Pieces of June.
It bears mentioning that I never saw it coming. Or rather, I had never expected it to arrive. A person can wait their whole life for events to carry them to where they are destined to arrive. Passive and patient I have waited for this June for some time. It has taken as much as it has given and left me ragged but standing. Shell-shocked and reeling I do not fear the next salvo of events, but eagerly cry out for more. It began on the water and ended in the soil.
Week One. The Vermilion Pimpernel.
I got the call in the middle of the week. Eddie rousted me out of my PM slumber with talk of fishing and filming. Out of the haze of dreaming I replied in the positive. I knew it was going to radically change my plans for the summer, but I could not refuse the man. Using terms like; "All expense paid." and "National Television" I signed on. Adventuring blind.
Later, stripped to the waist and shooting bow in the drive, I heard Lake Vermilion calling to me. It's cool waters sang from afar. I put enough coffee in my veins to see beyond the pain of light. Through the haze the vision presented itself cool and tight and good.
There was the instant rearranging of planning for the entire month of June. Bemidji State University would wait. There are too many places to go and people to see to be trapped in college for two months. I had to get to Santa Cruz, or thereabouts, and was committed to attending nuptials if I have to saddle a gazelle and inject it with amphetamines. Too many places to go. Sorry beavers. No wood for you.
A feverish search through the entire sporting community of Bemidji found nary a spear gun to be found. The only sub aquatic death dealer I could find was a Hawaiian sling. The Hawaiian sling is more or less an aluminum spear with a rubber band at the non-deadly end. You fire the harpoon underwater, but I was not sure if it was even legal. I had spent some time pressing Dennis Johnson about the possibility of spear gun fishing and he had found me the requirements. The sling would never do. Dan Carlson of The Dive Depot said he could order me a gun, but I needed it sooner than the mail and my finances could negotiate.
Departure came fast and hard and before I knew what was happening I was packing. If I ever needed to flee I can contain everything in a single black bag. My utility bag has everything I need. Pens and paper, travel documents, hygienic supplies and a transient bevy of accoutrement that tiptoes from the insane to the practical in accordance with the season and weight restrictions. I took a change of clothes, however, as I was wearing white and it was almost certain to rain. I took a gamble because I am in constant search of the black-light disco of my dreams. I decided not to carry a sword, as I was not sure as to the culture of the range.
The Range has always been a mystery to me. An area of Minnesota only heard about from those who have plunged westward. Away from the bitter cold of Lake Superior for inferior but comfortable climes. To anyone and everyone I tell you, I have seen a lake or two in my day, but none to surpass the Superior. It's black waters stretch to the horizon. Massive and encompassing Duluth residents can't stand my commentary. A running monologue in singular theme:
"Look at the size of that thing! Largest freshwater body of water in the world!"
At least by surface area. Those who live by the waters grow bored of it's fantastic nature rather quickly. The mystery fades for them and for me I would rather keep the childhood glee of seeing so fabulous a creation. So was it I would behold Lake Vermilion in all it's glory. The DNR claims Lake Vermilion as the fifth largest lake by surface area within Minnesota borders. 40,557 acres of fish country.
Highway two is a miserable stretch of nothing. In particular the Chippewa National Forest provides an ever-whizzing non-scene that I am all too familiar with. Trees, trees, and more trees. One in a while you get a glimpse of an eagle or a deer that breaks the monotony. More often than not it's road kill that breaks the pace. The drive was only made tolerable by the company of my companions. Mitch, Eddie, and Grandpa were our salty crew. The talk wandered from hunting to filming to the summer to heaven only knows. They are fine men and I was with them.
We arrived at our accommodations that evening. Fortune Bay Resort Casino. The lack of "and" worried me only briefly before I was in the cool lobby, admiring the scale of the place. I worked for a time in a New York hotel known as "The Beacon" and ever since I've had a keen appreciation of the industry. Expectations are high when one is looking for a place to bed down. For my part I demand the necessities; environmental control, a comfortable bed, and consistently hot water. Everything on top of that is gravy, and Fortune Bay has gravy to spare.
Set a couple javelin throws from the shore Fortune Bay Resort Casino is a little taste of paradise. They claim it's "A few miles north of ordinary [TM]" and I would venture that the distance may be greater than their carefully protected slogan. To provide an overall picture I will say that it's the sort of retreat you could either take your special someone for an escape, or your family for a means of amusement and delight. It is impressive, and that is all I will say about that.
Fishing came at dawn. Our guide was one Terry Sjoberg; the Ace in "Ace Guide Service". He is a stout and affable man with the growling vocal cadence of a man who knows his lake and his business. His business is leading the masses to the sub aquatic schools of fish, and business is good. Our quarry for the day was small mouth bass. We trolled the shore for the wily creatures and Eddie nailed several fine bass that day. A picture speaks louder than words and I am sure the footage will be available soon enough.
It was a full day of fishing. For my part I caught four, but only because the second fish had recently swallowed a smaller fish. It was fortuitous and so I will not complain. I am not a great sportsman, nor shall I ever be I imagine. But I do enjoy the fine air and on Lake Vermilion there is enough scenery to go around. Bald eagles soaring above as the muskellunge and bass leap and play. Countless islands and bays and coves to explore and marvel at.
On the second day wind made us remain on shore. For the hard cores there were fish to be had, but we were in it for the footage. The precious digital media that captured the fight, the capture and the release. I did get to pilot a golf cart while Mitch captured footage of "The Wilderness" golf course. The balcony of our room overlooked a hole on the course and I was eager to explore. To my mind buzzing around in a golf cart capturing pictures of the course is much more enjoyable activity than golfing the course poorly.
Over the course of this adventure I was struck by my good fortune to have such high caliber men in my corner. The kind of guys who call you in the afternoon and shanghai you to a verdant lakefront vacation. What I wanted was to do it for a living. Traveling. Adventuring. Escaping the mundane and, with any hope, bringing my stories to the people in hopes of removing them from the mundane. The Vermilion Pimpernel was born. A mysterious swashbuckling adventurer who has made it his business to rescue those unfortunates doomed to the ordinary. Selflessly throwing away dreams of vocation and finance in pursuit of the intangible hunger every man and woman feels. The unabashed need for something beyond the time clock and retirement plans.
After three days in paradise I returned home renewed and invigorated. Prepared to embrace the consequences of my decision. I have not regretted my choice.
Week 2. Grandpa Swinburne.
Shortly after my return I was informed about my Grandpa Swinburne's declining health. I made plans to celebrate my Grandma Beulah's birthday with her brother Uncle Punk and then make my way to Bagley. At Punk's Grandma and he dined on liver and onions as I relegated myself to chicken. I have never cultivated a taste for organs. It was a lovely afternoon. I helped a pretty girl move her bed set just before the rain began and then Grandma B and I were off for Bagley. I spent the evening at her home. Had I to do it again I would have run to my Grandfather. In fact I had been within a stones throw of him only a night previous, dropping off a friend at a backwoods CD release party. I had made comment that I didn't spend nearly enough time with my grandparents, and I was right.
Monday afternoon after spending some time cleaning my Grandma's shop I absconded with her Schwin and made my way to the Swinburne residence. It was a sight that caused my Grandma B to laugh as I rode away, suit coat flapping in the wind as I peddled the ancient bicycle the two or so miles to the other Grandparents. It is a journey I've made a thousand times before blessed to have my favorite people in the world just down the road from one another. The sky was cloudy and patches of rain dropped at random points along the road. I though I could best a shower with my speed but ended up anointed despite my best efforts.
My arrival was silent and swift and when I entered the home I found Grandma Mary beside Grandpa Richard, comforting him as best she could. I was ill prepared for the hospital bed. The oxygen. The morphine. Apparently Grandpa had been doing very well the two nights previous, sitting up and talking to visitors. I arrived too late. Too late by far. I have always been humbled and honored by my grandparents. They want nothing of me but my presence. Grandpa had always joked when I came over;
"Maybe you could stay for twenty years?"
In hindsight I suppose I could have, and more than likely been better for it. I wish I could have gotten there earlier. I wish that I could have explained what the man meant to me and thanked him for everything he had done for me before the drugs and the confusion took him. I can only hope that he knew that I loved him. Knew that if I had my choice in the matter I would have come every day to check in. Even as I type it I know that I am too small to make bold with such a promise. Even now I know that my life is too much for me to handle while keeping tabs on the ones I care for the most.
Life robs us of our ability to remember those we love. The chaos surrounds us and in the turmoil we forget to make the phone calls and mail the letters. Forgotten birthdays and neglected anniversaries. Maybe there are too many people to remember. Maybe because we accept that the rocks in our lives will always be there for us. Immortal and powerful I had always assumed Grandpa would live for a thousand years. The health concerns perpetual never did anything to dampen his spirit. When there was talk of leukemia and blood transfusions he never allowed it to steal his humor.
I arrived too late to tell him everything I wanted to and can only pray that he knew. I had always dreamed of coming to him with a prize. Something to validate his pride in me. A film, a play, a role, anything that I could lay at his feet and say I could not have done it without him. Without them; those who have always been behind me and for me despite my failures and faults. But what really tears me up inside is that they never require them. For them it is enough just to be around you. To hear what's new in your life. To feed you and give you shelter.
The last thing my Grandfather said to me was; "Pull". He was uncomfortable and wanted to roll over. I pulled on his hand and he was relieved as much as any dying man can be. That night, as I lay on the couch near him he slipped into a coma from which he would not return. Tuesday my family gathered around him as his organs failed him one by one. The man fought to the end, every labored breath a testament to his will and desire. I fought against the tears as best I could for as long as I could and at some point there was nothing for it. As tears streamed I held his hand and prayed. At around 6 PM Tuesday he took his last breath and then was at rest. He had waited for Marty Schermerhorn to arrive and pray over him before he took his exit.
I helped convey what remained of him to the funeral home. I purchased a drink in his honor at the American Legion Irving Blix Post 16 where he and my Grandpa Willard were members. Grandma B and Mom would join me shortly thereafter and we would all share a drink. The following morning we would make the arrangements for his funeral as he had wanted them.
On Thursday my father and I made our way to River Falls to celebrate my brother Mitch's graduation from high school. It was a surreal gear shift from the mourning to the celebrating, but I know that Grandpa would never have wanted me to miss it over something so silly as his death. In fact my Grandpa would never want anyone crying over him yet here we are. He could not help but be loved. That night I composed Grandpa's eulogy. Friday I returned with my River Falls family to Bagley and on Saturday we had the funeral at Cease Funeral home. I managed to make it through the eulogy if only because of years experience reading. For your edification I enclose it below.
A Eulogy for Grandpa
My Grandpa Richard had a saying that he was very fond of;
"Every day's a good day if you're alive."
For Grandpa Richard and those who loved him, Tuesday turned out to be a bad day. For my part I loved the man. I thought him something larger than life. A fantastic man in a world filled with the mundane. As I held his hand while he died I whispered a silent prayer that the lord who took him into his kingdom afford him the comfort he provided me.
"Be as kind to him as he was to me."-
-I prayed, and clung to the desperate hope that his confusion and pain was soon to end. What I will remember of my Grandfather will have little to do with his death when he lived so rich a life. Blessed with a wife that loved, nurtured, and provided for him for over five decades, I can only pray to live half so full a life as my grandfather.
Which is not to say he didn't work hard for his daily bread. He was a cowboy. The glittering spangled heroes that he worshiped on the silver screen had little to compare to the cast iron will of a man who was a real cowboy. His tools were not the six shooter and the rifle, but the trailer and the prod. His garments were humble. There was the squeak of rubbers and not the jingling of spurs. He was more a hero to me than any Hollywood has produced.
He lived a humble life and never expected more than a wheel beneath his hand or a meal on his table. His craving for sweets was exceeded only by his desire for a long road and a good companion. Richard had many traveling companions. I doubt that any who hear my words can say they have not been a passenger to my Grandfather. To be a guest in his vehicle was to be a guest in his home. It was a privilege and a pleasure.
The dreams I would have as Grandpa drove and Grandma co piloted were fantastic and brilliant. Knowing that I was in the capable hands of a master delivery man calmed me in a way the dark never can, and I thank them both for the thousands of miles. The trips to Montana and Superior. Wandering over fields and shores with Grandpa and Grandma Swinburne. Blissfully unaware of my bliss.
The theory of relativity tells us that the closer to the speed of light we are the slower time proceeds. To that end a man who travels at 60 miles per hour his entire life is miles ahead of the man who remains stationary. To that end my grandfather kept a move on till age finally delivered the bill. His vocation was delivering the goods in a timely and professional manner. Be they livestock or merchandise or booze. From all accounts he never enjoyed plumbing and
instead he moved the meat at breakneck speeds. A streaking crimson cowboy on the north woods range.
As I prayed for my Grandfathers soul to be delivered to a father as capable as he I also prayed that the lord receive him as a fellow Shepard. That the chariot that came for him was red and shiny. That Jesus was confident behind the wheel and for once this wounded veteran would be on the business end of being delivered.
I saw him, towards the end, his bright blue eyes staring into the great unknown with resolve and determination. Unafraid and eager I saw him address an unseen presence beyond me. He was calm and ready. Resolved and powerful. The man I had loved for all of my years. I hope to meet him again. I hope he will come for me screaming out of the sky in his red pickup and tell me that everything is alright. He will put me in the sleeper cab and I will nap as he drives me.
To know each person who knew my Grandfather and to hear their stories of him would take an age. We all have precious moments spent with my Grandfather that weave a tapestry of a man. If you hear me today you affirm that he was a man worth remembering. Worth honoring. He was a man worth the world to me, and I am broken to see him leave.
I can only tell you these things with the earnest belief that he is free now. Above and beyond us I believe my prayers were answered. That past this meager flesh and blood, on that unknown and uncertain shore there is a man waiting. That he guides us by the hand when all is darkness, and receives us in his home as family.
My Grandpa Richard drove like a rocket into paradise, and we all shall join him by and by.
Following the funeral and lunch my family celebrated a three way birthday for my cousin, Grandma B, and myself. I got some new clothes and a new sword. Once again a radical gear shift from mourning to celebration. There is little more to day about this week. It ended, as all weeks do, on a Sunday.
Week 3: The Johnson/Andrews wedding and my birthday.
Monday I attended a city council meeting, or at least part of one. More to be seen than to see. I had other places to be. The week proceeded without much issue. I woke, on most days, in the early afternoon. Bathing and coffee and then archery and sword forms shirtless and hoping to break a tan out of this summer. I could already tell that June was a month not to be ignored, and so I spent time with myself. Steeling my will. Preparing for the worse, or the best. There are always nights to be spent with friends. Always drinks to be had and homes to invade in search of release and frenzy.
I've taken to carrying steel tipped darts wherever I go. You never know when you might need to wrap a message around them and throw them at the unwary. Robin Hood has shit on me. July brings Independence Day and with it thoughts of revolution. Ever present in my mind are the plans to bring the whole works down. Unleash the righteous fury within me and topple this miserable house of cards while I still have the will. Before some unforeseen boon of work provides me with enough resource to comfortably submit.
Amidst this stew that churns in my meditation is my mortality. My fear of death is non existent, but my terror of infirmity is a perpetual and tangy taste of blood in my mouth. The need to live and die on my own terms is all that I crave, and since living by my own terms is unattainable I can only hope to exit with flair. How many more years Jeremiah? How many turns of the calendar pages before all the feverish notebook scratching and early morning dreamings are as meaningless as the ether they play upon?
Of all the things in the world one can crave all I desire is a modicum of notoriety. Recognition. The merest acknowledgment that I am not battling daily in vain. That my visions are not without warrant or value. To that end even now I battle for every uphill foot of ground. Mayor. Inventor. Swordsman. I would gladly battle a thousand men to have but one of these titles unquestioned and won with honor.
These are the sorts of things one considers when age is upon him. When another year has been spent orbiting the sun. The longest day of the year was upon me, and with it a wedding. My dear friends Keith Johnson and Elizabeth Andrews had finally surrendered to fate and were to marry. It is a union I am happy to endorse and bless. The event did little to rouse me from my reflections however, as I am well over a third through my existence and still alone.
Keith arrived on a Thursday and I did what I could to assist. I have been a best man before and it is an honor I take very seriously. Friday there was the setting up of chairs. Pitching if vast tents.
Between it all I received my marks. I had garnered enough B-day finance [or so I believed] to at long last get my tattoos. Keith was more than a little worried about the location and timing of my body art and made it known. His nerves were not assisted by the thought that his best mans hands may be unable to perform even the simplest tasks, not to mention dropping rings, champagne flutes, or God knows what else. Despite his worry I was resolved. Keith drove me downtown and Tony at Body Matrix gave me my ink. I was more than a little nervous, being told that the pain would be amazing. I knew my threshold for pain was high, but even so before the needle hit the skin my heart was in my throat. There was nothing to worry about.
The pain was nothing. The event lasted little more than half an hour and the spell was complete. On the matter of my marks I will explain in hopes that the questions I receive will be reduced, if not eliminated. I have placed the fleur de lis on the back of both of my hands. But in fact I have three of them on my body. The first of them was placed at my birth on my neck. It is a symbol of significance and power to me. A trinity that speaks to me of perfection and the divine. It is a statement of my Christianity and a reminder. On my neck was placed the mark that I may speak no evil and on my hands I have placed them so that they may likewise serve good. That is all I will say on the matter.
After I received the flowers I was informed that the cost was more than the cash I had on hand. I have Jesse Whiting to thank for coming to my rescue and providing me the $2.75 to settle accounts. Later I would purchase him a cheeseburger in recompense. There was little time to spare before Lars collected me and we were off to the rehearsal and then grooms dinner. I gave a toast at the dinner and have found that my ability to speak evenly and without shaking has been ruined. I am hoping that this is a temporary side effect of the season, as I rely on my ability to speak in public more often than your average person.
Later we would retire to Brigid's Cross for libations and the eventual celebration of my birthday. It was a grand occasion made only slightly off putting by Keith's worry that I would not show up to the wedding the following day. Despite my assurances he worried, but I suspect the man had to worry about something and it may as well have been me. Midnight brought the beginning of the first day of my twenty-eighth year. I would spend it bouncing around the downtown area dressed to the nines. Kevin Cease was kind enough to accompany me here and there. I danced with pretty girls and was all but raped by a stranger on the dance floor of the America Legion Ralph Gracie Post 15.
I would spend the early morning drinking and smoking and more or less reflecting through the years. The dawn was met at 4:05 with a dear friend as we drank beers while gazing at our ruined high school. Shortly thereafter I would walk home with the dawn. Clear headed and cooled by the morning mist. After arriving home I would rest for one half of an hour before returning to the wedding.
It was a grand occasion. Relieved at my attendance Keith and Beth had their day in the sun despite occasional rain and hail. There was dancing and laughter. Drinking and embracing. Old friends and family united in joy. The sun set after ten and as midnight closed the book on my best man birthday I had determined it to be the best birthday to date. Later I would collapse. The next day was Sunday and after a brief recovery I made it late to brunch. Goodbyes were made and the week came to a close.
Week 4: Santa Cruz with the Bakers.
I believe that I determined that I was going to attend Phil and Liz's wedding somewhere around Tuesday. Sarah Baker was gracious enough to forward me a ticket in return for retaining my services later in the month. There are men and then there are men that are handy. I am of the latter category and Sarah has seen my ability before when hiring me for odd jobs around her country home. She also understood the importance of me being able to attend so old a friend's nuptials.
The Bakers, that is to say; Sarah Lee Baker, Sarah Raven Baker, and Ruth Baker, were headed to California to see Phil married, and I would join them. As a traveling companion I come with a good skill set. I travel light, drive through any condition, can carry an ant's share of baggage, and am something of a bad ass. The Baker girls were my wards and I was glad to be traveling with them.
While packing Wednesday morning my father informed me that Uncle Punk had passed away in the night. His death came as quite a shock to everyone. His wife, Monica, had passed away in December while I was still in Thailand, but despite this he seemed to be doing well. He enjoyed having company and cooking for them. He got around and kept active. Just the previous week he had dropped of a birthday card. He had attended my Grandpa Richard's funeral and we had talked about his new car. His son, Tony, had found him at his work desk.
Tickets had already been purchased but there was still hesitation. I will admit that I wasn't very close to Punk but he was a good man who was always a pleasure to be around. Mostly I wanted to be around for my family, in specific my Grandma Beulah who had lost her best friend and younger brother within two weeks of one another. While considering my options mother came downstairs and informed me that Grandma insisted that I leave. There was nothing to be done, and so I would away. My brother Jared had left Tuesday for Australia, but my Matthew would still be around. As I told my Grandma, having several grandsons around comes in handy for such situations.
I left that afternoon for the cities, amazed that one month could contain so many events. Sarah Raven [age 3] traveled pretty well considering the vast distance she was to cover. It was important to me to keep an eye on her but to be honest Sarah the elder was the one with the energy to keep up with her. In addition Sarah Raven did not seem to like me very much. She did not want to sit next to me. I was not to speak to her. Once in a while there would be a random act of affection, and I was informed that she often said nice things about me in my absence.
Thursday morning we hopped a flight to San Francisco. I had never been to California. Arriving we spent the day tooling around the city in a rented PT Cruiser. Over rolling hills we saw the Berkley campus and had lunch in a little organic sandwich shop as I watched the people of every shape and size stroll by. So much to take in. So little time. We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and marveled at it's beauty. Gazed over the harbor at Alcatraz. I maintain I could have escaped with ease. It would be a slight Byronic chore to swim that meager length. After seeing a banjo player in Hyde park and consuming an In and Out burger we made our way down the coast on highway one, the Pacific to our right, rocky walls to our left. We arrived in Santa Cruz late that night and rested for the day ahead.
Friday allowed us a few hours to meander over the beach and boardwalk. The boardwalk was where the film "The Lost Boys" was filmed and I enjoyed watching people and being watched. Always trying to lend an eye to keep Sarah from wandering too far, ever wary of her mood and movement. That afternoon there was another rehearsal and another dinner. Phil and Liz were as happy to see us as we them, which is to say immensely.
I was able to meet the people Phil had lived with over the years after his escape from Bemidji. Finally placing faces to names. Liz's family was kind and accommodating, excited over the film Phil and I made and he recently screened for them. After dinner Ruth and I tooled around with the posse and it was a fine time. The Red Room bar and too much Wild Turkey. Late night beer runs for Pabst and what for me would normally be considered an early night.
The following morning Ruth and I were in poor shape. She had what appeared to be strep, my head was filled with angry bees. The morning was spent recovering for the wedding and soon enough it was upon us. The wedding took place at Liz's parents, a lovely home lush with fruit trees and flowers. The wedding would be as wonderful as anyone could desire. The day was beautiful as was everyone in attendance. More dancing and embracing and laughter and tears. By the grace of the Bakers I was allowed to witness and I will be ever grateful.
The following day there was a fantastic brunch and goodbyes. The promise of a Bemidji reception on the horizon and more celebrations impending. We took the inland route back to San Francisco, a winding path buffered by fantastic vistas and giant redwoods. A tad harrowing to be sure, as we were weary and car sick from the roller coaster of not only the road, but the weekend.
We made it to the airport with time to spare and in short order we were in Minnesota. I drove back to Bemidji that night as I had a funeral to attend in the afternoon.
The last day of June was spent in mourning and not celebration. Lyle "Punk" Tibbetts funeral took place Monday. I got a couple hours of early morning sleep before the service. The church was filled with the friends and family who loved him. I attended my Grandma as best I could. Kept myself in coffee. His ashes were interred in the Hubbard Cemetery next to his wife, near his father, mother and infant sister. That night I would close the month of June at a friend's house, glad to have come out the other end. June ended on a Monday.
Even half way through the month I told people that I would have to chronicle the month. Keep it fresh in memory long enough to transcribe the events for posterity. I have done as best I can with what I have. The memories of laughter and tears intermingling. Already I can feel the echo of the season cascading off the mountains. A life's worth of senses crushed into a singular month. Chaos is how I've described it, but it is more than that. It is what I hope to be a catalyst. A gauntlet of events that have tested and steeled me.
This June will be with me forever. The central nerve to a pattern of birth and death that plays before us all. I feel that my role in it all was simply to witness. To behold with wonder the terrible and the fantastic. To see with eyes unafraid the whole tragic humor of it all. If this was a test I hope that I have been found up to the task. Prepared for the next salvo that life has in the chamber for me. I pray that the joys I've seen will one day be mine, knowing full well that the sorrow lurks at every corner.
I have lived, witnessed, and chronicled my June. I consign it to the past with reverence and pray those who read this can take something away from the tale.