My son’s 21st birthday. Imagine if he’d been with us still? It’s hard to know, but let’s take some clues from what he left behind.
I remember before he died peering into his room helplessly and knowing: ‘this will NEVER be REALLY clean until he leaves home!’
By twenty-one, he may have lived in a rental, or even attended college far away. But if he were here, I know his room would still not be truly clean. And whereever his home, his dwelling undoubtedly sports a perma-layer of stuff dating from move-in. If he’d moved away, I finally cleaned his man-cave.
I did clean it for real three years ago… and it’s the home of his brother’s perma-layer instead.
Ben’d still be neat, however. Since things must be very orderly, and easy to locate, he’d keep the kind of order he was famous for: bed, surfaces, and anything needed for his ‘mission’.
He’d still be driving the forest-service-green Jeep, unless he’d earned more money. He may have bought up to a mustang, or pick-up; definitely a Ford of one kind or another.
Brother lovingly restored the Jeep, and it’s been his faithful ride for a couple years. It’s been supplanted by a red SAAB. Anyone wanna buy the Jeep? See Craigslist.
At seventeen, one still owns very little. Life lies somewhere between hand-me-downs and glossy catalogs. His wardrobe then consisted of Civil Air Patrol dress BDUs and Blues. Today, he’d sport the real Airforce deal. A friend found a pilot’s kit-bag at resale graciously selling it to Ben for a song. Ben’d be flying something today and wearing the headset proudly, too. The dated manuals in the bag undoubtedly were traded for current editions on his bookshelf. A Ham radio, also given to him, provided several years of practice and instruction, leading to his proficiency on military frequencies. He passed the radio along to the Civil Air Patrol, just a little slower than we did.
Next, I finger his slick shiny Harley-Davidson book. Living away from home would free him finally to own and ride such a thing.
Countless school notebooks filled with symbols and subjects beyond me signified an academic career barely started. He’d have graduated this May, undoubtedly with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
His beanie babies and deer-mounted hat collection didn’t move much. Ask his brother to show you these.
At seventeen, one can sift through it all and find only natural youthful poverty, impetuousness, and negligence. I found relics of past boyhood, present struggles, and mostly the promise of so much potential, yet absent of any future.
If he were here today, and he’d slow down enough, I’d invite him to hop on his Harley. He’d meet us in town for the customary twenty-first outing of celebratory drinks with mom and dad.
We’d raise our glasses together.
This evening we’ll do the same in his memory. Because the day still matters…