I went to a funeral this week for my former high school teacher, Sam Christiansen. It brought back lots of memories, some different than you might expect. The main one was not even from school. It was from the summer before my junior year.
That summer had been hot, and the work was never ending. One day my father sent me to get some parts from the hardware store. There I ran into my good friend and cousin, Lane.
“Hey, what worthless things are you doing with yourself this summer?” he asked.
I laughed. “Well, right now we are finishing up some hay hauling. How about you?”
He smiled his big smile. “Well, Mr. Bagoo, I am here to get some camping things. Our troop is heading to Shoshone Lake.” Then he laughed again. “Think of me while you’re hard at work, because I won’t be thinking about you while I’m fishing.”
I, too, laughed as we headed our separate ways. Lane and I were distant cousins, but close friends. He and I worked side by side in football and were formidable together. In addition, he was my wrestling partner. His happy, nonchalant attitude was a good balance to my serious one.
I went back to work and thought nothing of our meeting until a couple of days later. An unexpected storm had come through the area the previous day, and we were concerned about the possibility of more storms coming, so we were desperately trying to get the last of the hay in. I had brought in the final truckload and was busily unloading it, with the heat of the day beating the sweat out of me, when my mother came rushing out.
“Daris, something has happened, and you better come into the house.”
I jumped down from the hay stack and followed her. It took a while for the full news to be known, but what we heard was disconcerting.
Lane and the others of his troop, all friends of mine, had been crossing Shoshone Lake in the heart of Yellowstone. The lead canoes were nearing the north shore of the lake, perhaps only 30 yards away from it, when, in an instant, a powerful storm came up, blowing against them and causing huge white cap waves.
Some of them were thrown into the lake, but in one small canoe, Kim Bischoff and Brant Kerbs fought hard to reach the shore. After exhausting their strength, unable fight any longer, they turned around, and went quickly with the wind the many miles back across the lake. When they landed, to everyone’s surprise, they found themselves in the campsite of two of our high school teachers, Sam Christiansen and Darrel Gibbons.
These two teachers, finding out others on the lake were in trouble, decided they had to attempt a rescue. Taking the advice of Darrel’s father, who was at the camp with them, they lashed oars across their two canoes to give them the added stability of a double hulled craft. They fought their way out into the lake three times to pick up the six that were known to have been thrown into the icy water.
As darkness settled in, eight of the group were safely at the camp, but there was no sign or word of the last two, Lane and Van. Since they had been in the lead and almost to the north shore, all hoped that they had made it safely. When my mother called me in that day, the only word we had of them was that they were still missing, and I prayed desperately that my friends would be found safe. But it wasn’t to be. The next day I learned that they hadn’t made it.
As I sat at the funeral this week for our teacher, Sam Christiansen, I thought of that summer day when I attended Lane and Van’s funeral. It was a peaceful July morning, a contrast to the turbulence that had come into our lives. I sat there as one of the many pall bearers, all friends of the two young men. I knew I would not again, in this life, hear Lane call me “Mr. Bagoo”, and in my 16-year-old heart I wondered why life was the way it was.
But as time went by, my questions turned to gratitude that our two teachers had miraculously been there, and were brave enough and had enough love and skill to save as many lives as they did.
(Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit his website at http://www.darishoward.com)