The people past, present and future who help us evolve as a species in and of nature.
by C. B.
(Meetings with remarkable men)
Over the span of a human life, there is a rotation of people, coming, going, and often departing from our consciousness due to either a lack of significance or by the will to repress the unwanted memory. But, the good memories often ride with us to the end of the pitch. When news of a passing reaches us, we are met with either a trickle of emotions or something akin to a flood, which can deluge us with images and bring us back to the time and place as though it were yesterday.
Several months ago, and almost ten years after the fact, I received news through the tenuous grapevine of old acquaintances, that a neighbor from my childhood had departed from the planet. And, though my family had moved from away from the town decades ago, and though news of this sort is often met with a shrug and the standard shudder of personal mortality, this particular departure rang like a Buddhist temple gong in my psyche. This neighbor was no ordinary man.
It was a factory town surrounded and grounded by the farming gentry, but the necks were red and hostility always hovered above the picturesque hills and quaint homes. It was not uncommon to be confronted on the way to school by local kids with alcoholic parents ready to share their anger management program with someone walking in the opposite direction, particularly if you did not subscribe to the uniform brush cut hairstyle, or, had no family history in the region beyond a single generation, which, in both cases, my brothers and I did not possess. Still, we were lucky enough to have a retinue of friends that could bail us out of such problems, though not always in the nick of time; More was needed.
Adults, not uncommon to the times, were often formidable disciplinarians, rarely willing to interact in a genuine way with the younger generation. They told you what to do, and you did it or got punished,..no negotiation and certainly no ‘reversal of the roles’ familiar to modern families. It was harsh, and few knew how to handle the authoritarian responsibility gently without traumatizing the young ones. We were fortunate in our household, but many of our peers were not as blessed. Any exception to the rule renewed our hope for humanity – Hondo was that rare exception.
The lots were large, running several acres from the back of the homes to groves of maples, elms and apple trees at the far end. To the right of our house was an office clerk and his family. We rarely saw them, they lived indoors, only going outside to shop, mow the lawn or shovel the driveway. They were serious, reserved and consistently humorless, sometimes peering from behind the curtains at the hippy kids living next door. To the left, in an old farmhouse, lived Hondo, his wife and his young daughter – Swedish born, full of life, and with a complete attachment to the rich soil they had set roots in.
He worked as a shop teacher in a cross-town school, and it was something he loved to do. He only did things he loved to do. Even if it was a dreary chore, he simply made the most of it and turned it into fun. Every free moment he had, he would be immersed in woodworking, carving and building whatever his property needed, and eventually converting the dreary depression era house into an ornately carved and dovetailed showcase of his talents. A warmer, loving home you would never find. Every stick of wood he found, he would transform into an heirloom item. On one occasion, he noticed a tall cedar post at the back of our property and asked if we might be willing to part with it. It was an old clothesline pole that we had removed upon the arrival of a new washer and dryer (a space age leap for the times), so my father was more than happy to contribute it to whatever Hondo had in mind for its future. Several months later, Hondo asked us to come over and see what he did with the post. It was now unrecognizable as a four poster bedroom set right out of the Elizabethan era – and it was a stunning work of craftsmanship!
While finishing one project, he would be planning the next, often with several going at one time. While renovating his house, he would take a break and slip out to work on his maple trimmed canoe far at the end of the property. If he needed a quick lunch, he’d walk over to the garden and help his lovely wife and daughter weed the garden and eat a few carrots along the way.
Unfortunately, hauling all that wood around took a tole on his back, and it was not surprising to see him hunched over like a question mark while he went about his business. Even racked with pain, he was undaunted and continued to saw and carve, all the while chatting with whoever stopped by, but never for a moment sitting idle himself or dwelling on his own problems. It was how we knew him, always radiating a wonderful smile, laughing about his mistakes and being genuinely interested in what was new in your own life while still fully immersed in whatever he was doing. It was as though he saw the potential in all things discarded, and often that would include people. Television, news, talking on the phone, these things were trifles to him that interfered with authentic living and being in commune with the land and the people he loved. Yet, no one was more loved than he was, by his family, his students, the few neighbors lucky enough to know him, and his friends on the rugby pitch that provided him with one extra outlet for his boundless energy.
His was a rare glow, something in the manner of the yogi’s who never took life so seriously that they could not laugh and still revel in all its wonders. To a directionless teenager, the mere act of this lone adult taking the time to talk and discuss your problems was revelatory and therapeutic, and that he always managed to leave you smiling and less self-conscious than before was nothing short of miraculous, particularly in a world that was so frightfully uptight. For many of us, he reaffirmed the concept that the greatest disease of all is seriousness, and he showed how not to be.
When he was finally bedridden and in his last chapter of existence, he maintained his warmth and love for those around him, still smiling and still kind right to the last moment. He must have learned so much in those many hours alone, shaping wood under the shades of the maples, to know that this is all temporal and transitional and that nothing is conclusively final.
While reading the obituary I noticed the words ‘terribly missed by everyone’. As I looked at them again, I knew right away, years after the departure, and years after being a participant in his life, that yes he is still terribly missed and will always be on many levels. When one person contributes so much to the lives of others and does so in such a selfless, religiously devoid manner, it is difficult to imagine life without them. But we continue our journey’s, and like Tecumseh said, who may have also understood the joy of building a canoe, “When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” Hondo spoke these same words in his actions.
In our modern insular existence, detached from nature as we are, the Hondo’s of the world seem like artifacts of a time long past, but the great paradox now is that the example is more important than ever. There may be an app for everything, but real people are irreplaceable. Here’s to the return of the good example.
Thank you, Hondo. Rest in peace!