Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Remembering an Old Friend

By Keith Fisher

In my life, something often happens to make me pause and reflect. I never know what it will be, the birth of a child, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. In March, I had one of those experiences, and since I’m the author of this particular soapbox, I want to use this blog to tell you about it.

During my daily trip to the hospital to visit my dying father, I crossed the lobby to the elevator and bumped into a woman I hadn’t seen in at least twenty-five years. She was the mother of my good friend, Sterling, and I tried to help her remember me.

She told me her son was dying of cancer and he lay in ICU upstairs. I stepped into the elevator to visit him on the way up to see my dad. My mind went back to the seventies, to a time when life was a mixture of parties. Before I grew up and rediscovered the Church.

I met Sterling, right after he’d been discharged from the service. Another friend told me Sterling had once been his Sunday school teacher, and Sterling had served a mission too.

My friend seemed aloof from all that, and he loved to party. He personified the saying, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. I quickly discovered he was generous to a fault. It didn’t matter if I didn’t have money, if Sterling had some, we partied. Sterling got a job driving a truck and he took me on a few trips with him.

One time on a trip to phoenix, we spent a week in a motel waiting for a load. I learned a lot about picking grapefruits on the motel grounds, and I learned a lot about my friend. We finally got a load out of San Diego, and headed south. Sterling pulled over in the middle of the night on the way to Yuma, climbed into the sleeper, and told me to drive.

I was nervous, I didn’t have the right kind of driver’s license, but I drove an eighteen wheeler, with a two-stick transmission. That’s 5 on one and 4 on the other. I learned from watching him, He slept and I grinned, a lot. Yeah thats me driving the truck. I was 24 years old, and I still had hair on top.

In the hospital, Sterling was hooked up to dozens of machines. I barely recognized him through the oxygen tent and his body was resting. I was at a loss. What do you say to a dying man you haven’t seen for over twenty-five years? His Nurse said he’d had a hard night, and a bad time of it, so I let him sleep, intending to return. I never did.

With Dad dying upstairs in hospice, my thoughts were directed toward my family. Dad died shortly after that, and I was assigned to make funeral arrangements. I had to write an obituary and take some pictures to the mortuary, but I happened to glance at a newspaper and found a death notice for Sterling. It listed birth date, death date and the time of a graveside service. No funeral, no obituary, no frills whatsoever.

The service was scheduled for that day, and I still had to request the grave opening for Dad. I dressed in a shirt and tie, and went to Sterling’s service. What a day! I stood there watching a few relatives and church members. They seemed surprised to see an old friend. There were two of us.

We waited for half an hour and finally, Sterling's body arrived. His mother opened the pressed cardboard casket and we said goodbye to a man who’d been one of my best friends.

We lost contact with each other over the years. I got religion and went on an LDS mission. He drove truck and got on with his life. When I knew him, Sterling had dozens of friends. At the service, I wondered where they were. I talked to the only other old friend and he told me he hadn’t seen Sterling in four years. In order to quit drinking, he had to distance himself from Sterling, and the bad influence.

He confirmed what I already knew. Sterling was a good man. He really cared about people. He worried about his nephews and his sister. Sterling gave away more money than he ever had. Here was a man who, even with all his faults, deserves to be remembered. I decided to write this memorium. I'm just sorry it took so long.

Now, I visit Sterling’s grave and I wish he could be remembered the way he deserved. I hope his old friends will think of him now and then. I look at the grass-covered earth that is his final resting-place and I think of a poem by Sam Walter Foss. It’s in the public domain so I will include it here:

House by the Side of the Road
By Sam Walter Foss

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner's seat
Nor hurl the cynic's ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife,
But I turn not away from their smiles and tears,
Both parts of an infinite plan-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead,
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
And still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish - so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,
Or hurl the cynic's ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

My friend Sterling wasn't perfect. but then who us is? He served a mission for the right reasons, and he served his country. Sterling was kind and generous, Sterling was a friend to man.

In memorium

Sterling Franklin Larsen 1951-2009

Good luck my friend. May all your roads be paved and may you find the sunrise over the next hill.

1 comment:

L.T. Elliot said...

I've never read that poem before but I assure you, I'm printing it and hanging it on my wall.

Keith, a finer tribute I couldn't imagine. I'm teary and full. Thank you.