In death, a drive to life

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

The anticipated ring of the doorbell sprang Herm into action. He found two little munchkins standing on the door’s other side with colorful, store-bought baskets by their sides. They had raced ahead of Rich, who had gone around to get the door for the children’s slender young mother in the shotgun seat.

“Well, what do we have here?” Herm said in a faux Irish accent as he bent over, hand on knees. He’d been thinking it was about time to try and explain to his grandbabies about their names, O’Callaghan.

“Ready for Easter?” Herm said as he straightened and returned to his normal voice. “And how many eggs are you going to get tomorrow?”

“Fifty thousand million,” said the younger one, Katie, the one with dark, long red hair and brilliant blue eyes.

Herm’s son, Rich, and Janet had made it up from the car by now and completed the reunion. Herm had his houseful for the holiday. The guest rooms were all ready, and the 7-year-old Bert had said he wanted to sleep with Herm.

Since Herm was not a cook, Good Friday evening pretty much was consumed by the wait and then slow service at the steakhouse. After the kids were off to bed, the time with Rich and Janet passed quickly.

The grandfather with the quiet house turned bustling with the weekend company. Herm set his alarm to get up and fix the eggs and frozen biscuits in time to make the community Easter Egg hunt at 9 o’clock. Herm took the kids and let Rich and Janet, both busy office supervisors, sleep in. The proud grandfather and munchkins were out the door as the parents were getting up.

The afternoon passed with a trip to the store and a stop at the gas place for a new canister. Herm grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, his first use of the grill for the season.

The munchkins had brought a couple of favorite DVDs that Herm knew nothing about. After they were in bed Herm played the movie Meet Me In St. Louis, which he had picked up at the library, for the parents.

A full and fulfilling Saturday gave Herm a sense of accomplishment as his head hit the pillow. The kids come about twice a year, as Rich also has to spend holidays with Janet’s people up North.

Sure, Herm wished they were closer and could come more. He didn’t feel safe any more making the long drive down east alone to see them.

The crew hit the road after a Sunday lunch of sandwiches, and Herm was left alone to find something on TV.

On the road, Rich was going over his week’s work schedule in his thoughts. He didn’t recognize the number that popped up on his ringing cell phone.

It was his Dad’s neighbor, Gene, whom Rich did not see on this trip. As a kid, Rich would seek out Gene as a refuge when he was mad or as a diversion when things got boring at home. But Rich had not kept up with Gene since high school.

“Rich. I found your number in your dad’s phone,” Gene said with a tremble. “It’s your dad. I had to call an ambulance for him. Can you get to the hospital?”

Rich was nearly an hour out, and he tried to keep calm and focused as he found an exit where he could turn around.

“I’m sorry,” a young ER doctor told him. “But the aneurysm was massive. There was nothing we could do.”

Rich sent Janet with the kids over to the common area to get them something. He just sat alone in the ER room and stared at the sheet covering the body.

He had thought tears would flow when the time came, but now that it had happened Rich just sat and chased memories and thought about the arrangements.

He sent Janet back home with the kids and with instructions to return Tuesday with a suit for him. Rich would stay here and go to the funeral home and search for the will at the house.

A brief visit by Gene and a couple more of his dad’s friends kept Rich at the hospital. And then a stranger in gray suit stuck his head into the otherwise empty ER visiting room.

“Son, I’m Pastor Johnson. From the church up the road from your father’s,” said the minister, extending a hand.

“They told me about your dad while I was up on one of the floors. I’m very sorry,” Johnson said.

Now this was something Rich had not anticipated. He was not a church-goer.

“Rich, is it?” the pastor said after learning the name. “Let’s sit down. I hear you live down east. Could you use some company right now?”

Rich recounted what had happened and filled in some holes in the pastor’s knowledge about his dad. No, the church would not be needed for a funeral and, yes, it would be nice if the preacher could say a few words at the funeral-home service.

Then Johnson steered the conversation down a different path.

“I’m very sorry this happened on Easter Sunday,” the preacher began. “But this day provides a wonderful comfort.”

“How’s that?” Rich asked.

“This day reminds us that just as Jesus lived on this day, so we will live. We who know Christ. Rich, do you know Christ?”

Rich didn’t know. Pastor Johnson broke the awkward silence by pressing further. “Son, are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

He stammered that he wasn’t raised in church and had never thought about it. So Johnson kept it simple and told Rich that Christ died and rose from the grave so that death would not be the end, but instead a wonderful beginning in heaven.

Just then Rich remembered a public-TV travel program that showed an European museum’s painting of Christ on the cross. “We’ll talk some more later,” the preacher said. “Do you have anybody to go with you to the funeral home?”

Learning that Rich needed a ride from the hospital, Johnson dropped him off at Herm’s home and gave a phone number to call for a ride Monday to the funeral home.

“I had only thought of Easter with Christ dying on the cross,” Rich finally opened up during the ride back from the funeral home.

“Oh, but Easter is so much more,” Johnson said while staring straight ahead from behind the wheel. “Easter also is about Christ rising from the dead. And he promised that as he rose from the dead, so will we.”

And so on this Easter Rich, Janet and the munchkins will make another long drive and sit in the old neighborhood church. And no one will sing “Up from the grave he arose” with more gusto than Rich who found in death a way to live and live more abundantly.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris

Back In The Hometown Harris

Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

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