Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunflower fields forever

We awoke to sunflowers.

Millions of them. The rising sun lit up their golds and bronzes and greens.

Pat and I were in Oklahoma, a few exits south of the Kansas border. We had reached the spot late at night after hitchhiking from Houston the day before.

Now it was time to get our gear and get on our way to the Colorado Rockies.

The sunflowers dazzled the eyes. Trucks roared by, tall flower stalks bowed in their wakes.

On this day when we celebrate Pat's life, I remember that summer day 35 years ago. Two brothers on an adventure. We left behind hot and muggy Florida for a high-country jaunt.

But on this Oklahoma morning, the mountains seemed far away. Someone finally had mercy on us and gave us a ride. Later that day outside Salina, Kansas, we almost were arrested. "Go 50 miles per hour or go to jail," said the burly state patrolman. Pat always liked that quote.

No way we were going 50 miles an hour. So we went into town and found the bus station. The bus we took to Denver barely broke the 50 m.p.h barrier But we did arrive in Denver and eventually the mountains.

Backpacking into wild country. In the evening, I cooked freeze-dried meals on my tiny stove. As night fell, Pat built a fire and I read poems from Gary Snyder's "Turtle Island." As a rule, Pat wasn't into poetry. But Snyder wrote of wide-open skies and wild, unconquered nature. It seemed fitting.

A month passed quickly. Too soon I was back in Gainesville and Pat back in Daytona Beach. In a few months he was off to the Air Force.

We talked many times over the years. Once, two years passed in which we didn't speak. I said some harsh things that he didn't like. We each were too stubborn to make the first call. Pat broke the ice and called me when he became a grandpa for the first time. We talked more when he was in treatment for a month. We wrote letters for the first time in decades.

Pat and I talked about our Colorado trip many times. I wish now that we could have done it again. That we could have spent more time together.

But the 1975 trip was a moment in time. Two brothers waking up in a field of sunflowers.

We saw nothing but a bright future spread out before us.

We saw it together, as brothers.

So I say this to my dear departed backpacking brother Pat, to my Air Force brother, to my Gator-loving brother, to my brother the softball coach, my brother the gardener, the planter of trees and flowers and tomatoes....

Pat, may you always be surrounded by fields of flowers.

Update: This is the eulogy I delivered as part of my brother Pat's memorial service on Monday, Dec. 13, at the Fred Lee Park softball field in Palm Bay, Fla. I will share the full text of the memorial in later posts...

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

A beautifully rendered remembrance.

Your brother was lucky to have you on his side.