Memorial to an Old Friend

Memories of an Old Friend
September, 2016

“But fate ordains that dearest friends must part."

It’s taken me some time to process the loss of a dear old friend and to get to the point where I can write about the tragic ordeal. We spent so much time and did so many things together. We spent many weeks, months, in the great outdoors. We made long hikes in the desert. We climbed small mountains. We were together in Alaska and the Far North all the way to the Arctic Ocean. We've driven from coast to coast. We’ve weathered storms and incessantly hot sun. The years passed. And as our life together matured, so did the comfort and flexibility of our “fit”... perhaps more weathered and worn, but more relaxed and comfortable too. An old friend who seemed to mold to the surroundings, was liked by nearly everyone. An old friend who I’d like to think probably saved my life over the years. At least, I’d like to think that.

The loss itself was bad enough. But the fact that I was instrumental in the events leading up to the end… well, that was almost too much to bear.

But first... a disclaimer. Small children and those overly sensitive to physical carnage, to spilled guts, to seeing what used to be (and should be) on the inside suddenly all over the outside... please go no further. Stop now and switch over to a blog about dogs or food or shopping.  Whatever you do, DO NOT continue. It’s not that I’m insensitive about this tragedy, but I must describe the gore and the ugly reality for closure.

Still with me?  OK, here goes:  I was mowing the lawn out at the farm in Beaver Dam. It’s a large lawn and we use a garden tractor with a large mower deck to do the job. The job is usually one that Dar’s Dad is responsible for, but a recent illness put him on the injured reserve list, so I was filling in. “Pinch” mowing as it were.

It takes about 3 or 4 hours to mow the entire lawn, and I was almost done. The day was sunny… bright hot sun. But it was also windy… strong gusts right out of the south. I was concentrating on mowing close to a planting bed, moving slowly for control and precision. A particularly strong wind gust came up, and my hat… my friend for almost 10 years… my Henschel Ausie Breezer… blew off my head, did a back-flip just out of reach in front of me, and landed on the grass immediately in front of the big mower, just 2 or 3 feet away. I’ll always remember those last few moments we had together, in slow-motion, as I saw it sitting peacefully on the ground, waiting patiently for me to pick it up, innocently unaware that this was it’s last moment of existence.

What’s the first thing a person does when something jumps out in front of a car or truck? Why, of course you step on the brake, right? That was my instinct too. But that was not the correct move to make on this tractor. Because it’s a hydro-static drive machine, the correct move would have been to remove my foot from the drive pedal. The tractor stops almost immediately. But in my panic, I resorted to my primeval and innate muscle memory and jammed on the brake. But it wasn’t the brake I hit, it was the drive pedal, and the tractor lurched ahead at full speed.

During the next few seconds time stood still. The sound of a Henschel Ausie Breezer being chewed up by 6 angry mower blades spinning behind 28 horsepower is one that nobody should ever hear. It’s a sound that I’ll carry with me to my grave. A well made hat might stop a lesser mower. But this tractor kept working at it’s prey, chewing, grinding, rending, spitting out bits and pieces as it did so, (like a cat going through a brush chipper) until the largest bulk of the viscera was finally thrown clear.

I was in shock. Hadn’t been this awed since my brother flushed my Dad’s Christmas sweater down the toilet (but that’s another story for another day). After collecting the pieces and setting them aside, I finished the lawn, a tear in my eye. Little appetite for dinner that night, didn’t eat much. But I did toast my old friend good-bye with a couple fingers of a fine Scotch Whisky I keep for such occasions.

I don’t know if the new Henschel Ausie Breezer replacement will ever be even half the hat my old friend was. Time will tell.

So long old friend.

Slightly Better than Most