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jvjim
14th February 10, 02:52 AM
Robert lived to be 20 years old. He died an eagle scout and a devoted brother and a loving son and a personal hero to many young men. That we could all be so lucky.

I remember those days before his death; it was an innocent time enjoyed in a mellow, lemon scented world. That world starting dying when a car full of drunk teenage girls struck Robertís and his mother, Maryís, van. Robert and Mary were on their way to the Bellefontaine Food Tiger where they both worked. It was Memorial Day.

I find it peculiar to remember Robertís face so vividly, being that we only knew each other for a few years. But I do. Perhaps itís because he and his younger brother, Joshua, my best friend at the time, were so similar. Both were dark, handsome and athletic. Both were kind and honest, both mischievous. They were each the product of a loving Catholic home and community. Robert and Joshua also shared a strange, charming magnetism. Joshua was clever and well spoken, even slick when we both worked together on some scheme. Robertís magnetism rested in his unabated kindness. His projected, infectious purity. It wasnít Christian monasticism, but something innate and somehow more primal and honest. It showed in his face and the way he always found time to help and care for everyone. It sprung forth from him and made you want to do only good and righteous things, just so you could somehow share in his quiet contentment and knowing smile. His smile was lopsided and filled with crooked, pearly white teeth. It was endearing and warm and handsome. It was the smile of an infallible role model, of an untenable goal. If you never saw it, God how I pity you.

On the day of his funeral, I remember peering down at him in his modest pine coffin. The smile was gone. He and his mother received a Boy Scout Funeral Ceremony at St. Phillip NERI Church and were interred at Pine Crest Cemetery. I carried the Alabama flag in the color guard and my Scoutmaster delivered the eulogy. I can say without equivocation that the funeral procession was over a mile long.

However, despite the ceremonyís solemn dignity and sincerity, I donít think we laid Robertís spirit to rest that day. I believe a part of Robert roams Mount Baldy, a former mining operation nestled in the portion of the Sangre de Christo Mountains owned by the Boy Scouts of America. I believe this because eight people, mostly teenage boys, traveled over 1300 miles by bus, plane and foot to pay their final respects to a beloved mentor and friend. It was the least any of us could do.

During the summer between Robertís death and our troopís pilgrimage to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, Joshua and I attended summer school. We both failed Freshman Algebra, both for similar reasons, and had the immense pleasure to be tutored by the daughter of one of Joshuaís family friends: Jennifer. She was a gorgeous co-ed attending school at Springhill College. Jennifer made having to retake Mrs. Shearerís class worth it. I got my first, and last, A in a real math class. Thanks Jennifer, wherever you are.

Josh also lived with us during this period. It was difficult for him, but he handled the situation with exemplary bravery. I remember feeling pity. I also recall a much darker emotion: relief. God, to have lost Robert and Mary as brother and mother and not pillars of the community? Thereís no crueler hell.

When we understood the transitive property and quadratic equations well enough to satisfy Jennifer and Mrs. Shearer, they let us go to assume a quiet introspection. Like sheiks preparing for the Haj, we both meditated on the 80 mile journey through the rugged and beautiful southern portion of the Rocky Mountains. I concerned myself with plane rides and vistas, travel journals and how to keep my feet from hurting on the long treks. I donít know what Joshua thought about.

God, remembering those times. Pouring over the Scout Handbook, wrestling, setting up tents and lashing together watch towers. Tracking animals and each other. Learning about manhood and whispering about women and sex, furtively checking to make sure no one heard our ignorance. They were all such good men, everyone I met and lead and followed. But Robert, Robert was the best of us bar none. And poor Joshua, he was Robertís replacement for the trip.

Joshua wasnít originally going on the trip with us. Robert was supposed to be the eighth man, but upon his death Joshua immediately asked to take his place. I was secretly glad Joshua was going, and that made me ashamed. In the year before Robertís death, Joshua started to give into what our Scoutmaster called the ď3Gís:Ē grades, games, and girls. Outside of studying Algebra, he spent the majority of the summer at two-a-days, training his body to take harsh punishment on the gridiron. When his brother died, he was lithe and willowy; two months later he was corded with muscle and, much to my chagrin, stronger than me despite my larger size. His going meant I could keep my best friend, at least for a few months longer.

It was the end of July when we left. Three men and five boys departed Mobile International Airport, each in an adorable parody of paramilitary parade dress. There was Joshua and myself, of course. Leading the group was PíNut, our portly and affable Scoutmaster. He was a park ranger, young and personable. He led the troop for years, assuming leadership at the age of 19, a record for the Scouts. Next was Tommy, a 20 year old fresh from his first year of college. He enticed us with tales of women and limitless alcohol. All of us, even the men, were enthralled. There was Jo and his father Rod, both large, friendly, fiery Cajuns. One of my schoolmates, Kyle, also made the journey with us. He was the smallest of the group, but determined and hardened by a difficult life. He was serious and intelligent, extremely courteous unless disrespected. Bringing up the rear was Donnie. Lord, thinking about Donnie now makes me smile. He was my size and always laughing, always joking and always fun. You couldnít help but like Donnie, even if he was hoodwinking you and you were beating him. We were all white and lower middle class. We all were free of hate, loved our country, and feared God. I guess Iíd have to call us losers today, but Iíd be ashamed of it.

I remember landing in the Albuquerque airport and, shortly after disembarking, seeing a group of scouts headed in the opposite direction. There seemed somehow different than us. It hit me, they had met and completed the Philmont Challenge. It has special meaning in Scout culture, going to Philmont. Itís our Mecca, where our main training centers are, where the spirit of the organization is gleamed and supported. The other group of scouts were lean from two weeks of arduous journey, but they also radiated a sort of spiritual toughness. As a group, they had visited the BSAís Dome of the Rock and had the patch to prove it. We discussed it at lunch, that strange aura they gave off. It was an odd feeling, even more unsettling because we were in a strange, but pleasant city so different than the lush, humid swamps and austerity of Mobile.

A long bus ride through the desert brought us to base camp. We drove under the large welcoming sign and marveled at the boots past travelers had thrown over it after their travels at Philmont were done. The boots were yellowing skeletons, some crafted in styles not worn in years, able to survive so long due to Philmontís dry climate. They were a tradition brought about by a core philosophy thatís pure and free of malice. Those shoes were what scouting was all about: keeping physically strong by enduring difficult challenges; staying mental awake to learn from and prepare for the adventures that lay ahead; and cultivating a moral straightness by allowing the awe of Godís majesty, the beauty of the rocks and the birds and trees, to guide you away from cynicism and doubt, to allow such wonder to steer you toward whatever truth you sought. They were reward and challenge and encouragement all in one.

We gathered our packs and supplies and met our guide. He was wiry and thin from spending months in the wilderness and he exuded a strong, but not overbearing, exuberance. We spent several days at base camp, planning our itinerary and refreshing our knowledge of orienteering and backcountry survival. Once our guide was satisfied with our ability to survive the New Mexico wilderness, he called the ranch bus to take us to our originating point.

We spent the next two weeks trekking across the gorgeous western countryside. Itís such an honor, truly, to get to experience it on foot. To see the deer and bison, smell the fresh spring water and lilacs, nap beneath a gnarled, ancient oak and repast on a lonely mesa. Itís the country of the Lord, a divine and natural panoply of muted wonder.

And what adventure! We scaled mountains and climbed the sheer face of weathered crags. We rode horses and shot rifles, we learned to throw tomahawks and danced to the sound of fiddles and empty jugs. We ate what we could carry and we ardently refused to mar Godís creation with our trash. How could anyone do so, so deep in his bounty? There was no television, no radio, and nothing to do except enjoy each otherís company. God, to even dream of those days again would be a treasure.

Of course, tragedy made pleasure a diversion to our new mission. The best of us was no more, and it was our duty to pay the proper respect. Toward the middle of our journey, we arrived at the base of Mount Baldy. Mount Baldy draws its name from its peak, which miners blasted to smithereens in the late 1800ís , leaving a round, circular outcropping of loose pebbles almost half a mile in diameter. Mount Baldy is also one of two main geological features Scouts are required to see on their travels at Philmont. The first, the Tooth of Time, towers above base camp and every group has to climb it upon either leaving or returning. The second, Baldy, is about 40 miles from base camp. Its base is a thick conifer forest with a well worn black soil trail, intermittently entangled in large, turning roots. Itís a three mile climb up, up and up. The trail turns from loose black soil to packed dirt to a loose gravel that constantly shifts beneath your feet. Pines give way to oaks and mountain vistas which give way to a desolate beauty. When youíre about a half mile from the summit, you can see almost all of the 200 square miles of Philmont. When you finally reach the summit, you can see almost forever.

Joshua and I, with PíNutís permission, decided to race to the top. Joshua, thanks to his football training, was hands down the faster hiker in normal conditions, but thanks to my ďuniqueĒ build, I gave him a real challenge on the uneven and steep terrain. However, after over an hour and a half of fierce rivalry, he burst into a gallop about 200 years away from the summit. I chased after him, but thinning air and exhaustion caused be to pause about 50 yards away. Joshua ran ahead. I kneeled down and looked at Joshua and wondered what he was thinking about on the top of the world. I hope the wind spoke sweet things to him, memories of warm kindness and promises of a honeyed life free of future sorrow. After I caught my breath, I ambled up to him. He acknowledged me with a serene smile and then tackled me. We tussled playfully until the rest of the group caught up with us. The younger boys pelted us with tiny rocks and PíNut whacked at us with his hiking stuff, laughing and egging us on. Finally, I tapped for quarter. Joshua helped me up and dusted me off.

A solemn wind blew across the summit and into our hearts. We knew what we had to do, what we owed our brother. PíNut removed his small day pack and produced a small, clear tube, the type used in the hydraulic system systems at bank drive-throughs. Before the trip we each placed a small item commemorating Robert in the tube. Jo put in the knife he used when Robert helped him earn his Widdling Chip badge. Tommy placed his first Order of the Arrow badge in the cylinder. Robert had been his guide during Ordeal, the ceremonial rite of passage into the Scout honor society. Rod put in a photo of a much younger Jo and Robert he had taken on one of Joís first camping trips. Donnie put in a scrap of paper containing twelve words scrawled in Robertís neat handwriting: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and revenant. This is the Scout law, the code of conduct every scout must learn. Long ago, Robert had written out the code and told Donnie to keep it with him so he could always remember it. Kyle donated an old boot string Robert had given him when his had broken. Robert, Kyle had later told us, hobbled around for an entire weekend on a laceless boot. I put in a broken yo-yo. On my first camping trip, I had played with the yo-yo to keep my mind of the dark woods and new people. I hadnít said a word the entire trip, and Robert surprised me by sneaking up and tapping me on the shoulder. After I jumped, he said he could make my yo-yo do the same thing. He spent the afternoon teaching me over a dozen tricks, most of which I still remember. PíNut put in an old tattered Scout badge, the first of many awards he had given Robert. Joshua placed an old, worn Rosary in the tube.

PíNut led us to a metal box at the center of the summit. Several groups of scouts were in line to drop their time capsules and memorials in the box, each group keeping a respectful distance from the one in front. Finally, it was our turn.

ďGentlman,Ē PíNut began. ďThe only thing Iíve enjoyed more than spending the last week with you all was the birth of my children. I can say with all sincerity that thereís no other group Iíd rather be here with. But, as you all know, weíre missing a very important person today. We all knew and loved Robert, and I know we all miss him. Itís an even greater tragedy that heís not here today, because we also all know this is all heíd been talking about for not months, but years. I canít think of a better memorial for Robert than to dedicate Troop 121ís time capsule to his memory. If any of you have anything to say, please feel free.Ē

Rod began, ďRobert, you were a fine example to my son and a great man. My heartís heavy because youíre gone, but I know youíre looking down on us from the kingdom. Bless you Robert.Ē

Jo, teary eyed, was next, ďRobert, buddy, you were always there for me. You always had something new to teach me and you were always encouraging and never patronizing. Iíll always miss you.Ē

Donnie said then, through a stifled sob, ďYou never got angry with me Robert, you never called me names and always helped me, like you helped everyone else. Iíve loved being on this trip, but itís not the same without you. I feel cheated, but not by you. I miss you Robert.Ē

It was Kyleís turn, ďYou were a kind, generous man and you wonít be forgotten.Ē

After Kyle finished, I began, ďRobert, I know from your brother and your father that youíll be eternally missed, I miss you too as do the rest of us here. I know if any oneís earned peace, itís you. Iíll always try to live by your example. Thank you so much Robert and God bless you.Ē

When Tommyís turn came, his face was flushed with emotion. He was usually so calm and collected, to see him moved was frightening. He said, ďIíve missed you so much Robert. Weíve been friends since we were kids, I donít know what to do man. Itís not the same without you. I miss you Robert, rest in peace.Ē

We turned to Josh. He bowed his head and made the sign of the cross. His silence was cacophonous and filled with emotion.

It was PíNutís turn again. He made no pretense of hiding his tears. No false bravado. He was putting the spirit of a man he loved to rest. He had raised Robert in part, like he had played a hand in raising all of us. Robert was his son, and cruel fate had torn Robert from his house. PíNut was broken, and this was the only way he could be fixed. He said, ďRobert, Iíve been wondering why God would take you from us? Why you, when this world needs someone like you so much? Iíve known you since you were a little boy, Iíve watched you grow and have been delighted at the man youíve become. Iíd like to believe it was partly due to me that you became who you were, but I know thatís not true. You were simply born being you. I canít understand how much of a burden it must have been, but you made what would be a curse for any other person seem like nothing. If my own sons grow to be a fraction of the man you were, Iíll be grateful. I love you Robert, and Iíll miss you forever.Ē With that, PíNut lifted the heavy steel box top, threw the tube in the box, and stood for a moment.

A warm summer wind blew from the east, from home. I thought it smelled like earthy marsh, like fresh baked mountain man omelets and chewing tobacco. It blew powerfully, but not violently, uplifting our spirts and urging us onward. Onward down the mountain on to more adventure, onward to new rewards and challenges, onward toward a life well lived and people well loved. When it finally died, PíNut turned to us and smiled, wiping the tears from his eyes. We did the same. ďWell gentleman,Ē he said, his smile growing beneath his reddened eyes, ďI wonder if I can beat the rest of you down the summit!Ē

With that he took off with a speed that belied his size. We were taken by surprise, but all of us eventually gave chase, laughing as we thundered past the rest of the travelers. I turned briefly as Joshua wizzed by me. His mouth was open in a large grin and fresh tears fell from his eyes. When I finally caught up to PíNut and Joshua, I felt a warm wetness on my face. I was crying again too. They were tears of joy.

bob
14th February 10, 03:30 AM
I liked it, as always. You might want to think about the title though. Sounds like it could be one of those bad pun pornos about pubescent girls or something.

jvjim
14th February 10, 03:39 AM
Thanks born, you're right. Jesus, I totally didn't catch that.

nihilist
14th February 10, 04:25 AM
Thanks born, you're right. Jesus, I totally didn't catch that. Better change it to "stuffed in a box...so young."

Yiktin Voxbane
14th February 10, 08:10 AM
Encounters of the Box kind .

Keith
14th February 10, 12:49 PM
I liked it, as always. You might want to think about the title though. Sounds like it could be one of those bad pun pornos about pubescent girls or something.

Mt. Baldy

http://i85.photobucket.com/albums/k79/hapkido_keith/IMG_0685.jpg

Taken from the street in front of my apartment about 5 minutes ago

nihilist
14th February 10, 01:47 PM
Are you screwing her in the trees?

I don't get it.