I was de-cluttering my garage this weekend and discovered some old letters and photographs from Chris Ehlers, a friend I last worked with in 1997. We both hacked out a living at the local newspaper before he came to his senses and fled to Sun Valley, Idaho.
Chris bought himself what he called a Brady Bunch station wagon and left Georgia for Idaho with everything he owned by an irregular route that took him through New England and Canada. And though pretty much a beach bum he took readily to the high mountains, deep valleys and dark winters. He resumed his journalism career working for a weekly newspaper in Sun Valley. We both quit writing as friends will do when separated by so many miles and so many milestones.
I looked forward to surprising him with the proverbial call out of the blue, but when I tried to locate him I learned that he died in an automobile accident on March 9, 2003 in Idaho. The truck he was in hit a patch of ice. The truck rolled, he was ejected. It was a violent end to a gentle life.
I remember many things about Chris. He was born on my wife’s birthday in the year I was born. He was tall and thin, with a quick grin and an easy manner. He was a wanderer. Not lost, just enjoying the journey. On his trip West he took his time, willing to trust his own wits and the kindness of strangers. He always counted on the basic goodness of people. Not naiveté, just not ready to prejudge anyone. You had to prove to Chris you were a cad.
Chris was always amiable, even warm, but somehow distant, almost aloof. He was always friendly, but like many of us he kept the pain, the fears, doubts and dreams private, not wanting to be truly known. Chris did not easily share of himself.
How is it that I am so affected by the death of man I haven’t seen in nearly ten years and worked with for less than a year? I grieve for the promise unfulfilled, the life brought to an abrupt end. I grieve for his mother and father, for the girlfriend who was with him in the accident but emerged physically unscathed.
More than 1,000 people attended his memorial service. The friends, co-workers, and even the local politicians all agreed he was a kind man and a fair man. That’s a nice legacy.
Farewell old friend.