Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It Might Be Summer

I guess it's summer now.
The chka-chka-chka of the sprinklers running has become a pretty regular sound.
The Crepe Myrtles flanking the streets of Waynesboro are bringing their reliable color-burst to that fair town.
The natives belly-ache to be taken to the pool, and groan at the inversely unfair smallness of our mower in relation to the vastness of our lawn. The predictable percentage of tomato plants succumb to that crazy wilt, and we start praying for rain with renewed fervency.

And then there's the fabulous produce coming out of the garden, and the gardens of  friends. There is something about gardening that brings out the neighbor in all of us and fosters a general atmosphere of benevolence and goodwill. This is because it is impossible not to be happy to see big green peppers on the seat of your car after church when your own haven't produced worth a flip. And there is something equally delightful and relief-inducing about successfully smuggling your own surplus onto the car seat of somebody else.

We took our excess corn to a neighbor recently who was so thoroughly thrilled that the joy-bells still ring in my heart to think of it.

It makes fixing meals a cinch. BLT's and corn on the cob. New red potatoes and fried okra. Sauteed squash and grilled veggie medleys. Throw a few fresh herbs in there and call it done. And almost too good to be true.

Family reunions are cropping up here and there and we scan the horizon for a free weekend that we might be able to go camping. Just like every summer.

So yes, it must be summer.

But there have been things that make me doubt it ever so slightly.
Number one: it's the 26th of June and we had the windows open the entire day and enjoyed every minute of it! Highly uncharacteristic behavior for a Georgia summer.
Number two: I just hung the new calendar approximately a month ago as near as I can recall, and looked in wonder at the fresh year and pondered what it might hold. That raises valid suspicions for sure.
So I can't really say it's summer beyond a shadow of a doubt.

But on the other hand, packpacks and lunch boxes sit abandoned and still day after day in their respective cubbies. It was light till nearly 9 PM this evening. And the nocturnal insects are loud and louder in the trees surrounding the wigwam tonight.

So it probably is. Probably.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


The other Sunday afternoon the Chief and I and the older natives were playing Scum at the kitchen table. I quickly secured my spot as Prez and had every intention of keeping my office. A couple of hands in, a lively discussion about how lame Scum was and how it took no skills, was underway, (an apparent attempt to discount both my presidency and their scumhood, I'm sure), when Scott got a phone call. He excused himself to answer it and as he exited the room I heard him say brightly, "Hello, Mr Floyd...or Miss Naomi!"...and he disappeared down the hall.
With the game in limbo we scattered a bit. I, to the stove, to make more popcorn maybe. I can't recall.
In a minute Scott returned to the kitchen, stood there straight and tall, and announced mechanically, "Brent was just killed in a four-wheeler accident."

"No!!! No!!!"
 I searched his face desperately for any trace of hope that it might not be true. Instead, the truth hit with blunt and brutal force. Scott's face, usually so alive and happy, was blank.
Brent! His dearest friend! Not Brent!! Oh his dear Mother! His Dad! Oh his dear brothers and sisters! Oh God! Please no!

 We held each other and wept. And then we all gathered in the living room and prayers rose from the depths of our hearts to God for mercy, for grace, for comfort... for answers. But Death is so final. And answers so elusive. Comfort and grace came, but it floated on seas of tears and anguish. And the enormity of the loss settled in like night. Cold. Dark. Silent. It is still settling in.

Let me tell you about Brent from my perspective.

He walked into our lives unceremoniously enough, approximately three years ago when he and some of his siblings began attending our school. We were glad to hear he was coming. There were few boys at our church or in our high school Scott's age, and though Brent was in the grade below Scott, they were within a year of each other in age.
It didn't take long before we started hearing his name quite often and it was as we had hoped, Scott had found a friend. I didn't really know him so well for a time. He was only a name and a collection of anecdotal facts. One of these "facts" was his discriminating taste in food.
 His family lived quite a ways to the south of us and it wasn't long before Scott asked if he could bring Brent home for the night. We were having a fundraiser the next day, a chicken barbecue, and it made more sense for him to stay around than having to run the whole way home and back again in the morning. To say I was intimidated was a downplay of the truth. Our accommodations are modest at best, and what if he hated my food???
"Just chill, Mom. He won't care." (I'm imagining this "quote" by Scott, because I don't remember the conversation verbatim, but it's a pretty good guess.)
And so he came, and slipped into our home with a laid-back ease that blended seamlessly with the life that teems inside the wigwam. I served Orange French Toast for breakfast, and fresh pineapple and bacon. He was polite, and ate it and thanked me like a gentleman.

"I don't know whether he liked it or not, but he has good manners." I thought.

We collected our stuff and headed to the fundraiser. Smoke rose from the chicken grilling over the coals. The line for assembling the barbecue plates stretched beneath two tents, and a generous assortment of parents, youth and children bustled about preparing food or sitting on camp chairs awaiting a day of fun and profit. I hadn't been there long before I heard Brent's voice behind me somewhere, talking to one of his brothers I think, "You would not be-lieve what I had for breakfast this morning!" he said in his signature style, a unique hybrid of Pennsylvania accent and southern drawl. His tone indicated he had hit  the jackpot for sure.

He liked my food! From then on, I liked him.

His sanguine/phlegmatic temperament meshed well with Scott's high energy disposition, and when he was with us it was as if our children had another brother, and we another son.
I cannot begin to distill my memories of Brent here, but I will share a couple of them.
We took him along with us one hot July to Cumberland Island where we braved the intense elements of coastal Georgia. We all mined sharks teeth together, while being peppered with jokes from the game warden's son.
When it came to breakfast time, I had brought baked oatmeal with blueberry pie filling beneath it. Brent said he didn't usually eat breakfast and he didn't care for any. I think he slept in while the rest of us ate.

We finished up and headed off to enjoy the splendors of the island. When we returned to camp, Brent was up and around. "By the way," he said, grinning, "that baked oatmeal was pretty good."
He had dug some out when he could sample it in safety. =)

Brent had an unusual talent for connecting with people. His peers, children, and older people alike. Our youth group had gone camping a couple weeks before he died, and there are pictures of him and a couple other guys playing football with our Todd, (9) and sitting with Becky (6) on her little two person camp seat. Within a couple days before he died, Tyler(15)had told me he was planning to frame a picture of a truck he had drawn, and give it to Brent, because Brent had told him he liked it. And Regan (13) had told me with glee that she thought today was probably the day Brent was going to "get her back.". They had some sort of running game going where they played tricks on each other when the other was unsuspecting.
And though he was officially Scott's friend, he was Dustin's good friend too, because Brent was just that sort of person. Utterly likable. Effortlessly charming. Inclusive of all.

One of my favorite memories of him was from a year ago. Kent and I are youth sponsors and were with the youth on a camping trip. We were all sitting in a big circle after a meal. I was sitting somewhat by myself, and he came over, sat down beside me and started talking. During the course of the conversation, he said, "One thing I like to do when I'm sitting in a circle like this is go around it and think of something I like about everyone in the group." And so saying, he proceeded to do so. Starting on one side and going to the other he named something positive, something admirable, something he liked about each person he came to. When he got to his brother Lyndell he said, "Lyndell's my best friend. We're really close."

With all my heart, I wish I could remember what he said about each one. I'd post it here as his little tribute to each of our dear youth. He liked you, each one.

The ease with which he gave his testimony and brought God into conversation was unusual for a teenager, and very inspiring.

This is my last memory of him:

 Friday evening, the 10th of May, graduation ceremonies for Waynesboro Mennonite School were held. Brent Halteman and Gary Heatwole were the only graduates.

 Scott was suppose to sing with a group, and the guys were suppose to wear black pants and white shirts with black vests. Scott modeled his newly acquired black vest with characteristic flare, and excitement stirred as the whole tribe got ready to leave.  I had had a horrid migraine all day, and all hopes and drugs did not suppress it. Staying home was the only viable option. I signed the cards to the graduates with a throbbing head, and sent the tribe on their way.

They poured back in later that night, with happy stories of this and that...the fantastic decorations and food, the amazing fruit display. Scott had taken pictures and showed them to me. "He really likes pineapple so they had all these fresh pineapple."

No wonder he had liked my breakfast way back when. It wasn't my cooking at all! It was that crazy pineapple!

When the Chief and I were retiring for the night he said, "Brent did really good on his speech. I couldn't have been any prouder of him if he'd have been my own son. He asked about you. He said to tell you he missed you."

The next day was the school picnic, and closing program, held in a big shelter at a campground. The school gave their program, each class and person giving their parts as they do every year. It's one of those traditions that anchor us in life.... the first graders sounding cute and looking adorable,... on up through 11 and 12 graders who have mysteriously morphed into nicely looking young men and women when we weren't looking.
And then it was time for the picnic...I went through the food line and filled my plate of food.
I searched to see where the Chief had gone. Oh! There he was. I made my way toward him, when Brent stopped me, "I missed you last night." he said. "I'm glad you could make it today."
"Yes", I said. "I was so sorry to miss it! Kent told me you did a fantastic job on your speech!" He grinned, his dimples showing, and with an aww shucks grin, he headed with his own plate of food to find a seat. I found Kent. "Did Brent find you?" he said. "He just asked me if you were here."
"Yes," I replied, "I just talked to him."

That was our last exchange. Every one of you who loved him can remember your own last exchange with him, too, I imagine.

The following day, during that blissfully ordinary Scum game, Scott's phone rang.
Our lives will never be the same.

As you think of it. Pray for Brent's family. Pray for his mother. Pray for his dad. He had a big sister, and a little sister. And big brothers and a little brother. He had a quartet of nieces. Their lives will never be the same. Pray for his friends. For Michael, And Jesse, and Scott, and Lyndell and his brother Jesse...and all the rest who struggle with the pain.

And when you pray thank God that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. That we can know where Brent is because of Jesus, and because Brent knew Jesus.

This song has run through my mind many times in the last while. With so few words it gives meaning to the grief we have experienced the last number of months. Adelaide Proctor wrote them.

I thank Thee more that all our joy
Is touched with pain,
That shadows fall on brightest hours,
That thorns remain:
So that earth's bliss may be our guide,
And not our chain.