Pioneer to Extreme Sports IV


I’ve been talking with Hank,  a charming elderly gentleman about his pioneer exploits in extreme sporting.  OK,  so it’s not base jumping,  or sky diving but you have to admit,   hair raising experiences never the less!

When  we see young guys dressed  in skateboarding  get up,  or like Sean White in snowboarding duds,  we expect they are adrenaline junkies.  Who would have imagined that this mild-mannered well dressed war veteran  would have invented roof surfing?

Certainly not me!  I hope you enjoy the conclusion of  just one of Hank’s tales.  I might share some  of his fishing stories  in the spring.  ENJOY!

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Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV: Passing the Torch

The waitress brought our pie, which diverted his attention long enough for me to get a word in. “I hear you were recently challenged.  Can you tell me about that?”

“It was my grandson, Joe.  He was seventeen at the time.  Big hotshot you know?  He’d heard the talk about me surfing on roofs and figured he could do it.  So, the wife and I went to the store to get a few things and when we got back, there was Joe’s beater in the drive.  We didn’t see him anywhere, so we went on in. Figured he might have gone up the street to visit one of his friends.  It was the wife that spotted the ladder.  I knew I hadn’t got it out, so I went to investigate.  Well, hanging from the gutter with one hand, holding on to the pine tree with his other, and his leg buried inside the tree somewhere was Joe.  Crazy kid.”

As he scraped the last bit of his pie from the plate with the side of his fork, Hank added “I’ll tell you though, when I went to the lodge and told the guys about it, it was easier to see the humor of my past experiences.”  He wiped the corners of his mouth meticulously with the linen napkin and finished his coffee.  “Yep!  I think old Ray has the right of it.  Roofing’s not a career choice for my family.  Too dangerous.”

John suddenly appeared to my right.  “Ready, Pop?”

I should have realized.  “So this is your grandson then?”

“Yep.  Not such a fool as his brother Joe.”  His eyes sparkled as a sly grin creased his face. “Course, quite the fool with women since he hasn’t asked you out yet.”

“Now, Pop, don’t go meddling.” John glanced at me briefly seeming a little agitated.

I had to think fast.  I wasn’t ready for Hank to leave, I had more questions.   “Before you go,  I have a few more questions.  What do you think about  this current craze of extreme sports?”

I only hoped it didn’t come out as desperate as it was.  I couldn’t let  this charming gentleman get away that easily.

His eyes sparkled and he winked at me.  “They’ll feel it when they get to be my age.  If they make it this far.”  He got to his feet with a great deal of effort, the strain of simple movements evident in his aged frame.

“Why don’t you have John bring you by my house, say next Tuesday.  We’ll continue our chat.  Maybe we’ll let him stay next time and learn a few things.  Like how to carry on a conversation with a beautiful woman.”

Always the charmer, I blushed at his words turning away so John didn’t see my reaction. “I’d like that.  I’ll even make you a pie.”

“Now that’s a deal that no man can turn down.  I like cherry pie best.”  He patted my hand with his.  I can’t explain  the sudden burning in my eyes,  the brief panic that he was walking out of my life when  his weathered knobby jointed  hand touched mine.  The loving gesture had me wanting to know more about him, about his life, his victories, his family.

Sudden images of imperfect family life flooded my mind. His sparkling eyes twinkling as the creases around it lifted in a full smile.  George Bailey didn’t have a thing on Hank, not at all.  He’d realized the true treasures in life and what was most important.

He shook my hand.  “It’s been a pleasure.” He made a head jerk towards John.  “Have him bring you by.  I’ll show you my war medals and maybe talk roofs again. Or fishing stories.  Maybe tell you about when this lunkhead stepped off the ramp into ten feet of water.”  He chuckled as he turned to leave.  “Get a chance to tell on him instead of on myself.”

Stature and fame do not define greatness.  Things we assume  on first glance seldom turn out to be true.  Earlier that day I would have passed by this man on the streets without a second thought.  How many  people do we pass by each and every day that have stories to tell?  How many of those elderly gentleman  sitting on the bench in front of Walmart are decorated veterans?

The elderly gentleman that left me staring after him was an adventurer, a war hero, and  a man of greatness. This man had character, integrity, and a sense of humor. My life was changed for the better that day,   with one lunch date with  Hank.   I could hardly wait until the following Tuesday.

That next Tuesday, and many more after that became a regular meeting with Hank and his wife Mary.   I did indeed make him a cherry pie.  Meticulously working with pie dough to make the best lattice crust I could manage,  eager to win his approval with my  meager gift in exchange for the  wonderful gift he blessed me with,   a new lease on life with my eyes open to see beyond my own selfish desires.

We looked through his war pictures, pictures of their grandchildren, walked in his garden, and even played a few rounds of gin rummy.  Hank and Mary quickly became like family to me,  and my adopted grandparents after John finally got up the nerve to ask me out.

Write on my friends, write on!

 

Pioneer to Extreme Sports III


Eight days  remaining to get those Christmas gifts purchased!

A little old man  with a cane in a hole in the wall diner forever changed my life and outlook.  This unassuming  gentleman had a wry sense of humor and a heart as big as Texas.

If you missed Part I, you can read it HERE.  Part II is HERE.

Hank had just regaled me with how he first started his roof surfing endeavors thanks to his pregnant wife Mary.

 Part III:  The Thrill Seeker

Like any true adrenaline junkie, Hank was not deterred.  This pioneer in extreme sporting would get a do-over.  One time occurrences are a fluke. After all is  said and done, bones are healed the memory remembers the adrenaline rush not the dangers. For me personally,  I would think that  I had a guardian angel protecting me to keep me from dying  on that one and only episode.  I avoid climbing onto roofs at all cost, hiring someone to even clean my gutters.  Ladders are scary enough to me!  Not Hank.

We tend to view life from our egocentric view of where people are now forgetting that they had a life before coming into our radar.  Logically we know that they are older and yes, they experienced life but we tend to not think about that person and what they were like when they were young men and women.  We see the weathered, aged features  not the events of life that created each line.

In January of 1982, he attempted a second “roof surfing” event.  There had been record snowfalls followed by strong winds that caused snow-drifts to pile up to six feet deep in places.

“You could hear the roof creaking from the weight of the snow.  I was afraid that it would collapse under all that weight.  Then we’d have no roof in January with sub-zero temperatures.  Couldn’t have that!”

Hank and his two sons climbed up on the roof and began shoveling away the snow.  Underneath the snow was a sheet of ice from freezing rain at the beginning of this winter storm.  They’d cleared about half of the roof when Hank lost his footing.  In perfect surfer stance, shovel in hand, Hank surfed down the roof, through the snow drift, and sailed right off the roof-edge two stories to the ground below.

Moments later the underlying ice released.  The snow followed Hank over the roof to the ground covering him.  His sons dug him out of the snow and loaded him into the family car.  Two  fractured ribs and a fractured pelvis were added to his list of injuries.  Weeks of lost wages and expensive medical bills didn’t make the doctor’s instructions to “slow down” any easier to swallow.

“Worst damn month of my life.  Stuck at home with them boys. ‘Bout as useless as tits on a boar hog.”  He shook his head reaching for his coffee then levels me with a serious expression. “Thought about enlisting  the both of them right then,  or shipping ’em off to military school.   I never  heard such moaning and whining  from a couple of boys.  My girls didn’t whine as much as those two.   Geez!”

He smiled a genuine smile at the waitress as she refilled our cups. “Thank you Shirl, how’s Marvin doing?”

“Oh, he’s getting on.  Recovering nicely after his knee surgery.  Sitting at home planning that fishing trip.  You and Mary still going, right?”  Shirley crossed her arm over her waist holding the coffee pot in her right hand.

“Wouldn’t miss it.  Tell him  I might stop by early next week,  got a new catalog from the Sports Store.

One of the  things I hated most about  small towns was also one of the things that was endearing, the fact that everyone knew everyone else.  As I sat there enjoying the easy comfortable exchange between longtime friends,  I felt a little twinge of jealousy for  their friendship, wishing I had kept in touch with  my high school friends.

“Where were we?”   He asked as he scooped up a forkful of mashed potatoes.

“You were telling me about having to stay home after  falling from the roof.”  I made a note to look up Shelley or Lisa on Facebook when I got back home.

“I didn’t fall.  It wasn’t falling.   I slid off from the ice.  Weren’t you listening?”

Why did I suddenly feel like a wayward child being corrected by the school master?  “Yes,  I was listening.”  Trying frantically to think of  questions to ask him so I would be off the hot seat.  “Did you manage to get all the snow off the roof from the drifts?”

“Yeah.  Well, not me but the boys did.  Had to keep on ’em. Ended up standing  out in the yard directing them to keep them on task. Let me tell you standing out in the cold does nothing for broken ribs.”   He shifted in his seat,  a brief twinge of pain evident on his face, then it was gone.  “After that, I figured I was better off paying someone when it involved a roof.”  Hank swirled the coffee in his cup then took a sip with a distant look in his eyes.  “Yeah, me and roofs.” He set his cup down. “Not such a good history.”

He recounted dangers from the war that he’d survived, and near misses on the job.  Then he leaned forward, leveled his eyes with mine “Survived D-Day, Ramagan, an entire war but roofs. . .”  Hank shook his head slowly.  “At the lodge they call me Hank the surfer.  I hate that.”

Tune in tomorrow for more of Hank’s story.

Write on my friends, write on!

 

 

Pioneer to Extreme Sports


In preparation for the holiday festivities, this week  I’m doing something different.   The twelve days of Christmas has been done.  Flash fiction for the month has been done.  This week I give you a serial short.   A holiday tale to warm  your heart that is nonfiction.  That’s right peeps –  this is real life.  Remember how I said once that my life was like a Carol Burnett rerun?

Stuff just happens.  I don’t make this stuff up but I come by it honestly. Names and relations have been changed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.

So get your cup of cocoa, sit back and enjoy.

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      Part  1: A lunch date

He looked like any average old man; slightly stooped, with silver hair and deep wrinkles.  By appearance, I would have passed Hank by on the street without a second glance.  John, a coworker, kept insisting that I meet with Hank and get to know him.  He’d told me war stories and fishing tales about this guy for months.  Eventually I gave in, I had to find out for myself.  I’ve often been told that curiosity would be my undoing one day.  If nothing else, it would shut John up.  Hank turned out to be anything but average.

John arranged a time at a local café, Hank’s favorite hangout.  The cost of the interview was an order of country fried steak and coconut cream pie. There had to be a catch right?  I knew I was being set up.  Had to be!  But I played along.   John arrived promptly at the designated time with Hank.

He looked every bit of seventy and walked with a cane.  His nose had been broken at least once. His weathered face gave hint to the nature of his trade.  His manners were impeccable.

John stayed for a few minutes to make certain that  Hank was settled then excused himself to run errands.  Hank sensed my nervousness and joked “That man ain’t got a lick of sense, leaving a pretty girl like you alone with me.  Why ain’t he asking you out honey?”  Then he winked at me and patted my hand.  His hands were rough and weathered from years of hard work, his knuckles noticeably enlarged with arthritis.  The tenderness in his touch was comforting and gave me a sense of reassurance.

As the meal progressed he recalled some hair-raising incidents from the war.  It turns out Hank is a decorated veteran of World War II.  He was awarded a silver star and a bronze star.  His best adventures however, began after he returned home.

He went on to tell me more about himself, his family, wife and his hobbies.  I was, after all interviewing him on a piece for  my column.  One thing was for certain, Hank wasn’t a shy man. I asked a question and he answered with full sentences not short little quips like  the local celebrities had.   It was an easy flow of conversation, what I would have imagined if I could have sat down with my own grandparents if I had known them.

Hank was a carpenter by trade.  With his growing family of three children and another one on the way, Hank took many side jobs in order to make ends meet. The economy was booming but there were always demands that left more month than money. He regaled me of  renovations he’d  tackled, mentioned some of the  landmark buildings he’d  worked on, and  the profitable business of building cabinets.  Then things took a decided turn in a vein that I never would have imagined from this aged elderly gentleman.

It was 1954 when his first “extreme sports” incident occurred.  A friend’s home had been damaged by a severe storm and needed a new roof.  The owner decided this would be a good time to add a second floor to his small house to make room for his growing family.

“We’d cut the roof loose from the wall joists, see.  Removed the nails, it was just “floating” on top of the walls.  A strong wind would’ve lifted her right off o’ there.”  Hank paused long enough to wave the waitress over for a refill.  “We took a logging chain, and looped it through the third truss, then back through the damaged part of the roof.”  He leaned in towards me on one elbow  “It would’ve worked I think, if Mary hadn’t been pregnant.”

Ok, now my curiosity was piqued.  What did a damaged roof and a pregnant wife have to do with extreme sports?  I listened patiently as Hank had me hanging on his every word. The elderly gentleman was charming, entertaining, and interesting.

Tune in tomorrow to hear more of Hank’s story.

Write on my friends, write on!