It was with a heavy heart that I set out for Wawanesa earlier this week. Although “going home” should have a certain excitement to it, this trip did not. You see, I was going to a funeral. A funeral for a good friend of mine. He lost his battle with cancer. A fight that had carried on for many years. One that left him scarred, weary and worn.
We did not start out in life as friends. He was somewhat older than me. His kids were friends of mine. Spent many hours with them. I suppose back then he was concerned about the trouble we might get into. I recall my parents forcing me to call him uncle. Not that he was my uncle. However, in our house when people were older, particularly men, they were referred to as uncle. In later years he and I often joked about this. I would, on occasion, still call him uncle. My parents were firm believers that calling someone uncle was respectful. And I did respect him. As we became friends and peers, as I got to know him better, my respect for him grew.He knew what he believed. He knew what he wanted. And most of all, he was prepared to fight for his beliefs.
He owned a chicken farm. A mere two miles from our farm. My first recollection of the beginning of our friendship was helping him load chickens. Not the best job I have ever done. But interesting how an evening like that could turn into an evening of laughter and camaraderie. Soon thereafter we spent countless days drinking coffee, going out for lunch, enjoying visits at each other’s homes. Initially our coffee dates took us to the local gas station. When that closed we would gather at our farm. We had a place where we spent hours discussing agriculture, politics and religion. It was a hoot.
Some irony in the fact that he died on Halloween. When I heard the news and reflected on some of my memories I remembered a certain Halloween that we sat at my barn and visited. It was in the days when local kids liked wreaking havoc at my place. Never figured that one out. I was vigilant. When I saw a vehicle, with the lights out, headed to my barn I hopped in my vehicle in hot pursuit. There he was. Laughing. Getting a kick out of having me chasing him around to find out what was going on. Ended up visiting.
He had some significant challenges in life. Some years ago he lost a son. Devastating to say the least. Heartbreaking for a parent. Something nobody wants to experience. Our kids are supposed to outlive us. We spent a lot of time talking about that. Lots of questions. Seemingly, few answers. He faced financial ruin on his farm. A victim of high interest rates. He recovered from that, farmed successfully for many years, was able to turn the farm over to family and was able to retire in comfort. He exemplified resilience.
He was a tremendous help to me. Whether it was struggles on the farm, learning to be an agricultural leader, facing financial stress, going through mental health issues, or questioning my existence in this world, he provided a listening ear. He was there for me. He was a mentor. For that I will always be thankful. I will not forget.
Unfortunately, and I regret this, when we moved I lost touch. I feel like I failed him as he struggled with his health. I know he is in a better place. The cares and worries of the world are gone. RIP Erwin. My thoughts and prayers are with the family as they adjust to a world without a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. Cherish the memories.