shore clearing out a picnic area all day long. When we got home that night, Donna Grubbs (Hi Donna) took his blood-soaked sock off and found his foot with a wound so deep that globs of white fat were hanging out. Sitting at the kitchen table with no pain killers or Novocain, she put inside AND outside stitches across a large portion of the bottom of his foot. On another occasion I witnessed a two-hundred-pound bar of steel fall on his big toe and obliterate it. The only thing that kept it from completely exploding was the shoe he was wearing. As he was being driven to the Emergency Room, he was giving the rest of us orders on what to keep working on while he was gone. It’s probably not very wise, but now that I’m grown and on my own, any time I hurt myself, I compare it to my dad’s injuries, and that’s how I assess if I should go to the hospital or not. That’s how I know my dad’s tougher than your dad.

When I would go hunting with my dad he wasn’t like the other hunters. We would go to the state game lands between Ohiopyle and Confluence. It’s one of the largest acreage sections of state hunting land in the entire state of Pennsylvania. We’d begin hiking in while it was still dark, and we’d quietly make our way through the forest. I’d notice a couple other hunters posted at their spots for the first quarter, or maybe the first half mile. We’d nod to them and we would keep hiking. Before long there were no more hunters that had gone in as far as we had. By the time it turned daylight we were miles into the woods. We’d hunt all day, slowly making our way deeper into the woods, moving farther and farther AWAY from the truck. I’m pretty sure that our logic was that the biggest, most world-record setting buck would take notice of the physical abuse and mental turmoil we were putting ourselves through. He would have compassion on us. (Yes, the monster buck would have compassion on us and have empathy toward making our moment perfect) This buck would get on his satellite phone and make a series of grunts to the Hollywood film crews that were patiently waiting on standby, having chicken noodle soup and chocolate milkshakes at Glisan’s Restaurant on Rt. 40. The camera crew would come and film us to create the most picture-perfect hunting scene in the history of Hollywood father-son hunting scenes. As the sun would set, the trophy buck would offer himself as sacrifice to our father-son team, and we would both raise our rifles to our shoulders. (Of course, Morgan Freeman would be narrating it.) Then the enormous record-setting buck would step into the clearing. We’d both squeeze our triggers simultaneously and the mythical buck would softly go down. As the sun finished setting over the mountains my dad and I would fade away dragging the deer back to the truck with the credits rolling. Perfect right? But this isn’t Hollywood, and that’s not how our days hunting were spent. Instead, we’d be seven or eight miles from the truck, the sun had already set an hour ago, and it’s eighteen degrees out with over a foot of snow on the ground. All we’d had to eat all day were a few Hershey’s miniature chocolate bars, and some water we drank from the stream. (Hoping not to get a case of giardia). The thin work boots I wore and cotton socks had been soaking wet well before noon, and the little heat pack I had stuck down in them had blistered my foot. Did I mention it was dark and we were seven miles from the truck? No flashlights, cell phone dead from searching for service all day… but don’t worry the moon reflecting off the snow is all we needed to find our way back.  This was how my dad and I hunted together, and maybe it was more of a gun-assisted hike than a hunt, but we slept fantastic those nights and I wouldn’t trade those days for anything. I always wanted to get a deer because that look of pride on my dad’s face was absolutely priceless. I’ve he’s ever looked at you that way, you know what I’m talking about. My dad liked hunting more than I ever did, but I always went whenever I could just so I could be with him. Looking back on it, I’m sure there were things he did with me that he wasn’t very into, but I know he did them just so we could be together. That’s the kind of man he was.

When I was young, not long after talking to me about the birds and bees, my dad was doling out fatherly advice about not smoking. All my dad said was “Smoking is a sign of mental weakness.” That was all it took for me to never smoke cigarettes. I never wanted my dad to think I was weak. So for any smokers that have been struggling to quit, think to yourselves, would I want Martin Frederick to think I’m weak? I don’t think so.

My dad could fit in with anyone, anywhere. He was equally at home at an auto auction, getting hustled and losing money to shuffleboard sharks at a dive-bar, or in the courtroom. He once slicked his hair back, neatly trimmed his mustache and shaved, put on his best cologne, his long wool coat and silk scarf and his best dress shoes and slacks – then he proceeded to successfully represent his favorite employee in a court of law. The other lawyer had no idea my dad was a machinist turned auto dealer that had never even seen the bar exams. You can’t make this stuff up.

This next story is probably my favorite. About six years ago my dad bought a two-man white-water kayak that we could use to take over the twenty-foot-tall class IV-V falls in Ohiopyle. My mom and dad were already camping at our traditional family vacation spot at Summersville lake, West Virginia. I headed down with the two-man kayak to meet them, and to spend some time on the lake.  We had planned on one of the days to take the kayak down the Lower Gauley river with my friend Jeff as a practice run in preparation for the falls in Ohiopyle. Of course, by practice run, what I mean is that the Gauley was fourteen miles of over forty class three through class five rapids. If anything, we’d be over-qualified by the time we went back to Ohiopyle. So, on a beautiful summer day, we setup shuttle and put on the river in the mid-morning. Everything was going well. The scenery was spectacular, the sun was shining, and the water was a beautiful clean and clear green. Throughout the day, and with thirty or more big, significant rapids behind us, we’d only swam and had to empty the kayak about five times – which is very commendable in my opinion. The day had been long though, and the sun was hot. We were tired. In the calm pool above the last, and biggest rapid of the day, Jeff said “you don’t have to run this one, there is an easy portage around it on the old road bed there on the left. This is the biggest rapid and has some places you definitely don’t want to end up.” In kayaker terms this means, “Don’t mess this up, because there are some features here that could kill you.” Now my dad isn’t the kayaker in the family, so at this point I’m willing to do whatever he wants. I’ve been known to put my friends and family in some situations that are well outside their comfort zones, but I definitely don’t want anyone getting hurt on my watch. I look over at my dad and I can see he’s weary and tired. I said, “well what do you want to do, Jeff said we can easily walk around this one.” Then, I’ll never forget the look on his face. He looks me in the eye and simply says (more colorfully than I’m inclined to say here) “Screw it, I didn’t come here to walk around rapids!” Then we proceeded to paddle into a rapid called Pure Screaming Hell, the biggest rapid we’d ever done in the kayak. It was big and long with waves and hydraulics that crashed over us. We came through unscathed and smiling. That was my dad though, and that’s how he lived his life every day. He didn’t walk around rapids and he didn’t take the easy way through anything.

I was working from home at my folks the whole last week before my dad passed. Wednesday July 18th when I clocked out from work, my sister was also in the kitchen working from home. My dad was in the living room and some car show was on the Velocity channel. I’d been noticing each day the medications and cancer were making it harder and harder for him to concentrate. Since my dad had first been diagnosed, the Lord had laid it on my heart to tell my family about Jesus. I realized that just like that Hollywood moment that never came when we were hunting, there was never going to be a moment when the Heavens opened and the angels sang and trumpets blew, but life isn’t a Charlton Heston movie and Morgan Freeman doesn’t narrate it. Instead it was a humid Wednesday afternoon in Pennsylvania with Graveyard Cars playing on the Velocity channel. I sat down next to my dad in the living room. I said, “Dad you know I pray for you every night, right?” He said “I know you do.” I replied “Dad, I pray for two things. I pray that God would heal you, but more than that I pray for your salvation.” And then I said “Do you want that?” Dad just replied “yes.” Then we prayed together and he accepted Jesus as his savior. The weight on my heart that the Lord had laid for so long was lifted, and I knew that my dad would be with Jesus when he passed. Later that night there were no Hollywood moments or transcendental manifestations. My dad was in pain and restless. But when I tucked him into bed, I said “Goodnight dad, I love you,” and he said “I love you too Zach.” I’ll never forget the tone in his voice and the love I felt from him.

John 14:2 tells us this: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” and in the Easter Story, Matthew 28:6 reads “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.” This evening, in the midst of our sadness, let us celebrate that my dad, Martin Frederick is not here, he is in the loving arms of the risen Savior.

In conclusion, I think cancer makes a rapid like Pure Screaming Hell seem like a walk in the park, but I know my dad faced it head on. In the early morning hours on Monday July 23rd, we were by my dad’s side when, like that day on the Gauley River, he passed on unscathed, to be with the Lord. As we held on to him while he took his last breath, I was reminded of one of my dad’s favorite songs called “To Beat the Devil” by Kris Kristofferson. One of the lines is “You see, the devil haunts a hungry man, if you don’t want to join him, you gotta beat him.” Tears ran down my face and I smiled because I know my dad beat the devil, and then I thought, “He didn’t come here to walk around no rapids!”

Let us close in prayer:

God of hope, love, and grace, help us to find peace in the knowledge of your loving mercy and kindness. Give us light to guide us out of our darkness into the assurance of your love, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Thank you.

 

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A Eulogy to Aaron Scott Palmer

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Aaron Scott Palmer, March 22 1981 – January 11 2014

 

Our Father of love and mercy, you know better than any of us the anguish of our family, where joy of life has turned to the sorrow of death, a home that is today desolate by this sudden loss. Father, you know, since you gave your son for us. Give comfort in this numbing time of grief, as only you can through your Son, Jesus Christ, The messiah in whose name we pray. Amen

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Ecclesiastes 1:4-7 “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.

In Matthew 5:4 Jesus tells us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted… “

We are here to mourn, remember, and celebrate the life of Aaron Scott Palmer. Aaron was many things to many people, he was a son, a friend, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, he was like a father and a husband, and even a soon to be uncle.

To me, he was my cousin, a friend, and while growing up, he was the closest person I had to brother. We were born two weeks and two days apart. Before Aaron and I knew any better, my mom, and my Aunt Pam, used to get some strange joy from dressing Aaron and me like twins. Those photos certainly weren’t anything we’d have wanted our prom dates from high school seeing, but I can’t help but look back on them now with a smile and a tear. They say time flies, and they say the older you get the faster it goes. Probably the most telling photo is one of Aaron and me dressed alike, sitting on those little animals mounted to car coil springs that McDonalds used to have in their children’s playground. We were at the McDonalds along route 30 across from Greengate mall. Here it is, 2014, and both the McDonald’s, and Greengate mall are gone. We’ll probably all be just fine without McDonald’s and Greengate mall, but we’ll all be missing a piece of hearts without Aaron.

We are here to remember Aaron, and the good times, and all the fond memories we have. So, although I probably have enough stories to fill a book, I thought I’d limit myself to sharing a few that come to mind right away. I’m sure we’ll laugh, and I’m sure we’ll cry, but that’s what we’re here for.

I’m sure my grandma and pap secretly thought Labor Day, and the return of school couldn’t come fast enough. Aaron and I used to spend day after summer day at grandma’s house swimming, riding bikes, skateboarding, and pretty much just being ornery boys.

Do you remember those tube socks that were popular in the 80’s? They came up clear past your knees, and you wore them with shorts, even in the summer, and it makes absolutely no sense all, but that’s what we wore, and we all looked just as foolish. Well, Aaron and I used to take those tube socks, and while grandma and pap were in the house not paying any attention, we used to stand at the edge of the pool, and tie our legs and hands together with the tube socks, and pretending we were pirates, we would make the other, “walk the plank,” and push each other in the pool tied up. How we didn’t drown I’ll never know.

Then, after swimming half the day, we’d come in to eat. Grandma would make us Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. She’d make them one sandwich at a time, and cut them diagonally, giving us each a half. She’d bring the sandwich out, and set it on the table with a glass of milk. She’d leave the room and go back in the kitchen to make another sandwich. A minute later she’d come back with the next sandwich, and first sandwich was gone, and the glass of milk would be empty. This cycle would repeat over and over again, and ultimately it would turn into a joke for Aaron and me. By about the fifteenth sandwich and a gallon of milk later, grandma was onto us. Apparently, our joke wasn’t so funny to her. She’d yell and say we were just trying to see how much we could eat, which of course was absolutely true. We’d tell her that we were going to tell our parents we were hungry, and grandma wouldn’t feed us anything.

One time Grandma left for a few hours, and Pap was in charge of keeping track of Aaron and me. It was winter, and Grandma’s house was heated with wood. Pap was upstairs, and Aaron and I were downstairs. We put a scrap of wood into the wood burner in the wrong spot. A few minutes later Pap runs downstairs yelling, “What did you kids do?” The whole upstairs of the house had filled with smoke from wood burning on the wrong side of the wood burner. I think Pap was more worried about what Grandma would do to him, than actually getting Aaron and I in trouble. So, he opened all the windows of the house, turned the fans on, and aired the house out. When Gram returned home, he never said a word to her about what happened.

One time, uncle Gary took us to Potter County to their camp, Palmer’s Paradise. In the field, across the street from camp was an old school bus. All the side panels of the school bus had fallen off and were lying in the field next to it. This made the most absolutely perfect place to find snakes. After catching, no exaggeration, over 100 snakes that day, it was time to leave for home. Three of the snakes we had caught were a rare, non-poisonous snake, called a milk, or corn snake. We wanted to take them home, but Gary said no. We begged and pleaded, but he still said no. Aaron and I decided to take the three snakes home anyway. So, we put them in a shoebox and hid them in the trunk of the car. About halfway home, we stopped to eat and get gas. Aaron and I, covertly opened the trunk of the car to check on the snakes, but the box was empty, and the snakes were gone, loose in the car somewhere. We spent the whole rest of the ride home watching for the snakes, and hoping they wouldn’t show up on the dashboard or under Gary’s feet. We never did find them.

One summer my Uncle Frank took Aaron and me camping with him. We were staying at a KOA near Hershey Park. We scoured the woods around the campground for firewood, but other campers had picked the woods completely dry. Walking back to our campsite we came past an area with a small building, a tall fence around it, and a locked gate. Inside was the nice, dried, perfectly split firewood the campground sold to campers for outrageous prices. This was just what Aaron and I had been looking for. Aaron climbed the fence while I stood on the other side, keeping watch, and catching and piling the wood up. He climbed back over the fence and we proudly walked back to the campsite to show my uncle all the great firewood we had found. That night while all the other campers were stuck with small wimpy fires, we had a blazing fire and a huge pile of wood next to it. We were sitting, enjoying mountain pies when the ranger stopped by to tell us how he was on the lookout for people stealing firewood. Looking back on it now, my uncle probably knew where the wood came from, but he kept a perfect poker face. Uncle Frank invited the ranger to have a seat, and promptly made him a mountain pie cooked over our blazing fire. The ranger probably knew where our nice pile of wood came from too, but there’s almost no problem a pizza mountain pie can’t solve.

The stories I’ve told are mine, and they’re what I remember. I hope they help you think of the good times, and the good memories of your life, and your time with Aaron. He left us all too soon, and far too young, and absolutely under the hardest of circumstances. Aaron and I wanted to be farmers together growing up, and although I’m still not exactly a farmer, it was always my wish to be close again with Aaron like we were when we were young. I had hoped that someday we would be old together, and laugh over old stories, and tell tales of all the crazy things we’d done, and the good times we’d had.

Over the years we grew apart, and we would have brief periods of a rekindled relationship. The last time Aaron and I had this opportunity was at Courtney, my sister’s graduation. I was surprised to see Aaron there. After meeting again at the graduation, we had a period of about a year around that time when I would see Aaron frequently. I was married in 2005, and Aaron was my best man. We had dinner afterward at little diner on Route 40 called Glisan’s. After dinner before we all headed home, we hugged, and I said I love you. He said I love you too, and we both meant it.

We all knew Aaron had his share of problems, and I had always hoped that by being there for him, accepting him, meeting him where he was in his life, and by not reproaching him, I had hoped that he would feel loved and welcomed by me. I hoped more than anything that I could share the love of Jesus Christ with him. I’d pray, not nearly often enough, that somebody, even if it weren’t me, would have the chance to share the good news of the gospel with Aaron. I know it is only through Christ that we can overcome our sins, our problems and our addictions. Reading from the New Testament the book of Romans chapter 8 verse 37 tells us; in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. I believe Aaron wanted to be a conqueror. I don’t think he knew where to start. I wish I would have been bold enough or had the right words to say. I always thought there would be more time.

That’s the problem though, we always think there will be some other time to make things right. We spend our time on the things in this world that are of no real meaning. We worry about our jobs, sports, our houses, 401Ks and the cars we drive. Ecclesiastes 2:11 tells us, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” In chapter 14 verse 5 the prophet Job tells us, “A man’s days are numbered. You oh God know the number of his months. He cannot live longer than the time you have set.

These are sobering, and humbling words, but the Good News is that God sent His only Son Jesus Christ, that we might be comforted, encouraged, and ultimately saved through Him.

Titus 3:5, tells us, “Christ saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

In Matthew 11 verses 28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Aaron was a hard-worker, he was smart, athletic, energetic, and everyone loved him. I always envied the sheer number of friends he always seemed to be surrounded by. People were just naturally attracted to him. A couple years ago Aaron had some of his things in a box at my house, and I was helping to organize them. I came across a group picture from a week we had spent at Pine Springs summer church camp in Jennerstown. As I looked at that picture, it seemed to say so much. Why had Aaron hung on to it? What meaning did it have for him? Why was it significant? Going through the box I found other things that were dear to him, and other keepsakes he cared about. In this box, were photo albums of family, and friends, photos of vacations, and of childhood pets. As I sat looking at this box of cherished memories, I realized that no matter what callousness this world had tried to cover his heart with, this was Aaron’s heart, and deep down this was the Aaron we all loved, and this was the Aaron that loved us. There in those pictures was the Aaron that longed for things to be right. This was the Aaron that longed for the reconciled relationship with his mom, his dad, his sister, and his family and friends. As we depart from here and say goodbye, take with us these thoughts of the Aaron we loved, and the Aaron who loved us, and let our memories be filled with what is true and noble, and everlasting.

God of hope, love, and grace, we come to you in shock, and grief, and confusion of heart. Help us to find peace in the knowledge of your loving mercy and kindness. Give us light to guide us out of our darkness into the assurance of your love, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Dynamic Duo – Lower Gauley

Saturday morning, September 7th, I left Mill Run Pennsylvania at 4am, and headed down to the Gauley River for a fall release run. I met my mom and dad at Battle Run Campground for breakfast. Afterward, my dad and I headed out 129 and met Jeff Macklin for a run down the Lower Gauley. Here are some photos from the day. A very special thank you to Jeff Macklin for the spectacular photos.

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A Short Story, or the Beginning of a Novel?

The old man sat. He leaned back in his chair spit into the fire and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. He lighted the cigarette breathed in then exhaled long and slow. When he spoke his words were faint and slow as if he were thinking of the right words or if he should even speak at all.  The story he told was of a military chaplain. This military chaplain had grown up in a small town of some suburban mid-Atlantic state. Some little town with a name not unlike a thousand other small towns. He had gone to church every Sunday worked on the family farm graduated high school and enlisted in the army. He had said it was his duty to serve God and his country, and he could think of no better way to do both. Years later when the war had started he was sent to Europe. One evening while walking the streets of a small village he had solicited the services of a prostitute. Under the false name of John Smith they were on the second floor of the inn and he was on top of her when an airstrike had flew over the town dropping bombs and unleashing gunfire on the civilians running the streets. A bomb had hit the taller building across the alley from the inn, and sent a spray of shrapnel and debris in all directions. A large chunk from the parapet of the roof came in through the window of the inn crushing the scull of the young chaplain. The prostitute lived.

He sat forward and took a final draw from his cigarette, and flung it into the fire. He looked at the boy who had sat listening to the story. None spoke.  The silence continued. Then.

And what should I think about that the boy said.

More silence then taking another cigarette from the pack in his pocket, the old man began. You shouldn’t think anything of it. To think whether in this lifetime God rewards or punishes those who serve him or sin against Him is foolish. A whore who all her life had sold her body to the lust of men’s hearts is now saved by God’s servant who in his moment of weakness had succumbed to temptation. What then, was God punishing the chaplain for his sin? Was He saving the prostitute from hers?

I guess what the prostitute did after that is what matters said the boy.

The story ends there said the old man. We don’t know what happened after. He lit the cigarette. We can only know that God weaves lives and stories in a plan that goes beyond a priest and prostitute. Beyond the people they interact with in their lives. It makes them part of something that was begun before their birth and continues even after their death.

The boy said he must be going now and the old man flung the half smoked cigarette into the fire as he stood up. The boy stood also but seemed to be waiting for the old man to say something more. Perhaps some final words of encouragement or some last bit of wisdom but he offered none. He only moved toward the door and the boy followed. He stood in the doorway the boy stepped past on to the porch. He reached out his arm extended to shake hands with the old man but he only stared indifferently toward the sun setting on the ridge to the west. He reached in his pocked taking out another cigarette then changed his mind and put it back. The boy dropped his hand back to his side and turned to leave. He placed his left foot in the stirrup and grabbed the big horn of the old wade saddle. He thought at his gesture of leaving a final word of farewell would be spoken by the old man. He swung his right leg over the cantle and into the deep seat turning toward the open doorway but the door swung shut and the old man was gone.

He rode out and down the slope from the old man’s cabin. He followed an eroded logging trail overgrown with greenbrier. Crossing a small creek and opening into a clearing he stopped and sat the horse watching the last of the sunset over the peak. The crimson of the setting sun in the late August evening burned like boiling blood spewing from the wound of the waning crescent moon kicked over on it side by the foot of Atlas himself. He rode through the meadow and in the last of the light pulled the Remington SPR94 from its leather scabbard and shot a rabbit that had come out from under a nearby brush pile. The old mare he called Penny started for a moment at the ring of the shot but then remained with her feet planted steady. The rabbit was struggling and its back leg was injured. He dismounted and the horse stood waiting. The boy walked over to the rabbit and picked it up by the back legs with his left hand and swung down with his right breaking its neck. He walked back to the Penny horse and tied the rabbit to the saddle strings behind the cantle. They followed the logging road up the ridge and made camp for the night in a hollow off the side of a switchback. He dressed and skinned the rabbit picking out the shot lead pellets. The horse was cropping grass and eating the new growth from the briars and saplings. The boy cooked the rabbit over a small fire and ate in silence. He untied a fleece blanket he had been using as a bedroll from the back of the saddle. He hobbled the horse and loosed the latigo allowing the cinch to hang easy. The boy lay back on the bedroll to stare at the night sky and some time pasted and he was asleep.

He woke the next morning to the first ray of an orange sun rising over the eastern knob in the distance. The beams of light beat in scattered intervals between the trees and cast an enigmatic glow passing through the fine mist that hung in the air. The fire was well out and only a faint spiral of smoke hinted up out of the black. He kicked at ashes to see if any hot coals were left. None were. Penny was standing twenty five yards away waiting for him with ears forward and hind quarters cocked resting her back leg, the heels of her large hoof elevated and resting with only toe and steel touching.  He tightened the cinch and they rode the logging road until began to arc back toward the valley below to the east. The peak of the small mountain was close and he reined the horse to the right and began busting through the brush and thistles leaving the trail behind. They crossed over and down the range and across two more that day. When he stopped they were on western slope looking down on a small boulder field that lay choking out trees and briars and grasses and anything that would grow. He dismounted and led the horse across picking his path and hoping she did not pull a shoe or worse. Below the boulder field a small patch of forest began and he continued to lead the horse. The boy stopped for the night and camped under a large overhang of a rock standing out from the hillside. He woke the next morning and ate the remainder of the rabbit. They rode all morning and early afternoon until in the distance he could see a small town ahead.

He rode on towards the town. On a road outside of where the roofs of homes marked the edge of town a stream of cars was lined up filling a field that was already laden and bursting with the steel and rubber of automobiles. The afternoon sun glistened off the glass windshields. They rode on and down the side of the ridge and through a small patch of hemlock and then down the embankment that bordered the road leading to town.  They neared the field and in the center of the field was a large white circus tent. Outside the tent gas grills blazed with fire and smoke rose high into the air with the smell of charcoal and chicken and steak. Men in black suit pants and white crew shirts stood at the grills with tall white chef hats, knife in one hand and spatula in the other. Women stood passing out foam cups of lemonade and iced tea. Children were running and scampering about stuffing papers under windshield wipers and passing them out to people walking by. Guitars and drums clamored and boomed from inside the tent and the crowd roared and swayed and clapped with the beat and the pulse of hypnotic rhythm. He neared the edge of the field and began heading toward the large white tent. Passing among the rows where the cars filing in, a large fat man with yellow stained armpits was waving his arms flagging traffic, large blaze orange batons swinging wildly. His gut hung over the front of the black sweatpants he was wearing and his belly button stuck out like the teat of a Jersey cow ready for milking. Another large sweat stain was below where his crack stuck out above waistband. He dug in his pants with his left hand while his right waved the baton prodding and placing the cars in rows through the field.

C’mon folks there we go. Right there a little more now stop. OK, now you pull ahead pull ahead keep coming. The man said, reaching his left hand up and sniffing it. He smiled with pleasure. Keep coming OK now stop right there. Perfect now you sir, pull ahead and stop right there. Alrighty, now I’m going to need you to loop around and start the next row. OK. Good. He stared at the boy who had come up behind him and now sat the horse staring at the white tent. Now you son, git that horse the hell outta here before it drops a steaming mess everywhere. We don’t need people slippin’ and falling in that, now thats for darn certain. Go on, git. Tie it out by them there trees and go on and get in there and getchoo sumthin’ deet. The real show is startin’ soon. Git goin’. He went back to directing traffic. Pull right up folks OK stop right there. That’s it.

The boy did what the fat man said and tied Penny at the edge of the field. He loosed the cinch, but left the saddle on. Cars continued to pile in. Groups of people waited in line for the free hot dogs hamburgers and lemonade. He got in the back. The crowd had moved into the circus tent by the time he stepped out from the john into the afternoon sun. The music continued to boom from the tent. Some hard rock version of You’ve got a friend was being hammered out by an electric guitar ran through a pawnshop distortion pedal. Bass drums and cymbals crashed as the singer howled in a raspy smokers snarl, Winter Spring Summer of Fall, all you have to do is call. The crowd thundered and the band went into a growling version of Stayin’ Alive. The bass guitar man slapped the notes of the old disco tune and the band bobbed their heads in perfect time as if this was one of their favorite songs to play. The people were filing in to the opening of the tent. When the last of the ones outside entered, they boy followed. He slipped inside through the large opening of rolled up white canvas tied back like a large set of curtains.

Inside the tent was standing room only. There were no chairs save for a large wooden medieval chair on the front stage that looked as though it had been brought through a time warp centuries back for just this occasion. The right side of the stage stood a podium of equal age and antiquity. The band was to the left and was now playing a rendition of Breakfast at Tiffanies through acoustic guitars. The crowd swayed from side to side with arms up stretched and moving with the smooth rhythmic wave of their bodies. The band finished the last chord and held the note letting the amplifiers ring the tone until it faded softer and softer until it could not be heard at all. The curtains at the back of the stage shifted and then were pulled aside and a man appeared. He stood almost six foot tall and was built like a wrestler or some over grown pit bull. His trousers were white with a large pleat down the middle and rolled up cuffs at the bottom that rolled half away up his shins. Shiny black shoes covered his feet and he wore white socks. A white suit coat covered a black button down shirt adorned with a white bolo tie and silver medallion hanging from the middle. A black top hat covered his head and the boy could see the man was bald except of large mutton side burns that stood 3 inches from his face. His lips were cherry red and plump and his mouth was filled with dentures for his teeth were too straight for any man.

The man stepped forward to the podium. The band receded through the curtains leaving only man standing on stage. He scanned over the crowd with his eyes. His head and body were motionless as he looked from one side of the tent to the other. The eyes stopped on the boy for a moment and he removed the old John B Stetson that had been his fathers and held it at his side. Silence filled the tent. The only sound was the distant hum of the generator at the edge of the field powering the audio system. The man continued to look across the crowd. Then he stepped right up against the podium like he meant to bowl it over and adjusted the microphone until it was touching his thick red lips. After another long pause he spoke.

He went on at some length about the government and religion and blacks and gays. The boy’s mind glazed over and his thoughts drifted.

The people were transfixed on the man with the red lips and black top hat. No one noticed when the boy put his hat on and slipped outside. He walked through the cars parked in the field. The windows were down on an old Ford in the third row back and he reached in and took a Rand McNally road map from under the drivers seat. In the glove box was a sealed plastic bag with Black Cavendish pipe tobacco in it. He put the tobacco in his pocket and pushed the button inside the glove box releasing the trunk. The latch of the trunk opened and the spring hinges of the trunk lifted it 2 inches. He went around to the back of the trunk. The trunk was empty except for an old newspaper. He took the newspaper and walked back to the Penny horse. She stood cropping grass. The boy tore off a square of the heavy paper that was the cover of the road map. He rolled the Black Cavendish tobacco in the square of paper and lighted it with the Zippo that had been his fathers. He choked on the smoke at his first inhale and bursts of the white tobacco smoke bellowed from his mouth and nostrils in uneven spurts like some elderly dragon. Then he inhaled the tobacco again and exhaled smoothly. The boy stuffed the newspaper and atlas into his saddlebags and sat leaning against the tree smoking. The voice of the red-lipped man lingered on unintelligibly drowned out by the slow drone of the generator. He put the rolled cigarette out against the heel of his boot and flung the remainder behind him with his thumb and forefinger. He fell asleep for some time beneath the shade of the old tree. When the boy woke the man was done speaking. The band was back on stage banging out covers of old show tunes.

The boy wandered toward the back of the tent. An old stainless steel Airstream trailer glistened reflecting the sun’s light in a prism of colors. The man with the red lips and mutton sideburns was standing in the window of the trailer with his back to the boy. A young tan skinned girl of about sixteen or seventeen years stood facing the man. Neither noticed the boy outside. She was tall, and long straight black hair came down to the small of her back and she looked to be a mestizo or of Indian descent, or some exotic race not yet named. A dark dress with full sleeves covered her slender body, and a black bonnet covered her head. Her dark eyes looked down at the floor of the trailer. The man in white reached out and slapped her across the face knocking her to the floor. She let out a scream and he kicked her while she lay on the ground holding the side of her face.

Little savage. It’s the likes of you and your kind that make me sick. The large man said.

He turned toward the window and the boy rolled under the trailer before he was seen. The man slammed the blinds down and jumped on top of the girl lying on the floor. The boy lay in the grass under the trailer. He could hear the man breathing heavy as he tore the girls dress and began unbuckling the button on his trousers. The girl lay face down on the floor of the trailer as the bald man mounted on top of her pulling her hair up then slamming her face down forward against the floor.

At least there’s something you’re good for. He moaned and breathed expelling foul gasps of hot breath.

Through a small crack in the floor the girl’s dark eyes met the steel gray eyes of the boy. For a moment nothing. Then the boy drew his Colt Bisley from inside his boot and put it to the crack in the floor thumbing the hammer back. The girl forced her head to the side with all her effort, as the boy squeezed the trigger of the heavy caliber revolver. The shot went through the floor and into the man’s neck just below his jaw line. It exited the back of his scull, blowing bits of bone and spinal cord throughout the trailer. He fell on top of the girl with a thud of finality. Blood ran from the wound at both ends spilling on to the floor and down through the hole the Colt had made.

The band continued their musical tirade of cover songs. No one missed a beat. The sound of the revolver ending the bald mans life was drowned out by the thump of bass drums, the crash of cymbals, and the cheers and roar of the crowd. The boy rolled from under the trailer and stuck the forty-five back in his boot. He opened the door of the old trailer. The girl lay pinned against the floor, the man on top a gaping hole in the back of his scull. The bonnet was gone and the girl’s straight black hair soaked the blood from the floor like some rancid form of mop. He rolled the man to the side and stood the girl. She followed the boys every move but said nothing. The boy checked the man’s coat and jean pockets and pulled out a black leather wallet. He went through the wallet and found nothing of use. An old drivers license long expired with a crack running through the center from years of being sat on. The name read Ellsworth Nottingham. Behind the drivers license was an Amway employee identification card. A few one hundred dollar bills and a fifty were doubled over in the billfold. He tossed the wallet aside. Paper currency had no value. The boy turned to the girl and their eyes met. She did not speak. He could see fear in those eyes, an untrusting hardened glance that said everything words did not and could not. The boy was just another man with a baldhead. A reincarnation of the evil that that had defiled her for so long. He was no savior to her. He merely stole her like war pillage and plunder looted during some ill begotten military campaign. As if the girl were part of some native village spoiled and burned, its mothers raped and children beheaded.  He ordered the girl outside and pulled the small stove away from the wall and kicked the propane line free. The boy ripped a gold chain from the neck of the man and stuck it in his pocket. She followed him through the field to the Penny horse as though she were in fact a prisoner of war. Then there was a burning. When they had saddled up and started through the woods the show had ended and the music had quit. The crowd filed out from the white circus tent. The airstream was a world of smoke and fire so violent tornados of heat ablaze swirled above it like a product of its own climate. Giant billows of black smoke poured from the windows and an orange and red fire glowed like some combustible and alien blood. The smoke set the evening sky black, the flames dancing like sinister and demon marionettes. The inside of the tent glowed orange as if its occupants were in Hell itself. Panic set over the crowd and they scattered under the sides and into the field.

The last breath of twilight cast a faint light on the gazetteer. The girl said nothing, she only watched the boy as she sat the horse. He was afoot in the woods trying to get enough light on the map to make out words and roads and mountains and water. He walked in an odd stagger searching for light cast down between the trees like some sage or prophet with a divination rod trying to find water.  The boy’s back was turned and the girl squeezed her heels into the side of Penny. The horse stood. She picked up the reins and squeezed again this time harder. The horse only stood, ears pinned back as if at some minor annoyance. This time she kicked with her heels, snapped the reins, and clucked with her tongue and cheek making a weird kissing sound. Penny only stood. The boy turned and looked up at the girl as if he had been expecting this.

He thought about saying something to her and almost did but in then he changed his mind. She looked at him in silence. Their eyes met again and he could see nothing in them. The boy wasn’t certain she could understand English. Her dark round eyes gave no clue of comprehension or bewilderment. They carried the gaze of utter stupidity like some circus sideshow retard, or of knowing all too well and understanding far too much.

He shrugged and stuffed the atlas under the saddlebag and climbed into the old rig. A light touch of his heels and the horse walked off. The boy looked straight on and they rode. The sun had set and the night sky was full. Clouds passed across the moon giving and taking light like some child of God turning the switch off and on to his bedroom which was this world. The forest was thick with greenbrier and vines. Before long the sky was complete and full overcast. He dismounted from the horse and the girl moved into his place in the deep saddle. The boy led Penny through the wooded darkness trying to find the safest passage, pulling vines out of the way and uttering minor obscenities under his breath. The maps in the McNally atlas were not detailed, but to the south was a small meandering line with red dots, indicated they would cross a hiking trail heading east to west. He said nothing of this to the girl. There was little way to tell how far the trail was anyway. In the darkness, he continued to stumble over boulders and trip on the vines. Once, he fell completely down, a large thorn slicing his forehead open as his hands reached for something to grasp. They moved on. He continued all night, and in the first light of the dawn sky they found the trail. Exhausted, he climbed on the horse and they followed the trail west. He sat behind the girl as the horse walked on and the morning sun rising in the east was hot on his back. He slept.

Holiday Season Musings… The Norman Rockwell Christmas

I have this thought and I’ll call it the Norman Rockwell Christmas. Those paintings he made, he made for a reason. They are this stereotypical American, old fashioned Christmas, or old fashioned whatever.

So why did Rockwell paint those paintings? Well, there has to be some truth to them. I think the truth is that for an approximate 80% of all Americans, we have experienced that Christmas at some point in our lives. For some of us, it was our childhood, and for that child whose Rockwell Christmas was their childhood, we can assume that Child’s parents also had the Rockwell Christmas at that time period. It was mutual. The parent was largely responsible for giving it to the child, and consequently, providing that Christmas for the chid, they also experienced it.

The other scenario would be the child that did not experience it growing up. Maybe they came from a foster home, or alcoholic parents, or something along those lines. That person always saw the Rockwell paintings, or they saw those classic Christmas movies on television, and they always dreamed they would, or should have had that. Therefore when that person grows up, they find a way through hard work and fate, that they are able to provide that stereotypical Christmas for their children. In this case it benefits them as much as it does the children.

Now, the third scenario I can think of is the opposite. It is the child that had the Rockwell Christmas while growing up, but no longer has it. This is where I am for some reason, and its not constant. It ebbs and flows, but being at my grandma’s last night and looking at the photos of the times past and thinking about my other grandma and my family. Its just hard.

I can remember Christmas Eves at my Grandma Eddy’s house. The whole family there. All crammed into her little house. The tree would be up and she would make sure that she had a present for everyone. Uncle Lloyd would be there telling stories about how Iron City was the best beer ever. My uncle Frank would park his red Dodge pickup in the front yard. Grandma didn’t have two nickels to rub together and everyone knew it. No one wanted her buy them anything, but she always did, even if it was just a couple pair of socks from the D&K store. My cousin Billy would be there, and my Uncle Frank. There was always this rum cake she would make that was to die for. We always felt like we were getting away with something by eating it, as if we’d get drunk off the cake. The drinks were in a cooler out on the screened in porch were it was about 20 degrees, and there would always be someone out there smoking. The was that green porcelain pine tree decoration with the white snow accents and the colored bulbs on the tree branches that lit up. She always had it sitting on this old record player with the top that slid open next to where the recliner sat. There was a heater vent between the recliner and the record player, that was about one foot square, and we would always sit in front of it when the furnace kicked to have the heat blast on us.

After leaving Grandma’s we’d go to church for the late candlelight service. We’d finish by singing Silent Night a cappella by candlelight. We’d leave church and Irwin would be dead quiet. The light at the corner in town would be flashing because it was so late they shut off the actual red and green stop lights. The sidewalk would be lit up with luminaries.

The next day, we’d go to Grandma Pats. The whole family would be there. Aunt Pam and Aunt Bonnie, Uncle Ross and Ian, Colin, and Heather, Aaron and Ashely, my sister. Pap was there. We’d run and play all through the house just having a good time. That’s my Rockwell Christmas. Now, pap is gone, Billy is gone, Grandma Eddy is gone, uncle Frank is gone, Aaron never comes around. Aunt Bonnie moved to Ecuador, Ross is gone, Colin lives in Iceland, Grandma Pat is in a home, Ashley lives in Florida.

How many people out there can replace some of the names I mentioned and have this be their family’s story?

Riding the BMW R1100GS to Ft Lauderdale and Back

On Sunday October 21st, Jancee and I left at 7am to meet my very good friend, Adam Patrick, at the Cheat Lake Burger King. We met at 8am and after a short breakfast, we were on our way to meet up with Tim Clemens off the Goshen exit on 79 South.

After meeting up with Tim, we were on our way. 79 to 19 south, to 77. Tim headed off to visit some friends and family in North Carolina, while we continued south. Sunday night was spent in St George South Carolina. Monday evening, we made it to Ft. Lauderdale, at the Harbor Beach Marriot, where we stayed for two days.

Wednesday afternoon, we left out of Ft Lauderdale and stayed the night in Lake City FL.

The next day we headed north to Deals Gap, and stayed at the Two Wheel Inn, a small motorcycle specific motel, which I highly recommend.

The next was the highlight of the trip. We rode the Tail of the Dragon on rt 129,and continued on to Pigeon Forge TN, and then on through Gatlinburg, and the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. From the Smokies we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Cherokee, and rode over 130 miles before the sun set on us. After another 2 hours of eastern TN back roads in the dark, we were in Johnson City where we spent the night.

The next day, and roughly 2700 total miles later, we arrived back home in the Laurel Highlands.

Here are a few photo highlights from the trip.

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And a map of our path down and back:

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