I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A decade of Christmas Eves

Christmas Eve 2002
It's been ten years since Mike McGowan took that picture of me. Every Christmas Smart Guy and I would spend in Eloy, attending the Holiday Boogie at Skydive Arizona. I started going a couple of times every year to Arizona when I lived in Boulder, Colorado. It was just short of a thousand miles away, a couple of long days driving. If the weather looked iffy, we took the southern route; otherwise we drove north to I-80 and then south through Flagstaff on our way to Eloy, which is situated off I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson.

My boss Mickey knew I would want two weeks off during the holidays, and every year before I took off he would hand me a check for $500, knowing full well just where I would spend it. This was out of his own pocket, as we didn't get any kind of bonus at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Mickey is a very generous person, and I took full advantage of his largess over the years. (Of course, thirty years of working together meant that he also took advantage of me at times.)

That year, 2002, was momentous for me. My son Chris died in August and I had spent the previous three months grieving for my loss. And then earlier in December I turned sixty, which seemed old, very old to me, especially since I was involved in skydiving, which most people think of as a daredevil sport designed for youngsters. (There are plenty of older skydivers, by the way.)

The night before this picture was taken, I had been sitting in the Bent Prop, the local diner at Skydive Arizona, and Mike McGowan and I talked for awhile about life and loss. He's no stranger to loss himself, and he commiserated with me over Chris' sudden passing. Mike has his own photography business, FunAir Productions, and he spends his days during the boogie getting on loads and taking pictures of various skydives. At the end of each day, we would gather in the hangar looking at the proofs he posted for any interested customer to purchase. I bought many from him over the years, when I would want to have a keepsake of a particular skydive.

I don't remember the skydive I had just completed when the picture was taken, but I do know that Mike was not on it. He had just landed from another skydive when I saw him on the ground in front of me. He used a flash and I saw it light up but thought nothing of it. He's a professional photographer, after all, and I thought he probably took pictures every chance he got. It was Christmas Eve, and the sunset after a beautiful day spent in the Arizona sky was a perfect way to end the day.

A few hours later I was again sitting in the Bent Prop when Mike came over and sat down across from me. We spoke of the beautiful day we had just experienced, and we wished each other Merry Christmas when he handed me a 9x12 brown envelope. Mike waited while I opened it to see the picture. Then he left me speechless, as both of us teared up, no further explanation needed. A gesture of love and a Christmas present like no other I have ever received.

I'm sure Mike is still out there in Eloy taking pictures and posting them every evening in the hangar, but it's been five years since I last attended the boogie. Now that I'm living in Washington state, it's no longer a short drive, and living on a fixed income doesn't give me the same chance to spend money like I did a decade ago. But I still have my memories, and I'm still skydiving seasonally when the weather cooperates. Friendship doesn't go away, and I know if I saw Mike again it would be like old times.

For some reason that James Taylor song Fire and Rain has been going through my mind the entire time I've been writing this post. You know the one I mean:
I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again.
Who knows what the future holds? Another Christmas Eve is upon us, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

What a great post! One that made my eyes tear up. I don't really know what to say except that you had such an exceptional friend who genuinely cared about you. Such friends are hard to find.

Linda Myers said...

Ah, those old friends and those memories!

CrazyCris said...

That's a beautiful story and a fabulous photo DJan! I guess no skydiving this year... but I'm sure you'll enjoy a lovely Christmas Eve!
Happy Holidays!
lots of hugs!!! :o)

Red said...

Awesome photo!
Great post with a lot of things tied together. Good friends last for a long time. Time moves on and things must change and we should not have regrets.

Bragger said...

How could I have completely forgotten the word "boogie" as it applies to skydiving? Thanks for the memory jolt. :)

I'm feeling particularly "bah humbug" this year and will be relieved when the hooplah is over.

Love, love, love that picture.

Jackie said...

OK...I teared up as I read this.
What a beautiful friendship you have with Mike.
The photo is a treasure...for more than one reason.
I'm now humming James Taylor's song.
Love this post.
Love it!

Arkansas Patti said...

That song will be stuck in my head now. What an amazing photo and a great gift.
Have you tried to contact him? Good friends need to be held close.
So glad you are enjoying the book. Just be careful with the lamp as it is supposed to attract moisture. Protect your furniture. I check mine every now and then to make sure no puddles are forming. So far nice and dry. I do enjoy mine and am glad you do also.

Linda Reeder said...

You do have some amazing memories to reflect upon, both of fire and rain and sunny days.

Glenda Beall said...

Your write so beautifully I always enjoy visiting your blog. This post touched me deeply. Like you I have precious memories of times gone by that can never be reincarnated. Love the photo. I think it is a signature piece for you and your interesting life.

Rita said...

Great photo and beautifully expressed memory of a hard Christmas that also held joy and beauty. Merry Christmas, Djan! :)

Far Side of Fifty said...

What a great gift..I am sure it was just what you needed at the time:)

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

What a glorious photo! It represents Mike's photography skills, your zest for life, a wonderful friendship and a timely gift. Not sure why I am just reading last week's post today, but I appreciated it nonetheless.