Last week, Liz (the daughter of our former neighbors) called me to tell me her father, Dave, had suddenly collapsed and subsequently died. It was a big shock. Dave and his wife BJ had both taken early retirement to go live on their rural ranch just a few years ago. And in May, I’d visited them there, where Dave was happy, active in local conservationist causes, and improving his land. And, now, he would be forever 56 and no older.
The news hit me hard. BJ is one of the nicest people I know, and it was hard to think of her living alone on that huge ranch. She gave me courage and perspective at some hard points this year, and I always thought of the ranch where she and Dave lived as an escape of my oh-so-technical life. And Dave had been so happy doing homesteader activities, like making his own sausages (which were amazing), and gleaning apricots from another friend’s farm.
BJ had asked that we celebrate his life and going to heaven as a festive event, and requested no black. I brought Kelly, Liz, and another family friend from San Jose, with me to a church in Patterson, where we brought dishes for a potluck, and stories about Dave.
It soon became clear to me that my big-city ways were at odds with most of the gathered. The majority of people spoke about where they lived in terms of acreage and livestock. I wore a new sweater dress; the more typical garb at this event was decidedly country:
The organizer of the event scrambled to get everyone to say the requisite blessing over the food before the city heathen (me) who’d barged in and filled a plate, started eating. My typical party chatter about mobile internet technology and travel abroad wasn’t going to work here. After all, there is no wireless in the wilderness. There’s not much conversation, either: many of my typical conversation starters were answered with a simple “yup.”
Here is BJ, talking to (I think) Burt:
When I told Burt I lived in San Jose, he laughed and said “I’m sorry.” He’d left San Jose to serve in World War II, after which he’d moved out to become a rancher.
In the end, I pulled out my nuggets of knowledge on horses and guns. It was pretty interesting talking about horses and guns with people who actually own and use both, and not just for recreation.
Many people whom Dave had touched in his life came up to speak about him. He’d established and led a boy scout troop in San Jose, and one of his former scouts spoke about him. He’d driven from his ranch to Patterson (a sometimes tough one-hour drive) regularly to come to Mason meetings. He’d worked with other conservationist groups for responsible development in Patterson and the canyon. And many of his fellow co-workers at the Santa Clara Valley Water District came to remember him, even as they themselves had scattered out to their own remote ranches in northern California. Another neighbor of ours drove from Chico to remember Dave. He’d touched a lot of lives, even (and perhaps especially) when he moved to an isolated homestead.