A couple of weeks ago my grandson Joey, son-in-law Jeff, and I had a terrific day building pinewood derby cars. Joey is a Cub Scout, and his Pinewood Derby was coming up. The Cub Master had a special “Outlaw” event for Dad’s and grandfathers. Unlike Joey’s event, the Outlaw race had no rules. Of course, Joey, Jeff, and I worked diligently to build a first class racer for Joey’s event.
For those of you who are not familiar with a Pine Wood Derby race I will describe it as simple as I can. It is a father-son project to build a miniature race car from wood. Each scout buys a kit with all the essentials; a block of wood, four wheels, four axles, and a set of directions. The cars race on a track provided by the Cub Scout Pack. It is usually made from wood. The track is about thirty feet long with one end raised four feet above the ground. The first quarter of the track goes downhill and transitions into a flat section. The cars are placed at the top of the track and restrained by a starting gate. A wooden strip defines the lane and keeps the cars from crossing into each other, or from leaving the track. A typical race lasts for about two seconds. The starter pulls a lever which drops the starting gate and the cars begin the descent. It is amazing to watch them descend and then coast to the finish line.
Joey designed his own car. He came to my house with his sketch in hand. Grumpa Joe helped him transfer the design to the block of wood and to cut the shape on the band saw. After the cut was completed, Joey went to work with sanding, shaping and adding details. He painted the car in his favorite colors, green and silver. While he sanded and painted, Jeff and I were polishing axles and truing the wheels. In between those tasks, Jeff and I spent time on our own Outlaw creations.
The day went by quickly. We were mesmerized by the activity. We envisioned our cars coming across the line ahead of everyone. Joey and Jeff went home with very little left to do. I had to finish the wheels and paint. The race was the next day; not too much pressure.
Race day came, and Joey’s Den was last up. The rocket car blazed to a win. His little car easily beat two others. In the next heat, he was up against the winner of another round. Joey’s rocket car finished just a few inches behind. He ran his last race. It was disappointing to say the least. It was Joey’s last time as a Pine Wood Derby Racer until he has the pleasure to work with his son in about thirty years.
After the Cub Scouts raced, the Cub Master called for the Outlaws. Jeff’s car and mine ran in different heats. We were eliminated immediately. We had fun being together and giving it our best. After all was done. We put our cars on the track together; Joey was first, Jeff a close second, and Grumpa Joe a close third. The three cars finished within six inches of each other.
A week later I had the most wonderful dream. I saw my buddy Bob in the dream. He was the starter for a pinewood derby race, and I was at the finish line as a judge. I never saw any scouts, but I did see lots of cars racing down the track. Bob was dressed in his grey sweat suit and smiling as he let each set of cars go. It made me happy to see him this way. Bob’s life and mine had many parallels. He was involved in Scouting as was I. He was an engineer, and made a career out of running a machine shop, my own engineering career involved running a machine shop. Our wives died about a year apart from each other. The deaths of our spouses really cemented our relationship, and we became fast friends.
Bob and I were good therapy for each other. We ate supper together at the local dining room several times a week. Often we closed the place down. After his wife died, a year before mine, he began meeting with a group of men. They were all widowers. It’s funny that he knew so many men who lost their wives about the same time. He asked me to join the group. I did. We went to supper every Tuesday night. The evenings were filled with discussion about anything from politics to technology. The group still meets, but without Bob.
I asked Bob to be the best man at my wedding. He was the best best-man he could be. After our wedding, we continued to meet on Tuesday, and also as couples. Bob paired with a widowed lady friend. About eight months after my wedding, Bob suffered a stroke. He became paralyzed on one side. While in rehab, he suffered more strokes. They impaired his memory.
Bob’s only son lives in Portland, Oregon. The son commuted to care for his father. Bob’s friends kept looking in on him at the nursing home where he settled. Eventually, his son made the decision to take him to Portland to care for him there. It was the right thing to do. I lost Bob as my best buddy.
Two months ago, Peggy and I traveled to Portland to visit Bob. It was the first time we saw him in two years. New strokes had debilitated him further, but he recognized us immediately. We had a beautiful visit.
The dream with Bob is on my list of “warm and fuzzy moments.” How strange it was that my brain worked to connect Joey’s pinewood derby race to an old friend who also built pinewood derby cars with his son.
Filed under: family, grief, Memories, Motivation, Travel, Uncategorized, Writer | Tagged: Death, Dreams, ehab, Engineers, Machine Shop, Outlaws, Pinewood Derby, Portland, scouts, Spouse, Stroke | Comments Off on What About Bob?