I can’t believe this happened, but in the space of just over a week 2 very influential men in my life died. One helped to shape me while I was younger, while the other one affected my life in later years. I’d like to take a moment and share a little of their humor and wisdom if I may.
Uncle Barry, a soft-spoken southern gentleman with a titanium will, passed away a few days after suffering a stroke. If I know him the way I think I do, he probably willed himself to pass on, rather than become a burden to his family. I’m pretty sure the thought of having to be fed, etc. would not have set well with him.
When I was much younger, around 12 or so, Uncle Barry, Aunt Charlotte and cousins Sorrel, Cindy and Benny came to visit our family in Bedford, Ohio, from their home in Gainesville, Florida. One night we decided to have a campfire in our backyard. Our yard was huge and went all the way back to a wooded ravine. After the campfire we all started to hike back up to the house. When we hit the back porch Uncle Barry told Sorrel and I to go back and check on the fire, make sure it was really out. We complied, headed back down and checked the stone cold fire. Satisfied with the results, we started back. What we didn’t know was that Uncle Barry had snuck back and hidden himself in a grove of pine trees. When we passed his hiding place, he let out one of his patented wild animal growls. To this day thinking about this makes my heart race. Two things came out of this. One, I knew it was possible for me to break a 10 sec 100-yard dash and two, my sometimes stoic, always intelligent Uncle had a wicked sense of humor.
Another time I remember was when he listened to me play the saxophone. I was working very hard on trying to copy Boots Randolph’s Yakety Sax song. I thought I had it nailed, but when I played it for him the comment I got was, “Well, you’re no Boots but I guess it’s okay. Needs work though.” Now some folks would say that was cruel, but that’s not the way he meant it by any means. Uncle Barry had a very pragmatic view of the world. He was involved in the agriculture dept. at University of Florida in Gainesville as a professor at first, I believe, then on to other spots. Scientific and exacting, he expected as much from others as he expected from himself. Being satisfied with something was fine, for a while. He taught me to always try harder; To enjoy the fruits of ones labor, but to always remember to plant more fruit.
Merv Buttel, a father-figure as well as a friend and brother, died a few days after my Uncle. Merv had suffered a heart attack earlier in the year, and his death was a result of the damage that had occurred then. According to Cherre, he fought right to the end after he promised her he’d be okay, but it just wasn’t meant to be. This says more about the man than any words could ever do. His word was/is his bond, and death be damned.
I first met Merv and Cherre when I took a 1996 HD Heritage in for some paint work at a motorcycle shop they owned in Columbus, Ohio. This simple act of wanting new paint led to a friendship I will always treasure. Oh, it also led to lots of pieces parts for my scoots. 🙂 At one point I decided I needed an S&S carb and chrome lowers for my baby. Cherre ordered the parts and I showed up on my appointed day to have them installed. Merv directed me to the back of the shop and had me bring the bike in and put it on a stand. He then smiled and said, “There’s your parts and you can use those tools over there. If you need me I’ll be over yonder.”
After a lot of trail and error and help, I finally got the carb on. Next came the lowers. After removing my old ones I tried putting the new ones on but they wouldn’t fit. “Hey Merv, these lowers don’t fit” “What do you mean, they don’t fit. Of course they fit you just ain’t doin’ something right” “I’m tellin’ you man, these ain’t going to fit” “Do I have to come over there and do it for you?” “Yes, that would be nice” “Grumble….Okay look…” At this point he stopped to look at the lowers, turning them over in his hand. He looks at me and grunts. Then he yells to Cherre, “Rhee? You ordered the wrong lowers, these here are for a RoadKing.” And then we set about tuning the carb which almost burned his beard off when it backfired. Karma. Merv’s reason for having me do the work btw? He thought I had the ability and if you have the ability to do something for yourself, you damn well better do just that.
Several years later, the whole gang rode to DC for the Run to the Wall. This is the event where 600,000 of your closest biker buddies all meet up in the Capital over Memorial Day to show support for vets and our POW/MIAs. To say this event is emotional is the understatement of the millennium. On Saturday, after touring the downtown area, we got lost heading back to our hotel. We ended up stopping in an area, that some in the group affectionately called “Crack Alley,” to try and get our bearings. After speaking with some of the folks that had gathered around the bikes, Merv said he had an idea of where we were and we set off again. Weather was turning sour and Merv clearly didn’t really know where we were, he just wanted out of this area. He not only had Cherre with us, riding her own scoot, but his daughter Stacey was on the back of his. At one point I see a sign for the 495 and shout. Next light Merv tells me to take the lead and I was off. An ivy-cold rain had started to come down and I had visions of trading the cold rain in on a cold beer and warm clothes. Head down, I pushed on faster. I see the exit, we get off and pull into the lot. As I was getting off my scoot Merv came up to me pissed as hell. “Don’t you ever do that again” “What man, I got us here” “Son, I had Stacey on the back, Rhee was following, and none of us were riding in our comfort zone. When you lead a ride, you ride to the skill level of your group. Not only do you not outrun your headlights, you sure as hell don’t outrun your followers. You do that again and I will whip your ass.” And he walked off to his room to put on dry clothes. Nothing else was said about that, but once again the old man taught me a valuable lesson.
I could go on, but this isn’t meant to be a biography on these two guys. It’s about dealing with the loss of them. And it’s about dealing with our own guilt. If only… Man, we need to strip that little phrase out of all of our brains. If only I… If only he… If only she… Pointless. How we all deal with personal loss is, well, personal. One thing is common. Men like these touch a lot of people’s lives in very positive ways. We all have “Uncle Barry” or “Merv” stories. Stories that make us laugh and cry and think. I can tell you from personal experience that not a day goes by that one of my actions wasn’t a result of something they taught me. That’s the immortality we all should seek.
As all of our families go on with the healing process I urge us to reach out to each other. Call. Write. Visit. Because when I try to make sense out of all this I see Merv pointing to all of you and saying to me, “There’s your parts. There’s your tools. If you need me I’ll be over yonder.”