Sunday, September 13, 2009

Walking Through Life

I walk a lot. Ostensibly, I started the walking to break up the monotony of the daily elliptical workout. It has since become a welcome respite from the barrage of stimuli one encounters even just sitting at home.

My walks have taken me from one side of town to the other ( and I know what your thinking - what kind of challenge is that?), out to the golf course, up to Water Rd. and down to the river. It has taken me through the alleys of Byron, many of which I did not know existed, the prairie trails of the Forest Preserve, short cuts over the railroad tracks and, recently, through the cemetery.

The walk through the cemetery shook me up. The Byron Cemetery has two parts - the old and the new. The old section is a lesson in Byron History. It contains the graves of town founders, names for which if you have ever read the book about this town ( Reflections) you would recognize. It is fascinating to walk around the family plots and get a sense for what Byron must have been like in the 1800's.

It was the new section that gave me pause. Entering at one end and following the U shaped road that takes one through the new section is, I realized, another history lesson of sorts. It is the history of my time in Byron marked by the names of those I have known even marginally, and whose life's have had an impact on mine. The too many names I knew glare back at me like movie scenes that mark moments in my life. People affect each other without ever having to really know one another. I knew many people out there but these names sprung out and stayed with me all the way home:

Andy Patton - The first time I saw Andy was when he was peeking out of the infant backpack on his mother's back. These big eyes looked up at me followed by a toothless smile. That moment made me change from my childless stance to wanting children. He was a cub scout, car enthusiast and finally, a marine. Andy was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Andy was buried at Arlington but a beautiful memorial stands at our cemetery.

Hib Reber - A classic car enthusiast, Hib's passion has been a big part of summer in Byron. Between the Cruise Night's at Sam's Drive -In and the Memorial car show at Byronfest, his passion is one shared by the males of my family who look forward to these events every summer.

Brian Blanchard - Brian was the brother of one of my best friends Julie. I did not know him well, but knew enough to know he was troubled and left life far too early.

Jeff Blanchard - Another brother,I never knew at all. He departed life in a fatal accident and even though I never knew him, his passing became part of who Julie is and for that reason, he is important.

Hink Blanchard - Julie's dad. If Hink didn't have one, you didn't need one. The father of my friend would give you the shirt off of his back if he thought you needed it and then several more he had stashed in the garage just in case. The man had at least one of everything. Need a hoop for an antebellum skirt? Hink had one.

Del Roberts- After a 10 minute interview and completed application, Del gave me $55,000 for a construction loan in 1984 and said, "if you need more, come back." Small town banking at it's best. Brain aneurysm.

Johnny Huber - a sweet little boy who fought like a trooper in this 5 years, but finally lost his battle with cancer. I conducted many small group lessons at school on the bench in the lobby given in his name.

Amber Huber - A sweet young woman in the beginning of adulthood. Ironically, her family lived next to the other Huber's and both have tragically lost children to cancer.

Darlene Lundgren - My personal breast cancer hero. Darlene was the organizer of the school support staff union as well as knower of all things important in the middle school offices. She was dedicated to her job and missed few days due to chemo - once working from her hospital bed to get registration work done.

Kyle O'Connor - Another tragic end. Kyle was a funny, quirky little 4th grader who died in a freak accident in 6th grade.

Donna Nelson - Donna was the young mother of two young girls when she was diagnosed with cancer. She came to parent night with her pain pump at the ready and took notes so that she could fully grasp what her children needed to do and get it in order so that her husband could accomplish it when she was gone. She was honest about her condition and open to what might come after she departed the earth.

Mike Childers - One of my favorite people ever. Mike was a life long Boy Scout and sometimes Girl Scout ( if the situation called for it) and proud of it. He worked with Dave but dedicated his life to his kids taking them caving, camping, biking etc. He was kind and giving, had no fear of appearing goofy and was a master pancake maker. Mike left us far too soon and far too abruptly. Brain aneurysm, my age.

Josh Teel - Josh was my friend Deb's son. He was 26 when a driver blew a stop sign and threw him from his motorcycle at a country intersection. Deb taught me what healing is all about.

Lee Zimmerman - The matriarch of one of the most supportive and bonded families I have ever know. Her daughters, Penny, Paula, Pam, Patti, Polly and if there are more they live out of state but their name begins with "P", show up in force at any event where one of them, their children, there nieces and nephews, grandchildren, etc are being honored and offer gallant ovations of pride. They are there for each other through every step and stumble, laughing and loving all the way.

I feel compelled to mention those other's who have passed and are buried either in the Catholic cemetery or up on German Church Road or other places. . .

Michael Fletcher - I used to watch him, as a 3 year old, escape out of the front window of his house on the highway, run to the end of he driveway, and insight truckers to blow their horns. He was a dare devil, but a freak accident took his life before he could transfer that zest for excitement to cars.

Tommy Vanderjack - The highway is a dangerous road, requiring constant vigilance. He was thrown from the car as it plowed toward the river, killing him instantly. Tommy was in third grade.

Rick Hahn - An attorney in town, Rick was liked and respected by many. A life long Byron resident, he married his best friend. The only time I ever saw Rick anything but happy was when he had to chew out his middle child who, having just gotten braces removed, refused to wear mouth gear while playing soccer. Oy was he mad! Rick memories still make me smile. He was my age.

Abe Johnson- sold his farm to Commonwealth Edison, made a fortune and built a house in town where he and his sister could live out their lives. I lived next door. Abe spent his summers tending his potato plants, which he lived on all winter. The man generated less trash than we gather from our bathroom container every week, living like a pauper.

Russ Groves - Big Russ. What a shock. Russ was married to my friend Deanna and they had 2 kids. Big, burly, tough, Russ was a huge softy always willing to do for others. He used to sit in the last pew in church and make faces at the choir as they sang. Sometimes I feel like he is still around. Heart attack, my age.

I've lived in Byron a long time, longer than I've lived anywhere else in my life. It stands to reason that I would become part of the ebb and flow of life in a small town, but I never realized how even little moments with people have lasting impact on my life. And so, as I let myself back into my house I feel inspired to get on my knees and give thanks.


  1. I didn't know most of the people on the list, but the ones I did hit me hard. I really miss Mike Childers, and I still wish that Jon and I were as good of friends as we were in high school; unfortunately, I think Mike's death pushed him away from many of his HS friends. I feel like I've lost two people, to be honest.

    I didn't even know that Darlene Lundgren passed away. :(

  2. We lost Darlene 2 years ago and she literally worked up to the end. Gotta love her though because even when the office was moving from the old school to the new, Darlene discoveries were uncovered in files and various desks. Like little gifts. : )

  3. I knew several of the people you mentioned - And because I'm older than you are, my walk through the cemetary would have a longer list of names.

    "Life is like stepping onto a boat knowing it is about to sail out to sea and sink."

  4. Darlene Lundgren was my mother. Today is the anniversary of her death. I Googled her name today just to see if anything still popped up and I found your blog. Thanks for thinking of her. She is missed every day.
    Deanna Forst

  5. Deanna - She spoke of you often with lots of pride. There are several of us who go visit her from time to time and talk to the owls. I am glad you found my blog.