Today is Memorial Day. Many families visit cemeteries on Memorial Day, and that was something my family always did when I was growing up. We would go to our local cemetery, the Cedarview Cemetery, and we would wander through it looking at gravestones and talking about people from our community who were buried there. Our tradition also included a hike back to our house. My dad would drive home, park the car, and then hike back to join us on our two-mile trek.
I haven’t kept up the tradition of going to the cemetery these past few years as Kristina and I have been avoiding public places because of COVID, but it hasn’t stopped me from thinking about people who are buried there. Last night by chance I ended up thinking about one of those people, and following are the events that led to me thinking about him.
Yesterday evening I took a break from the things I was working on in my man cave/office and headed for the house. As often happens en route to the house, I got distracted by the beautiful clouds and the next thing I new I was in the garden taking lots of photos. The sky just got more and more beautiful. I wandered between the garden and the pasture looking for the best shots. At some point I realized it was cold, with a bitter wind – but that wasn’t enough to pull me away from the beautiful sky-show. Finally, the colors faded enough that I was able to make my break and head into the house.
Dinner was late because of my gallivanting in the garden. We had a great meal, and then I went and plopped down on the bed. Kristina came into the room and asked, “how can you lay down like that on a full stomach?” and I responded by telling her that it reminded me of when I was a teenager hauling hay for a neighbor named Gail Loranger. I was usually working with some combination of my brothers and cousins, and we would spend the morning hauling hay and then eat an amazing lunch prepared for us by Gail’s wife, Margaret. One of the perks of hauling hay for the neighbors was the great lunches they served us.
At other farms we would go right back to work after lunch – but not at Gail and Margaret’s farm. Gail would always say the same thing, “Come on boys, let’s go moan and groan and roll around,” at which point we’d all go outside and lay down on the lawn in the shade of some trees. We would relax there for a while, talking and looking up at the trees and the sky, before going back to work. Relaxing with Gail was fun – and working for him was fun too.
Gail was always so cheerful and friendly and fun to work for, and we worked our hearts out for him. Gail could be funny, and he had a lot of funny things he would say. He would say things like, “This work takes a lot of poop!” If there was a bale of hay that needed to be pushed tight into the stack he would say “Give it the Gar plunge!” Gar is one of my cousins who sometimes worked for Gail, and he was stout and good at moving bales of hay. My favorite, though, was what he would say when I would go out of my way to grab bales further from the wagon than the row of hay on either side. I would race over and grab a bale from another row and run it to the trailer and throw it on, and Gail would laugh and say, “Judas, look at that wild man!”
As I was telling Kristina these things she said, “So that’s where your name came from!” and I said, “Huh?” and she said, “Your wildman name.” I responded with, “Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that. I was thinking ‘wildman’ was just something I’d come up with recently as a fun way to describe myself because of my wild adventures. I hadn’t thought about the fact that Gail was calling me a wildman back when I was a kid working for him.” How I loved to hear Gail call me a wildman. It’s no wonder I like to call myself that now.
It’s been fifteen years since Gail passed away at the age of eighty-seven. I don’t have any photos or videos from my days of working for him all those years ago, only the memories – like little video clips that seem so fresh in my mind and that I cherish so much. It makes me think of the scene from Dickens’ Christmas Carol, where scrooge is looking back at his memories of working for Fezziwig. Those memories inspire Scrooge to say, “Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.” I could say the same thing about Gail Loranger. I aspire to being worthy of people saying something similar of me.
I hope, dear reader, that you will take some time to think about some people who’ve gone before – who were part of your life and influenced you for good – and about ways you can honor them. I think I can honor Gail by being cheerful and friendly in my interactions with young people in my job as a schoolteacher. And I think I can also honor him by being a wildman. I hope that if he could see me now he would say, “Judas, look at that wildman!”