I have been delayed in writing this portion of the blog. I have been wrestling with how to go about it. Nearly a year has passed. I’ll pick up where I left off.
Morning came, as it always does, but this would be Dave’s last morning. I went out to a far corner of the property to look out over Lake Lucerne, spend some time praying and just do some thinking. Caleb was still sound asleep. The mountains had a dappled appearance in the morning light. A lone swimmer gently plied through the glassy water. His wake pierced through the calm waters leaving an impact upon the waterscape far greater than he. I thought about Dave. I wanted to be mad. Mad at God; mad at Dave; mad at the fact that I couldn’t be there with my brother. But none of that was happening. I had an overwhelming sense of peace. The presence of the lone swimmer cutting through an eternity of water and the mysterious wonder of captured beauty in the Swiss Alps seemed all too providential. Dave loved Europe.
The text I received early this morning was not hopeful; it read, “Doctors surmise a zero percent chance of recovery.” Night fell for them even as dawn was coming for me and Caleb. At 7:30 am, I met up with Caleb for breakfast. I informed him that we were pulling the plug on the trip. We were going to try to get back to see Dave before he died. Caleb responded as a champ. Over breakfast, we were both lost in thought; I was anxious to hit the road.
The family youth hostel in Gersau is absolutely a wonderful place. In many ways both Caleb and I will hold this place as a very special location; it provided a pleasant respite during an emotionally difficult time. It’s inexplicable how certain places have that mysterious wonder about them, but it sure is a soothing balm when we find that spot.
We loaded our bikes with our gear, looked over our shoulder across the campus of the hostel nestled in a peaceful cove of the lake and made our way to the ferry. It was a downhill drift to the ferry. When we arrived at the dock, there was a car that instantly pooled the memories of Dave. It was a VW camper. Dave was a masterful mechanic. It was the VW camper that nurtured his auto mechanics early on. We had a 1974 VW camper that Dave tweaked and cared for. It could hum at a good clip; it had the same engine as a Porche 914. One sweet summer evening when the hour proved late for many drivers, Dave found himself paired up with a Corvette at a stoplight. He had no intention to shame the vette. He was just trying to keep the camper from stalling as he slightly revved the engine. The vette mistook this as an invitation. With a full throated deep rev, the vette dropped the dare. The light turned green and with great glee, I watched our “shoebox on wheels” smoke the vette on the short hop. Don’t mess with a mechanic. Through the years, Dave worked on every VW any of us owned from a ’67 camper through a 411 wagon and several beetles to mom’s last car: an ‘02 beetle. It was a car for the people, and Dave was a man for the people. He gave of himself willingly to the needs of others.
The ferry arrived spot on time; it is Switzerland. Everything is on time. I’m certain each Swiss native has a precise internal clock! Somewhere along the way, my internal clock took a licking and it now just has a couple of weird ticks.
The ferry shuttled us across the lake. On the distant shoreline, we could see the hostel just waking up for another day. The sun was shining with a luminescence; it shimmered on the water, but was not hot. When we arrived on the other side of the Lake, it was as if Dave was there to greet us. Parked at thehead of the line waiting for us was a rag top Fire Engine Red ’72 Jaguar E-Type. He knew it is my favorite car.
One of the last things we did together was to go car shopping for my current car. I called him on his birthday, and said, “Hey! Do you want to go check out a car with me?” “Sure, where is it?” “Near D.C.” “When do you want to leave?” “Umm, now?” “OK, I’m ready.” It was a great day. We drove down together talking all the way with the Doobie Brothers, Chicago and Yes playing in the background.
It’s funny. There was a time when another significant event was about to happen in my life, and it was just me and Dave driving. We were in my ’67 VW camper; we had a great conversation, then, too. I was on my way to getmarried. Although I didn’t marry the Miata I bought on this particular day, Dave made me love it all the more when he stated, “You know, Ted, this is the more affordable and reliable version of the Jag.” “Oh man, you’re right!” I blurted.
The bike ride into Lucerne with Caleb was picture perfect. There was a bicycle path that weaved its way through farmlands, small villages and mountains. It was a short day’s ride when we arrived at the Youth Hostel in Lucerne around noon. After informing the clerk that we had to cancelled our reservation and make our way back to the states, I busily went about cancelling the other reservations along our route and made arrangements to take the train back to Geneva with hopes of securing a flight home later that evening.
While waiting for the train departure, Caleb and I had a very punctuated tourist experience in Lucerne. We walked across the famous covered bridge and had a delicious Italian meal on the other side of the river. Just before 2:00 pm, we were on the train waiting to leave. With bemusing punctuality, the train left just as the second hand on the station clock swept to mark the hour.
The smooth, quiet ride whisked us along the countryside that we were slated to bicycle. It took the train a mere couple of hours what would have taken three days by bike. Caleb and I soaked in the scenery and played a round of gin rummy.
A strange and mysterious feeling swept over me at 2:35 pm. It felt like a piece of my heart slipped away. I looked up from my cards and said to Caleb, “I believe Dave just died.” “How do you know?” “I don’t. I just had a strange feeling sweep over me that I can’t really explain. I never felt it before.” We prayed for Dave’s family and for ourselves. The card game was put on hold.
There is sadness and there is grief. There is mourning and there is sorrow. I really don’t know how to classify what it is with the death of my brother. For a year now, I’ve been trying to figure it out. This past Sunday, it washed over me as I looked at the flowers we had placed in the sanctuary in memory of Dave. I guess if I could put it to any words…I flat out miss him. Things aren’t the same. As a family, we have continued on, but with awkward steps; there’s broken glass on the floor now.
Caleb and I continued on with our train ride. Arriving in Geneva, we rode to the bed and breakfast where we stayed prior to the start of the ride. The host there was extremely gracious. He let us keep our bags there until our return. With our unexpected early return, he was very accommodating. The Swiss are that way. The bike shop owner, an American, was a mixture of both American and Swiss: A mysterious wonder of the pragmatic of business and the empathy of Swiss accommodation. With candor, he informed me that he couldn’t give a refund on the 6 days for early return of the bicycles, but he did secure for us a place in a nearby hotel. With genuine sincerity, he included, “I can give you store credit for the days you couldn’t ride; if you’d like.” “I’ll take it! Caleb and I will be back to finish this ride.”
The day ended with a good meal and great reflection upon a guy who really doesn’t need a superlative. Dave was solid. Caleb tipped his hat of sorrow with a statement that tugged at that missing part of my heart, “You know dad, I think the hardest thing for me is I was just getting to know Uncle Dave, and I really liked him.”
We all did.
The mysterious wonder of life. There are some things we just can’t explain.