Monday, June 13, 2016

Just Three Words....

Late Thursday night (or was it early Friday morning...) I received a text from my friend, Ann.  We have been friends since I moved to Toledo when I was in the 8th grade.  Her family welcomed me with open arms as did mine with Ann.  Her text was just three words, "Are you up?"  I was in bed, but still awake playing Words with Friends.  Reading those three words I could actually feel my heart skip a beat.

Ann, her sister, Sharon, and brother, Jim had driven to North Carolina to visit their uncle.  Their brother, Gary, would be joining them on Friday.  I knew this.  It is amazing how the mind travels so fast with all the scenarios that those late night words, "Are you up?" can create.  Were they in an accident?  Was their uncle okay?

For once my thumbs cooperated as I typed, "Yes," and sent the text.  I quickly sent another, "Are things okay?"  But, I knew things were not okay.  My hands were shaking, but still, my thumbs worked the letters with ease.


"Oh no...what is happening?"  I prepared myself for bad news.

"Please, just between you and Ray.  Ben died today"

Ben?  Sharon's son, Ben?  Ben.... who survived deployment in Afghanistan as a medic?  Ben... who was now living in Texas with his wife?  Ben...who was now in the New Mexico Guard?  I had just read on Facebook that he was in Albuquerque participating in summer training.  Again, my mind went into over drive... running the movie of memories of Ben... meeting him as a tiny little new born until this spring when he brought his wife to Ohio so we could all meet her.

Ben with his dog, Kelty

My heart wrenched.  I have no children of my own, but I have two stepchildren and nieces and nephews.  When I was a teacher I felt that my students were my children while they were in my classroom.  I loved each one of them.  The closest I have come to losing a child is when a student died.  Even now, remembering those times I feel tears rolling down my cheeks.  And I wonder...."If I feel this way, how do Sharon and Dan feel....Ben's parents?  How do the aunts, uncles and cousins feel?"  It must be ten times...or many more times what I am feeling.

The Harris Family, June 2015

Words sound so hollow now.  The pain is raw.  Any attempt by me to express my sorrow to Dan and Sharon sounds trite to me.  So, I turn to writing and even that is failing me.  I stare at the screen, seeing blurred letters through unfallen tears.  Maybe a few memories will help.

Here is a collage of Ben in his military uniform.  The upper left shows how children were drawn to him when he was deployed in Afghanistan.  The upper right center was taken when Ben surprised his mother at the school where she worked.  He had just returned home from Afghanistan.  The lower right picture is Ben escorting his mother at his sister's wedding last year.

I remember picking up Ben at the airport when he was returning from a trip to Alaska.  His whole family, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins took a cruise to Alaska, but he had to return a couple days early.  I am not sure why.  My memory is how excited about his experiences in Alaska.  He was so animated and told in detail all the adventures he had there.  He talked about taking pictures and maybe being a photojournalist would be an interesting career.  He mentioned about how cool it would be to be interviewed on NPR about his work.

Ben resting by a mountain stream.

I like this memory of Ben because it was just the two of us....and he did almost all of the talking.  He was at that age when many young guys would just sit in the car and give one word answers, but instead he gave me a gift by sharing with me some of his dreams.  I will always remember this.

Ben Harris That's a Napoleon smooth bore cannon, which is the same as the Ohio Statehouse guns. Antietam is still the single bloodiest day in American history. More men died that day than all the previous wars. Even the D-day invasion saw fewer casualties. (Ben's words and description)

"My first army training at Fort Schnelling Minnesota, I'm the little guy. My infantry regiment and battalion first formed there to serve in WWI. Their commander was Leonard Wood, for whom the fort was named where my basic training was conducted. Coincidence or destiny to be in 1-41. I don't think so.'
Ben's words

After graduating from The Ohio State University Ben seemed at a loss on what direction to take.  I think he was so talented and smart in so many things it was difficult to latch onto one thing.   He led tours through the State Capitol Building.  Ray and I were on one of Ben's tours and (being a teacher) I could just see Ben talking to young children and capturing their attention.  He had so much knowledge and shared it with enthusiasm.   Ben was a counselor at the Philmont Scout Ranch where I think he would take part in historical enactments for the scouts.  His knowledge of the Civil War and World War II could match Ray's.  I wish they had had the chance to get into discussions about this, but that can not happen now.

The masterful Sgt. Harris at Philmont Scout Ranch, New Mexico

Another picture from Philmont Scout Ranch.  Looks like these guys took their roles quite seriously.

There is much more about Ben.  He loved to backpack in the mountains.  That probably started with early hiking trips with his parents in the Grand Tetons.  Ben followed the Columbus Crew Soccer Team and of course, The Ohio State University sports programs.  I think his Grandmother Luppens might have had some influence on this because she was always current on sporting events.

 I will always remember the last time I saw him when he introduced me to his wife, Cherilyn.  The smile on his face told it all....He was in LOVE.  Their plans were to live in Texas because Cherilyn was still in the Army.  Ben joined the New Mexico Guard.  Ben embraced Cherilyn's Navajo culture and they planned to settle in Arizona many years from now, after they had traveled and raised a family.  In fact, we found out a few weeks ago that they are expecting a baby January 9.

Cherilyn and Ben

Tears return as the circle of life can sometimes seem cruel and unfair.  Ben, your spirit will ride the wind.  It will ride the wind over the Southwest to comfort Cherilyn.  It will ride the wind over the Great Tetons where your family has such strong ties. It will ride over Afghanistan where your service  was a source of pride to your family.  And it will ride over Ohio where your family and friends will grieve as we try to celebrate your life.

Ben Harris....I might have to use this as one of my smiles that I post each day on Facebook.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Rae's Firefly

Two weeks ago I went to New Mexico to attend the Cuyamungue Institute Board Meeting for this year.  Last year I wrote about the meeting because we had set aside time to honor our dear friend, Rae.  She had been the Vice President of the Institute and her death left us all feeling a need to something special in her memory.  Before I started to write this, I decided to read the post I wrote last year.  It told about how we honored Rae and what we planned to build for her.  If you want to read it, check out this link: Happy Birthday, Rae.

Rae had a special table where she would sit and smoke her American Spirit cigarettes.  This is the only place at Cuyamungue Institute where people are allowed to smoke.  It is outside with an umbrella to shade us from the sun.  The umbrella did not function well, though and sometimes would blow away when the wind spirits wanted to have a bit of fun.  So, we decided to have a structure build to replace the rickety umbrella.  It was to be called, Rae's Firefly because she called the smoking area, Firefly.

Here is the Firefly Table as it was a few years ago.

Another picture of the Firefly table....but where is the umbrella?
Looks like a tree captured the umbrella when it was blowing in the wind...
Many people donated money to Cuyamungue Institute in memory of Rae when she died.  We had about 75% of the money from donations that was needed to build this structure.  In April, Stephanie Stephens and I presented a short workshop hoping to earn enough money so we could build Rae's Firefly.  Our workshop was such a success that I knew we would be able to begin building.

People enjoyed the Firefly even if Rae was not there.

This was also where Rae did business transactions.

....and of course, a place for a quick hair cut.

Ray (my husband...we call him TR, not to be confused with Rae...Florida Rae) and I drove to New Mexico in May with a van full of items that needed to be stored at Cuyamungue.  I thought Paul (the President of the board) acted a bit strange when we arrived.  When I climbed out of the van, Paul came running out to greet me and ushered be toward the Student Building.  I saw him get his cell phone out but my attention was drawn toward the area of the smoking area.  There it was!  A structure built of wood and logs from the area.  A table with chairs seemed to invite us to step in and enjoy the shade.  Paul was taking a video of my surprised expression.

Here is Rae's Firefly!  We wanted it to be open on all sides to get the desert breeze.  I am so thankful that Paul took time to build this.  He did have some help from a local young man.

Here are some pictures of Rae's Firefly and a few more of Cuyamungue Institute.  It is a place I love, the Land is a refuge for animals....four legged and two legged.  I can feel Rae's spirit there, and hear her deep laugh as she tells stories.

Here are Paul, Ray and Dave making music in Rae's Firefly

What a wonderful place for us.  It is not quite finished yet, but I know it will be perfect.  We could sit there and enjoy the fresh desert air and not swelter under the sun.

And here are just a few more pictures of the Institute....just because I want to post them.

Here is a picture of our buildings.

This is the May Pole that was built this year.

I can't forget a picture of the labyrinth!
Here are some of the Board Members, plus Ray, our photographer.
Ray took some drone pictures that are amazing.  I hope to put a couple of those in my next post.