Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Effects of a great man

This is dedicated to my dear friend and cousin, Harold Conrad.

We grew up together, being neighbors, sharing the same school and church and grandparents. Besides that, some of the more memorable events of my life occurred in your company.

Wonder. You lived in the town of Taber, and I lived on a farm 7 ¼ miles north of town. One summer night, I slept over at your house. The next morning, I awoke in an attic bedroom with an inexplicable feeling of excitement and certainty that it was going to be an extraordinary day. We rode out to our grandfather's farm, west of town, in the back of a truck. You took along your bicycle, and that day, with your encouragement, I learned how to ride a bike. Wow, what a day!

Novelty. Soon after our rural party line was finished, you phoned me from town, and I enjoyed my first telephone call. Our phone number was 949-23 and we could tell the call was for us by hearing two rings close together, immediately followed by three rings close together. After a longer pause, this would repeat until we answered or the caller gave up. We were in the modern world.

Surprise. One summer day, we were playing marbles, and you won with a spectacular shot, ruining my own strategy. I was suddenly seized by a strange and irresistible feeling, and threw my marbles towards the north as hard as I could. An early experience with anger closely followed by shame at my behavior, and amazement at the loss of control. The start of a life-long challenge.

Neighbors. When your father's house on the farm was finished, your family moved from town into the farm house, and we became neighbors. We rode to and from school together on the bus. Sometimes, I would sleep in and miss the bus and have to walk a quarter mile or more to the next corner to catch it. Lots of the time we spent together was on this bus, because we were one grade apart in school. Neighbors and friends.

Gratitude. You saved my life once. We were swimming in your father's pond, and I tired and panicked. You immediately grabbed me in a headlock, as we had been taught as boy scouts, and towed me to shore. To this day, I am in awe of your presence of mind, and thankful for your quick thinking. Everyone that I have ever touched for good in my life after that owes you a debt of gratitude.

Learning. Together with a few students, including our mutual cousin and friend, Burton Conrad, we formed the Apogee Scientific Organization in high school, and practiced model rocketry. At least to the extent permitted by the Canadian Department of Transport. This became a life-long hobby of yours, and one that I enjoyed for many years during our youth. Fun in school.

Phlegmatism. During one rocket launching session, I was ranging (upwind and several hundred yards from the launch pad, in position to observe the highest altitude (apogee) attained by a rocket of my making). I had spent hours gluing, painting, and polishing, and I dissolved into tears when it blew up upon launching. You came over and offered the comfort of the phlegmatic point of view. I have learned much from this incident, though I still struggle to put this into practice, being more melancholic in nature. Learning of a different kind.

Camaraderie. Our paths parted when I graduated from high school. When I came home, proud in my knowledge of computers, you showed me what you had been doing on your own personal computer (an IMSAI 8080, if I remember correctly). The things you accomplished on your own amazed me. I enjoyed trying my hand at your lunar landing simulator (and decided not to become an astronaut). How wonderful to meet again with yet another common interest.

Embarrassment. During your older brother's wedding reception, some of your cousins sang a song, which included this challenge to you, "be a man and be wed." I empathized with you, imagining that you might find this embarrassing. But, as I looked over at you, I saw that you took it in stride and good humor. And a short while later, you married your Rosa, and have raised a wonderful family. No need to worry, you have things under control.

Nostalgia. You and Rosa bought my father's farm when he had to retire after his stroke. We visited your new farm house, and enjoyed visiting with you and your new daughter. And playing with your updated lunar landing simulator. And what a surprise to see all the hot peppers that you had grown--I hadn't imagined that could be done in Canada.

Again, our paths have parted, and we have not spent as much time together as I would have liked. I want you to know how important you have been to me, and what an impact for good you have been. Thank you for your enduring kindness and example. The effect you have had on my life is invaluable.


Nancy said...

I'm so glad that you wrote this! I feel like I've gotten to know a bit more about all three of you (Burt, Harold and you)!

Give my love to Harold and Rosa and everybody!

Aquaspce said...

wonderfully written! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

wow, very special, i like it.

Myrna said...

So nice.