In the northwest corner of Illinois lies a small town called Stockton. It is an area of rolling green farmland and timber and years ago it was home to my grandparents who lived in a small double wide on the edge of town. Grandpa Ehredt worked in the Kraft Cheese Factory toiling away with a gimpy hip 10 to 12 hours a day in a building which has long since closed down. It was also the home of Sergeant Andrew Lancaster who was killed August 11, 2007 in Iraq. Andrew Lancaster graduated from Freeport High School in 2002. He was a standout football and basketball player. I had been officiating those 2 sports back in the late 90s through 2001 and had officiated Freeport High School games. Fate is never determined for we cannot control it. Perhaps Andrew Lancaster lined up on my side of the field and made a great tackle. Perhaps I called a foul on him on the court or quite possibly I may have handed him the ball. Irregardless, fate would have it that I would bear his flag on Montana Sate Road 200 and place it at milepost 23, his would be the 700th flag placed on my journey. His name and flag overlook a beautiful valley and the Clark Fork river. I suspect his eyes were looking down upon me from the hillside. I believe too that Andrew Lancaster was an honorable, compassionate and determined young man with great integrity. In a time when sacrifice seems so outdated he faced hardships we cannot begin to conceive, as do so many others, and risked everything to protect this country. Words are not often eloquent enough to bear the gratitude afforded so many who have been taken from us. In time the green grass around his flag here in Montana will turn to brown and then the snows will come but in my eyes he will be there on the hillside linked arm in arm with those next to him whose flags are but a mile away. They will continue to protect us for all time and will not be forgotten.
Monthly Archive: May 2010
Trotting down Montana 200 this morning I am dying for a coffee. Up ahead I see a sign for the Perma Store. At one time Perma, MT was a bustling rail/timber town. It has long since become nothing but a random turn of the century house by the railroad tracks and the Perma Store. I wheel in and walk though the door of a tiny log cabin. It is dusty and it is a collection of random items for sale. Indian jewelry, camaflouge ball caps, old fishing reels, crystal stones and a dancing bass on a pedestal that does actually dance when the button is pushed. “Wow, this should be interesting” and I cannot forget to list the Flathead Nation Flag for sale for $30. Lost in a daze and to avoid being sucked down the curiosity hole I step outside and smack dab into “Harold”. He is the proprietor and between his 85 years and the two teeth he has left, he proceeds to give me his opinions on everything from his time serving in Korea, his Pearl Harbor Conspiracy Theory, the government and his disdain for the Governor of Montana who for no apparent reason jacked his store license fee up another $25, or so he says. He is interesting, he is opinionated and a bit out of date but never the less I listen closely. He checks out the stroller to see what turns the wheels and when I smack my two legs he replies “Boy you are crazy” “Hell, I’ll probably be dead by the time you reach Maine” He offers me a Snickers (expires Jan. 07 it says..” and I thankfully accept. Really, chocolate isn’t bad even if its old. His goats peek around from behind the cabin and in the grass I spy the skull of a steer drying in the sun….now this is the real Montana I have been wanting to see. Knowing I have to make time and leave, I interrupt his Franklin Roosevelt dissertation and take his picture. Saying a goodbye, the gravel crunches under my feet, or was it bones? I walk away thanking the Harold for a great 20 minutes and realize once again there is a story just around the corner……
Running down the road today I see her sitting up on the steps of her small house, off the road at the top of a long yard. I stop to chat. Her name is Liz and she is in her late 70s. She had been calling her friend who was on the computer tracking me to see where I was on ID200. Her cat is adopted, a stray who wandered in and never left. Petite with white hair she tells me of her husband who served in the Navy. Life is simple here for her.
It is that way in Northern Idaho. They are hardy people up here. Strong in their convictions and beliefs and good to the core. They work hard to make a living in this wild northwest. Nothing comes easy to most folks I have met. I see it as I continue down the road. Needs are simple and wants are few. Just these lush forests and mountains and fresh lake air that fills you with life. Random trucks honk and some pull over and drivers give their thanks. In Clark Fork outside a bar I see people waiting and they shake my hand. The connections grow through each contact and I am thankful for that. Miles flow as sure as the river does but as it goes west I go east…..
Thus far I have had no bad experiences with cars. Its all been good. I have came up with a few rules: #1 No music unless there is a stretch of road as bare as a babies butt. #2 Go with the flow….of traffic. This has been the safest. Motorists have been kind and they don’t swerve suddenly like they do when you are coming at them. #3 Have a mirror on the bar of the stroller. It lets me know whats coming up and when I have food in my teeth. #4 Utilize woods whenever possible….porta potties are few and far between but often appear like an oasis. #5 Sing. Alot. I now realize why I never quit my day job. #6 Talk. To my 30 companions for the day. They have stories. I thank them. They watch from above and lift me down the road to the next.
She smiles at me as we meet and I extend a hand to hold hers and her eyes dance in appreciation. His hand is strong and firm as we shake. She moves little from her wheelchair. He is Wilbert and she is Nora. They are in the golden years of their life and I suspect each day is one more gift in this race with time for them. We sit at the dinner table and he tells me their story. Nora has Huntingtons Disease and is losing all her motor skills. She is in her mid-80s as is Wilbert. They were married in 1944. The draft had taken him away to war but before he left they were married. It was a whirlwind of 3 days. The joy of being husband and wife and the sadness of having to part. Wilbert would drive a landing craft on Iwo Jima and come away untouched. He talks of many things pertaining to those days. The sand, the foxholes, storms at sea and he is silent on other things though I see the sadness and pain in his eyes 66 years later. For a year and a half he wrote Nora each day and she kept every letter. Nora listens intently and often speaks a word or two to correct him on certain facts. Under the stamps on those letters they had their own code in single letters. No words. It was a way for her to always know where he was. In the ports of the far east he would buy her silk fabric and send it home. Nora then says “and gum” and smiles like a child. She loved gum back then so Wilbert always included some in his packages. We continue to eat dinner and as Wilbert talks he stabs a piece of watermelon and without hesitation places it in Noras mouth. So tender, so loving, so caring. I ask Nora if Wilbert looked good in uniform and she replies with a twinkle “Real Good!”. I am touched by her eyes. How she looks at him and how he looks at her after almost 66 years of marriage. I see two young hearts that never grew old. The bodies and mind may be showing the signs of age but their smiles and true affection is intoxicating. If I could bottle that love, that appreciation, that I see in them for each other, I would give it to those who still think that all is lost in this world. You see, there is hope, there is happiness and there is love because there is Wilbert and Nora.