A tradition came to an end this Labor Day as our family spent its final vacation in Birchwood. Birchwood meant many things to my family. For my wife, it was the only place where I saw her truly release the stresses of work and home life and really relax. For me, I relaxed as well but relished in the smiles and laughter it provided my children. Unfortunately, after the passing of my father-in-law, Perry, my mother-in-law finally had to face reality and sell their lake home. As you might expect, this is a very emotional passage. I was introduced to Red Cedar Lake in the spring of 2002 as I met for the first time my future in-laws, Perry and Barb Rhodus. Little did I know at the time that this home would provide so many wonderful memories. Many memories were made here before I arrived, but for me it is very special because so much happened here before my ALS diagnosis. Of course we spent many holidays up there in the winter which included visits to Kristi Mountain for skiing and tube runs, ice fishing, and my favorite – pond hockey games. Summer was pontoon rides, fishing, and swimming in the lake and pool. One of my favorite things to do was to take my son, Dan, on jet ski rides looking for eagles. That became “our thing.” Bald eagles were Perry’s favorite and became a quest for Dan and I to find their nests to show Perry on our pontoon rides. The July 4th celebrations were known for our private fireworks show with real ones that Perry would buy, and the birthday celebrations of my son, Jake, and his cousin who were born days apart. The hammock I put up between two Oak Trees with a pull string so I could make myself swing when the wind was down. The morning coffee, afternoon naps, and evening cocktails on the screened-in porch. My favorite event occurred when we opened the card from Susan’s doctor which told us and her family we were expecting a boy that fall. Of course, not every memory was perfect. There were numerous time people had to be towed home on the jet ski and the pontoon. One time, the pontoon took on water as we realized we were over the weight capacity. And the firework canister tipped over one year, sending a rocket right passed Perry’s head and into the house. But we survived every one of those mishaps. There are many more memories I have and they will be with me forever, and those memories are with me because of that property and that family. Especially Perry and Barb.
So, how does one properly say goodbye and close a chapter of a book? This is where it gets good. Before I left, I did the same thing I did every day in the summer. I walked from the house down the path to the lake and walked to the end of the pier to sit on the bench. This was my tranquility spot where I could observe the lake, hear the breeze whistle through the trees from above, and observe all that nature had to offer. As I sat and absorbed the moment, I closed my eyes and prayed and talked to Perry in my own way for many minutes. As I opened my eyes a bald eagle appeared from the left behind the trees, glided across the landscape, and then it turned. When it reappeared it flew directly above my son, Evan, and I along with two more eagles. Tears began to flow as even Evan understood the symbolism. Not only do I believe that was a sign from Perry, but as a Christian the number three is significant to me as a sign of the holy trinity. So not only was Perry acknowledging that he heard me and was present with me in that moment, but that it was a sign from the heavens that he is with The Lord and well taken care of. Because of that moment, I was instantly at peace and able to walk away from Red Cedar lake and close the chapter on the Birchwood days.