Sometimes the deer come into our yard one or two at a time, but other times, like this morning as I pulled back the curtain to come eye-to-eye with a grazing buck, there are more of them than you’d think. Following an unexpected rain and in the pre-dawn, the deer were the same color as everything around them, so it took me a moment to notice the doe just four feet from the buck, or the other buck coming around a corner of the deck, or the doe still a bit farther afield. All of them breaking bread (so to speak), together.
These last two weeks I have broken a lot of bread together with a wide assortment of my community, much of it motivated by grief but which has brought with it joy and enjoyment.
Two Saturdays ago I went to the memorial ceremony that took place right before the high school football game. Several large rocks were unveiled with assorted remembrances of the football players and coach who lost their lives on Monarch Pass 50 years ago, and our volunteer fire department had an honor guard that recognized both that significant event and tolled a bell 20 times to recall the years that have passed since 9/11.
My plan had been to take that in and then return home, but I don’t know what I had been thinking: of course there were people to see.
I stood beside John Nelson, who had given up teaching seventh-grade life science sometime after my class (maybe right after that; I probably don’t want to know) to become a guide and outfitter, from which he retired five years ago. I’ve always called him “Nelson” and he’s always called me “Livermore,” and he always wants to know what I know. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, in fact thought he had left town, so that was a nice surprise.
Another chance encounter come when I bumped into Evan, a former colleague at the newspaper who still lives in the ‘hood on Irwin Street. I hadn’t seen Evan since moving off Irwin two years ago and have missed those random moments when I would be riding my bike or walking past his house and he would be outside and we would both stop to converse.
I did not meet Bill Marshall, a bus crash survivor who bicycled from Salida to Gunnison with a game ball, but I know his brother Tom, whom I saw. I also met Bill’s wife, who told me he had broken his pelvis just six weeks prior to his ride, and had only been off crutches six days.
Then I saw Jodie Coleman, retired from teaching high school English, and wondered out loud why she was wearing a sweater on what might have been the hottest September day ever in Gunnison. It turned out to be her letter sweater from Gunnison High, worn to honor her classmates on the bus.
On my way out, only an hour after I’d told Lynn I’d be home, I bumped into the Haus family where I discovered that Tyler, a member of the fire department’s honor guard, is somehow in his mid-20s; his baby is somehow 2, and he’s got another due in December. It surely wasn’t that long ago that I was writing about his mother Terri, quite the schoolgirl athlete and a friend ever since then.
One week later, it was a day for two personal memorial services. Because of the first, I missed the second, but went anyway to the reception following the funeral mass for Terry Dorzweiler, matriarch of a large clan that includes my friends Bubs, Vivian and Yvonne. I was also fortunate to get to know Mrs. Dorzweiler as her own person these last 20 years — a kind woman with a ready smile for everyone.
I ended up a table that included George, Maryo and Paul, the people I used to see at what felt like every community event. Our discussion was instead about how all four of us are really introverts at heart — there are many who aren’t likely to believe that — and about the obligations we are trimming out of our lives.
I heard from several people about Yvonne’s impressive eulogy of her mother, which included a story of how this gardener extraordinaire (a law-abiding woman) planted some mystery seeds at some point in the ’70s and ended up with quite the crop of marijuana — and an award for “yard of the week.”
My day began with an occasion that turned out out to be far more than I expected it to be: the memorial for my childhood friend Doug.
Of the 104 students in my high school class, the one I saw most often in recent years was Doug, but I rarely interacted with him. He would pass by my shop twice a day, on his way to and from the bar down the street. I saw him, if not the night he died, sometime shortly before that, following him down the street, both of us pushing our bicycles, him not looking around and me not calling out to him.
This was the Doug known to and beloved by a community that showed up in large numbers for his Saturday morning service, but a handful of us were there to recall his earlier years. Mary and I are still here in town, but Scott came from Grand Junction and Dan from Boulder — and John came all the way from Atlanta.
The morning service wasn’t enough, so we followed it up with an early dinner, to get John and his wife Liz on the road with his sister, who had driven them over from her home in Buena Vista. I hadn’t seen John since high school, when he left for Harvard, and I was worried that once we all got caught up, we might run out of things to say to each other.
But here’s the thing about your very oldest friends: you can slip them on like your most comfortable pair of shoes and wear them with great familiarity. The five of us, plus three spouses and a sister, could probably have talked through the night.
The morning had been spent with stories about Doug, stories that made us laugh. Like Mrs. Dorzweiler’s, Doug’s was a kind and gentle soul that made him a favorite in all his circles. We were all able to remember him honestly and fondly.
The evening was for catching up on the now, the career paths planned and not so planned. It was particularly poignant to me to hear Scott, whom I usually see about once a year, recount his jobs, none of which he was fired from or quit — the businesses all closed out from under him. But he’s been adroit at adaptation, and I’m not sure he recognizes that about himself.
Dan left the corporate world behind to become his own engineer, designing and inventing things that interest him; Mary has cared for people her entire life, including now five of her grandchildren who live with her full-time. John, an Alzheimer’s researcher on the faculty at Emory University, had a funny story about deciding against working for a company he didn’t think was going anywhere that turned out to be Microsoft.
For an introvert like me (really!), this would have been a lot of socializing even had my social muscles not been flabby from a pandemic, and I am wiped out ahead of my regularly-scheduled Sunday breakfast with peeps.
But it’s important to realize, particularly in times of loss, what the deer already know: sometimes there is strength in numbers, and it’s important to be part of the herd. Sometimes it really feels good.