Of life, loss, and kids who don’t want to be seen with you

It is the season of departures in one fashion or another, which leads me to recommend a couple of essays today on matters of life.

Sam Cook, the fine Duluth News Tribune columnist, visited a friend in his last hours the other day and considers what people of a certain age might not admit they think about as often as they do.

But this concept of not being alive anymore — I do not like thinking about that. To poke up some frozen North Shore river on a Sunday with my wife and the dog and to look at the way the water has oozed out of the rocks and congealed in milky lobes, to listen to the gurgle of moving water beneath the ice and imagine May, to build a fire and roast a couple of sausages — that is just so darn good. Or catching a walleye. Or watching your yellow dog work a running rooster.

I keep thinking how much I will miss all of that. But then, of course, I won’t. I won’t be here anymore.

I was pondering all of that when my friend’s wife returned to the hospital room with her sister and a friend. She talked about the previous couple of days as her husband had drifted in and out. Some of the time, he imagined he was fishing, she said.

“He’s been fishing a lot lately,” she said with a smile. “He’d say, ‘I have to buy a license.’ ”

He had asked her, at one point, where he was.

“You’re in the hospital,” she had told him.

“International Falls?” he had asked.

He was still up north.

Cook does not identify his friend, but we can reasonably speculate that it’s Larry Fortner, longtime Duluth News Tribune editor who died on Wednesday. He was also memorialized by Aaron J. Brown.

I didn’t even know he was the former editor of the Duluth News-Tribune until a couple years into our conversations. And it was only last year I realized he was friends with my mentor, the late Mike Simonson who died in 2014.

I actually would meet Larry in person for the first time at a commemoration for Mike held just last fall at my alma mater of UW-Superior. We had hoped to perhaps get together in the summer sometime when he was back up in Balsam. We spent last fall e-mailing about rural broadband.

He wanted to move his writing and editing activities to Balsam permanently, but needed the juice to do it. The last e-mail was only a few weeks ago. He told me one time he had cancer, but brushed it off like the common cold.

One of the local stories we liked to talk about was the garage that two-time GOP candidate for State Representative Roger Weber sawed in half along Itasca County Highway 8. We both drove by this insane landmark all the time. We would often speculate on when the remaining half of the garage would fall over.

He was convinced it would topple Feb. 24, 2015. I said it would last longer. This will go down as the only time I was right and he was wrong. Unfortunately I won’t know who to call when the thing finally does come down.

Most men won’t acknowledge that the other end of the age spectrum has its share of bittersweetness too. But writer Adam McCune, a former cheesehead, nailed it in a Facebook essay when, he writes, his 12-year-old son ditched him just before a school event.

I want to grab him and tell him how much the next few years are going to suck and at the same time, be the most wonderful he’s going to have.

I want to tell him the butterflies in your stomach mean nothing and you should never trust them, and that your gut is right usually every other time. I should tell him that a night like tonight should be a reminder to be a kid and not to grow up so fast and that this should be the last thing you want, even though it doesn’t look like it even though it seems like adults have the world by the ass, we don’t and that somehow the thing we are best at is just making things seem good.

I want to hug him and tell him I love him and that I’m sorry for every mistake I’ve made as a parent, and that every wrong turn will cancel out and eventually right the ship and we will be OK. I want to shake him and tell him to wake up, but still be able to dream.

I want him to be a kid, but become a better man than me. I want to show him how beautiful life is and how when I’m angry that I just shouldn’t be that way. I want to tell him that no one should tell him he can’t do something, but also tell him that dreams can be dangerous if you hold on to them too long and that fantasy should always stay as such and that figuring out the delicate balance of that difference is What makes someone a genius.

I want to tell him and show him and emotionally transgress all of this to him.

The kid will grow up someday and his kid will ditch him and, in the middle of thinking about all the things he wanted to say, will wonder for a second if his own father had similar thoughts, and that it would be nice to know if he weren’t off fishing somewhere.