A worn, felt fedora had been gently placed beside the urn containing the cremated remains of a man recently denied life by Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.
The cold, January morning greeted the mourners. Puddles of water from an overnight rain covered nearby bronze plaques of persons long forgotten. The grieving walked toward the tent doing a strange dance to avoid stepping on the markers, or slipping on the water, an event that would send them sinking into the soft earth.
Bright flowers on cold, iron stands added color to the gray scene behind the impromptu shelter. Two rows of folding chairs sat quietly – waiting, waiting. A long-stemmed red rose on the table next to the urn celebrated the life of one Chester Martin “Chip” Edin, age 72.
The minister soon spoke of his life: raised in Modesto, a member of the Thomas Downey High School Class of 1961 and California Polytechnic State University in 1967, worked in Sacramento and the Bay Area for 22 years while active in community organizations and youth sports, took part in sailing regattas with sons Eric and Sean on Lake Tahoe and in the Sacramento Delta, moved to the Missouri Ozarks investing in real estate and innovative Tuscany-style condominiums, retired in more recent years to the Nevada silver mining community of Virginia City, where he explored ghost towns and relived the old Wild West.
No question about it, Chip Edin had tucked in many exciting and memorable events since his birth in 1943.
Chip and I had known each other as boys growing up together. Last March several alumni from Downey High living in Fresno organized a luncheon to share our school memories.
Chip was resolute when he talked about the imminent battle he was about to experience. I listened as he shared his thoughts and admired his strength. He had lived his life without regrets or excuses and was now at peace.
As the interment service progressed, I reflected to remember and honor Chip. Our friendship through the years was, indeed, a pleasurable memory.
Meaningful friendships, love of family and a productive life are aspects both celebrated and lamented by some people near the ends of their lives. The declining years can be filled with regret, the desire to change things and the longing to be young and have just one more chance.
At the reception after the service, I sat across the table from Chip’s 11-year-old granddaughter. Not knowing quite what to say, I stumbled into a thought that ended with me thinking about the passage of time.
I said, “I knew your grandfather when he was only 12 years old, about your age. We went to school together in 1955.”
“Wow! That is a long time ago,” she giggled with amusement at the ramblings of an old man.
Indeed, it was a long time.
That comment made me think about how I had used and sometimes abused my opportunities in life during 73 years.
Most people want one additional chance to relive the good times and think about what they might have changed to right the wrongs. We should be so lucky, but that is not the way it works. The end seems to come along at the most inconvenient time – a moment when we least expect it.
I have been fortunate to live a reasonably long life. There have been proud accomplishments, rewarding and valued friendships and a few regretful actions that nag at me from time to time. I should probably take time to listen and respond to those voices.
Someday I hope my mourners will say something like, “Larry certainly was busy during his life, wasn’t he? He was quite a character. Everyone seemed to like him. I am sure he will long be remembered by his children, grandchildren and friends.”
So if that is all one hears at my funeral, be assured I probably did take the time to make amends. Since time is a-wastin’, I’d better get a-hoppin,’ so I won’t have to sing, “Please, just one more chance!”
Chip, rest in peace, my dear friend. While you lost the battle, you showed us courage and strength of character. We will miss you.
Larry W. Gamble of Clovis, a graduate of Fresno State, is a former college professor and businessman. He has been married for 52 years to his wife, Sylvia, and they have two children, Robert and Johannes.