Finding the meaning in little flags

(Though we live in a time where the lines that divide us seem more clearly drawn than ever, for today I hope we can unite in solemn appreciation for the men and women throughout our nation’s history who sacrificed themselves so that we can live — and even disagree — as Americans. As adults, we tend to complicate things and ideals. It’s days like today that I am reminded that a child’s pure, unbiased perspective is sometimes our best source of wisdom…)

image It’s been 15 years since I introduced my oldest daughter to the meaning of Memorial Day. She was seven then, but I still remember the short gusts of warm wind on my neck, the earthy smell of the fresh-cut grass, and the hushed snap of small American flags standing like sentries next to dozens of tombstones along the hillside.

“How come some of them have little flags, and some don’t?” my daughter asked.

It was near sunset as we strolled through our local cemetery. Though we didn’t have any family members buried there, I thought it would be a good opportunity to explain the meaning of Memorial Day to her.

“Do you know what war is?” I asked.

“When people fight,” she answered, then clarified herself; “A whole bunch of
people.”

“That’s right, but do you know why they fight?”

She thought a moment, then shook her head. Continue reading

Advertisements

Someone wickedly wonderful this way came — and left much too soon

(Each May, as I welcome the special piece of Americana that is our town’s annual Rhododendron Festival, it also reminds me of saying goodbye to a best friend. As a tribute to him and the impact our friendship had — and continues to have — on my life, I post this every year when I see the first pieces of the Ferris wheel come together…)

This view from our office's back door for five days each year is always bittersweet.

This view from our office’s back door for five days each year is always bittersweet.

As I walked to work this morning, the sun was still resting below distant Badger Mountain. The streets were quiet and the air was still as I made my way along the sidewalk, past the carnival that claims the visitors parking lot across from our home each year. Last night it was alive with the sounds of oiled metal grinding behind colorful facades — rocket ships, dragons and race cars — as carnival-goers screamed and laughed in rhythmic cycles throughout the evening.

But this morning, the neon lights are out. The colorful merry-go-round is draped in blue tarps. There are no screams or laughter. Only the occasional murmur of snoring from inside the narrow carnie sleeping quarters stacked side by side on tractor trailer beds. I cut through the carnival, stepping over a braid of thick electrical cables that eventually spread like veins through the park, bringing life to thrill rides, snack shacks and carnival barker microphones.

Each year, I make this walk to work through the Davis Carnival.

And each year, I think of my friend — and the memory of a warm, terrible spring evening that occurred this same night more than a decade ago… Continue reading

Apparently, a blogless day and a deep breath is what needed

imageAs I mentioned at the beginning of yesterday’s post, I was going to be unplugging from everything for a day or so  to find my peace with what happened earlier that morning. No social media, websurfing, instant messaging — nothing. I needed to be completely in the moment. To embrace the sadness willingly rather than be enveloped by it. As  I’ve said before, sadness is the flipside of humor. And as much as I’d like to think I’m pretty good at the humor part, I’m also pretty good at the sadness part when the situation warrents it.

Yesterday definitely warrented it.

Today, I returned to the blogosphere and just wanted to say thank you; for respecting my need to shut down for a bit; the kindness you shared in the comments left on yesterday’s post; and the incredible number of shares my tribute to Shiloh received. Writing it was as close as I could get to sharing his warm handshake with as many of you as I could, in a moment when I needed to share it most — so that his warmth and goodness could in some way touch your life as it did mine. Thank you for understanding that, and for returning the handshake with the same kind of warmth. It made me smile for the first time since yesterday.

It was a fitting reminder that, though gone from this world, Shiloh’s handshake is still making me and others smile.  Continue reading

Spring never officially started until I got a handshake from Shiloh

This is the only thing I will be posting today, in tribute to a wonderful young man who was tragically taken from the world early this morning. After this, I will be shutting down my devices for the day and avoiding my social media sites. But before I did, I wanted to share my thoughts with you about a young man named Shiloh Sundstrom…

imageThe four years I covered Shiloh Sundstrom during his time as a Mapleton High School athlete remain among my favorites in my 16 years at Siuslaw News.

Not because he was a particularly extraordinary athlete. But because he was most definitely an extraordinary person.

The kind that makes you feel good just to be near him because he not only carried positive energy and warmth with him, but shared it with everyone he came into contact with.

Even after Shiloh graduated and moved on to Oregon State University, his seasonal returns to Bowerman Field to assist his dad, longtime Sailors’ track coach Johnny Sundstrom, remained something I looked forward to. It was my opportunity to be in his energetic and positive presence while catching up on what he’d been doing. I discovered early on that, much like talking with his father, it was impossible not to smile while talking with this young man.  Continue reading

A wickedly wonderful friend this way came — and left much too soon

This view from our office's back door for five days each year is always bittersweet.

This view from our office’s back door for five days each year is always bittersweet.

As I walked to work this morning, the sun was still resting below distant Badger Mountain. The streets were quiet and the air was still as I made my way along the sidewalk, past the carnival that claims the visitors parking lot across from our home each year. Last night it was alive with the sounds of oiled metal grinding behind colorful facades — rocketships, dragons and race cars — as carnival-goers screamed and laughed in rhythmic cycles throughout the evening.

But this morning, the neon lights are out. The colorful merry-go-round is drapped in blue tarps. There are no screams or laughter. Only the occasional murmur of snoring from inside the narrow carnie sleeping quarters stacked side by side on tractor trailor beds. I cut through the carnival, stepping over a braid of thick electrical cables that eventually spread like veins through the park, bringing life to thrill rides, snack shacks and carnival barker microphones.

Each year, I make this walk to work through the Davis Carnival.

And each year, I think of my friend — and the memory of a warm, terrible spring evening that occured this same night more than a decade ago… Continue reading

Why I won’t — and can’t — be funny today

image I stand in the slightly cracked doorway of my son’s room, studying the sliver of his face illuminated by the dim light spilling in from the hallway. He’s 15, and just a year younger than the two teens who died earlier this morning. On the floor next to his bed is his cell phone, seemingly discarded, just below a dangling hand.

The one with the baseball scar on the knuckle.

It’s not until I notice the moisture glistening around his eyes, and see the tear edge hesitantly down his cheek, that I realize he’s only pretending to sleep

His phone buzzes and lights up momentarily as someone’s grief is expressed in a Tweet. I glimpse a screen that scrolls endlessly with disbelief. Outrage. Sadness and pain. Classmates, friends and family trying to comprehend the incomprehensible…

It began with my fire department pager buzzing and shrieking a little after 7 a.m., followed by the report of a motor vehicle accident 15 miles away. A car over an embankment. Possible entrapment. Five occupants; two unresponsive. The caller was one of the victims. All were students heading to school. Continue reading

Nanoo nanoo, Robin

image The first time I saw Robin Williams he was tossing an egg into the air the same way one might release a dove. “Fly! Be FREE!” he gleefully hollered as “Mork from Ork.” On his face was a mixture of hope and enthusiasm that was infectious. Magical. As if he could see something none of us could — but that we believed in because of the innocent faith he projected. For a brief moment, as the egg was suspended in the air, it seemed entirely possible that it would defy the laws of physics and take flight, propelled by the power of laughter from the live studio audience.

But as I sat in front of the TV and watched the egg fall to the counter top with a splat, the laughter was suddenly squelched into a sympathetic hush. Robin kneeled in front of the shattered egg, devastated, unable to fathom why the joyous release had ended so abruptly. In that moment he won the hearts of an entire generation of fans, including mine. I also understood for the first time that humor is the flip side of sadness — and how there are few things that can unite people, or open their hearts to a new perspective, as quickly as laughter. Continue reading

It’s not just the smoke in my eyes this morning

image When you’re driving an axe into the door of a home on fire, a lot of things run through your mind. Is there anyone inside? Will the introduction of oxygen cause the fire to flash? Do these turnouts make me look fat? But when my pager went off this morning at 2:30 a.m., jettisoning me out of bed after a kiss for my wife and then out the door to the station, I had no reason to believe that I would experience something I had only experienced once before as a firefighter, early in my volunteer career. As we stood at the door in our three-man team prepared to enter the burning, single-level structure, I suddenly felt claustrophobic. My gear, strapped tightly over my turnouts and sealing me into my Nomex fire-proof hood and oxygen mask — things meant to protect me from the dangers I was about to expose myself to — felt more like a straight jacket. I felt my heart begin to race. My breathing rate increased. Inside my mask, the three green indicator lights displaying a full air supply dropped to two. Continue reading

Something wickedly wonderful this way came — and left much too soon

(Each year when I hear the first echoes of hammering reverberating near our home and harkening the arrival of the Davis Carnival, I think of my friend — and the memory of a warm, terrible spring evening more than a decade ago…)

This view from our office's back door for five days each year is always bittersweet.

This view from our office’s back door for five days each year is always bittersweet.

It’s a strange juxtaposition I find myself in each year, watching the arrival of the carnival and seeing the excitement in the eyes of our children. But as the rides are hammered together late into the evening, I am reminded of the night 13 years ago when I got the call from my best friend telling me he was coming back home to Oregon — because he was dying.

He was 30 years old. Continue reading

Humor columnist and firefighter; sometimes my two worlds collide

imageAs some of you know, in addition to being a humor columnist, I’m also a volunteer firefighter. I don’t write much about that aspect of my life because I don’t encounter many humorous situations when we roll onto a scene. About half of what we do involves MVAs (motor vehicle accidents), from fender benders to multi-car fatals. Because we get a lot of tourists here, most of the situations we encounter don’t involve people we know. But living in a smaller town, you know the possibility exists every time your pager goes off. It just goes with the territory. Continue reading