“And when I come to the dim trail-end,
I who have been Life’s rover,
This is all I would ask, my friend,
Over and over and over:
Stars that gleam on a moss-grey stone
Graven by those who love me–
There would I lie alone, alone,
With a single pine above me;
Pine that the north wind whinnys through–
Oh, I have been Life’s lover!
But there I’d lie and listen to
Eternity passing over.”
–Robert Service Heart O’ The North
A Labatts Blue in his right hand, a left hand on my shoulder. We were arguing in an Owego tavern that if I would just give him fifteen minutes he would prove to me how cell phones were going to ruin my life. I deftly avoided the conversation. Greg was set in his ways. Not only was he mistaken, but without cell phones, I would never have to take his call and tell him how to get to our Adirondack home so many times in the early days of 2011.
I was privileged to be given the opportunity to delivery his eulogy. I regret nothing of what I said. My major failure was what I had left out.
So, gather the grandchildren, the aunts, sisters, brothers, a wife, and his sons. Gather his friends alongside his family. We are now the Flame Keepers, the storytellers and the sources of one man’s history. It must live on and on. Say it all loud and with conviction. Make no apologizes for a flawed human. Tell his life like it was. Hold nothing back. Don’t leave the painting half-finished. Future generation not yet born will thank you.
The day will come when the younger generations will be asking those who lived back in those days: “I wonder what Grandpa would say about that?”
If only he were still by my side. I knew him well but still have as many questions as the stars in the sky.
Yesterday morning I was walking a wooded path. The trail headed east so I had to squint and shade my eyes against the sun. I saw him. I’m sure it was him. He was standing on a mountaintop with the rising sun ahead of him. The morning mist was slowly being burned away by the sun.
Was he waiting for me? He beckoned. To me? He pointed to the east. Did he want me? Did he need me?
Then, somehow I was near him. His eyes were filled with tears of contentment. There was a hint of sadness for those he left behind. But he seemed filled with joy that he had at last reached his final destination. His final summit.
I heard his voice clearly in my mind: “There is no end to this, Pat. There are more trailheads and beginnings than I ever thought existed.”
He took a step away…distancing himself. “Don’t be long. I don’t like waiting.” These were his last audible words to me. “Let’s have one more cup of coffee till we go to the valley below.”
Thanks again, Greg. This time for teaching me how to enjoy ‘nuclear’ wings at Rattigan’s and how to savor a Lupo’s Spiedie.
We each learned from the other. But I doubt he ever fully understood what an Emoji was. Then again, maybe he did.