Gathering, Remembering

Saturday felt like a day straight out of a Hollywood film.

The plot: a cantankerous but big-hearted character beloved by many passes away unexpectedly, and friends and family from near and far gather in the front yard of his small-town home to honor his memory and swap stories over beers and a barbecue. They laugh, they cry, they reminisce. And they remark about how unfortunate it is that it takes an event like a death to bring everyone together again.

Which is pretty much exactly how things went down. Tara and I found out a week ago that a close family friend – she likened him to “a second dad” – had passed away suddenly and without warning, at the age of 55. Immediately she decided she wanted to be there for the memorial barbecue they were planning in his honor in lieu of an actual funeral. I wanted to support her, so we made arrangements with our respective employers to take Friday off, and hit the road very early that morning. As in, 4:30 AM. The upside? We caught an amazing sunrise near Arlington, Oregon a couple of hours later. The downside? When we rolled into town around 6:30 PM, we had been on the go for 14 hours. Granted, it wasn’t all road time; we stopped to stretch our legs in Baker City, OR and ended up walking around the historic downtown for a good half-hour (and decided we must come back for a weekend visit this winter, especially when we learned the grand old Geiser Hotel is haunted), and stopped for lunch in Boise. 14 may be our lucky number, but fourteen hours in the car is anything but fun. We were thrilled when we reached Ely, and proceeded to check into a motel.

Only to find that every single room in town was booked. Literally.

Turns out there was some horse racing event that, apparently, is a big draw out there. Fortunately, Tara’s dad had room for us, even though her sisters were also staying there along with a few others. It was a crowded house, but we managed just fine. Went out to the local bar and grill for drinks that evening, then Tara and I drove out to the middle of nowhere to look at the stars before hitting bed a little past midnight. It had been a long day.

Saturday we were up early. We went out to breakfast at the Hotel Nevada with Tara’s sister Jessie before heading back to her dad’s house. From there we walked to (the dearly departed) Tom’s house. Only nobody called him Tom; he was Hammer, apparently because he enjoyed getting hammered. While I didn’t know him, I can at least say I got to meet him once, briefly. It was during my first trip to Ely in September, 2011. Tara and I wandered into the Hotel Nevada to grab a cool one, and there was Hammer, parked at the bar, nursing a beer. He was exactly the way everybody describes him: gruff but humorous. He looked half put off to be pulled away from his beer for a moment in order to shake my hand, but half glad to meet me. If that makes sense. So, I knew the guy in passing. After listening to all the stories everybody shared the night before at the bar and during the barbecue on his front lawn, I feel like I have a real good sense of him. I wish I’d had the chance to get to know him better. The day was hot and breezy, with thunderheads building up over the nearby mountains; the occasional rumble of thunder and lightning flickering over the nearby peaks appeared ominous, but never did drift close enough to rain on our parade. The goal was to “get hammered” for Hammer, and we pretty much all did. As he would have wanted it. I had a good time and enjoyed meeting many of Tara’s friends and extended family whom I hadn’t yet become acquainted with. They’re all good people, to be sure. We left around 5:00 to check into a motel where we’d found a vacant room for that night, and then went to the local Mexican restaurant to meet up with several of Tara’s close friends, all of whom I had met on previous visits. After a couple of hours there we went back to the motel, and I fell onto the bed. By that point I was exhausted, and feeling the effects of tequila (and, ahem, Lime-A-Ritas. Don’t judge).

One thing about me: I have an amazing internal alarm clock. Friday morning, I woke up automatically at 3:27 AM, three minutes before the alarm. Sunday morning, I got up at 4:16. We’d had the alarm set for 4:15, only we learned much later – after we got home – that Tara had forgotten to set the alarm. We both just assumed at the time the other person had heard it, I think. Good thing I woke up when I did, or we would have gotten home much later than we wanted! The drive back had fewer stops and seemed to go quicker. It “only” took 13 hours. We got home right around 6 PM, wiped out from our whirlwind visit but glad we went.

I didn’t bring a camera this visit, deciding instead to rely on my phone and Instagram to chronicle the trip. I’m pretty pleased with the results. Here are the photos I uploaded to Instagram…I think they tell a pretty good story.

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Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

16 thoughts on “Gathering, Remembering

  1. What a great sum up of your weekend, Mark!

    Again, I am so sorry to hear about Tara’s good friend, yet it sounds like you all had an enjoyable time reminiscing and celebrating his life.

    Okay, and I gotta tell you…these photos you took with your phone are FANTABULOUS! The more I see photos that people take with their iPhones, the more can see just how amazing they are. And Instagram as well.

    Wow! Awesome slide show!


    1. Thanks, Ron! No iPhone here…this is an Android-powered HTC. But the camera is really good quality, especially in bright lights. And the Instagram filters can really punch up an otherwise dull photo. I’m hooked!


  2. Sorry Tara lost a friend, but glad you got to pay your respects & then meet even more of her friends. Sounds like quite the trip. When hubby & I lived in NW Ont (8 hr drive to Wpg) we made lots of these type of whirlwind trips on weekends. It takes a toll on you.


  3. That’s what I really admire about you Americans. You drive for almost 14 hours? Us Brits get fed up driving for six hours, which is from where I live, just outside London to Scotland. Now that, for us, is a trek.


    1. This is true. I guess it’s that love affair with the automobile that dates back decades for us. Plus, this country is so vast to begin with. I once did a 15-hour drive from Fresno to Portland. THAT was a haul!


  4. I’m so sorry that Tara lost a good friend, and I’m so glad you all were about to make the trip and get back home again safely. Love the photos. Why does it so often take the death of someone we love for us to get together?

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    1. Thanks, Kathy. That’s just human instinct, I guess. It’s tough for us to take extra time off work, costs money to make the trip, and it’s exhausting. It’s going to have to be a pretty important reason for us to take that journey, you know? (On the plus side, most folks said “a wedding” would also prompt them to get together. I agree).


  5. “…And they remark about how unfortunate it is that it takes an event like a death to bring everyone together again.” That’s pretty much how it goes down in lots of families. I hear the same thing every time we attend a funeral/memorial/BBQ. Your phone-cam did you proud and I like your trip report. It’s good to be home though, isn’t it?


  6. Thankful that you were there with her and I’m thankful that you both made it there and back safely. It’s never easy to lose someone you know but I’m glad you two were together. The memorial sounded just perfect!!


    1. It’s exactly what Hammer would have wanted. I know that after hearing the stories about him. Oh, those stories! I would have included some of them in my blog post, but this is supposed to be family-friendly. 🙂


  7. Wow, Ely is just the kind of place I’d like to see one day when I do a western road trip.

    We all know a Hammer, don’t we? Very compelling post on many levels.


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