Remembering Ross W. Jacobs: Still First, Always First

I experienced a lot of firsts with Ross.  He was my first friend [besides my twin], the first person I made bleed [besides my twin], and the first person whose middle name I learned [and then promised to punch out if they made fun of it…after learning who he was named after {learned in the way you imagine, from his mother hollering at him.  That’s also how he learned mine…from my mom, not his.}].  We got our first bikes right around the same time and you can bet as soon as Ross had his training wheels off, mine needed to come off asap.  My first car, and, subsequently, the first time I sat in the back of a police cruiser.  And, our first felony (guess we’ll see if you can still get grounded 15+ years later).

For most of my life, I’ve been part of a pair, Ben and Tony.  So was Ross.  Ross and Spencer [though they’re not twins].  But, for a few fleeting years, we seemed a foursome destined to terrorize the neighborhood.  Most of my first memories involve Ross and Spencer [we used to fiercely attest that we knew each other in diapers…not that we remembered those days].  We raced around the neighbor together on our bikes and before we had bikes.

If there was mischief to be found, you can bet we found it.  One spring, just after the lake thawed, when we were between 12 and 14, we decided it’d be a good idea to explore one of the empty houses under construction.  No one had lived there in years [we assumed].  I vaguely remember that we snuck around to the back and boosted someone onto the balcony above the walk-out basement to let us in.  That’s when we had our first beer.  It was expired.  [I’m surprised any of us ever drank beer again.]

That same day, we wandered down to the lake and saw an ice flow and decided to wade out to it.  It was one of the first days we could go outside in long sleeves without a jacket.  We rolled our jeans above our knees and stepped into the near freezing lake.  We crawled onto the ice flow, scraping ourselves pretty good in the process, and stood upon it like kings.  Until it decided to break apart.

Ross was the first person to introduce me to summer camp.  We’d always have times when we didn’t see each other, but one year, he went to camp for a whole week.  The next summer, he asked if I wanted to go.  I, of course, wanted to, but when I asked my parents I was both nervous and terrified.  Ross and I went to BMX camp that year.  He loved it.  I …went.  He raced down the tallest hill and soared over jumps.

Two things stick out about that first summer.

  1. The Lake Jump.  He fearlessly rode toward a [what looked like, to me,] rickety, old ramp and sailed into a mucky, algae pond.
  2. A large hill with a steep valley that rolled into another hill.  Ross rode toward it and flew over it.  He crashed.  Got up and grinned.  The bike was mangled, but Ross was okay.  Even breaking the camp bike didn’t stop him.  He even wanted them to fix it asap since it was his favorite, his trusty camp bike.

I spent six summers there as a camper, sometimes with Ross and Spencer, sometimes with Tony, but it always seemed that we tried to coordinate the week we’d go.  From extreme sports camp where I could barely skate and Ross was flying over jumps to water sports were we grinned at each other and helped each other stay on the tubes.  But camp was more than just fun and games, SpringHill, as a Christian camp, also taught us about Jesus.  After high school and throughout college, I’d spend six summers working as a counselor, but not with Ross.

We grew apart.  Life happens.  It drags us in our own directions [and to my regret, I let it keep me away far too long].  When I learned that Ross was ill [with an undiagnosed neurological disorder], 3 years ago, I felt a tug to rekindle our friendship, but didn’t go over to visit.  We were young.  I knew he’d get better.  He had to.  And soon, he’d be racing down the streets again.  When I learned he’d gotten worse, I still didn’t rush over.  Honestly, I didn’t know what to say or what to do.

Last week, I experienced another first: my childhood best friend was laid to rest.  I hadn’t seen him for at least 10 years and hadn’t hung out with him outside a neighborhood party in at least 15.  He grew up two houses down.  And through the years, as we began to drive, I always knew he was doing well because I’d hear him drive by [long before I saw him, just like his dad].  There must’ve been something on the street.  My dad owns an old sports car, his dad fixed up one to race, the old man who lived between us had a collection of classics in his barn, and the neighbor at the end of the street kept one in his garage (in pieces).

Looking back, through nostalgia, life on Erie Drive was pretty good great.  And, perhaps this only happens when you’re a child, but it seems we were just a large, extended (dysfunctional) family (does it still count as family if you haven’t seen them in more than a decade?).  From getting into mischief to fighting, from working for a neighbor doing odd jobs to working for “The Man”, from riding a bike to driving cars, from needing babysitters to collecting mail and feeding pets, from the doting grandparents [some of our neighbors were related, just not to me] to the mischievous cousins, and everything and anything in-between it takes a village.  There’s one good thing about family: no matter how far away we get, no matter where life takes us or what it gives us, family always has a special place in our hearts.

For me, that place is nestled in a backyard woods where I first laughed so hard I cried while feeling concerned for a friend who just swung on a vine that snapped and dropped him into a swamp [Ross always had to be first].  A woods that felt humongous as a kid but traipsing through it the other day seemed smaller and drier.  A woods that still holds a dilapidated treehouse [that was pretty ramshackle to begin with].  And where I last laughed so hard I cried, just last week…when I looked at that stupid treefort we were so proud of.

We thought we were building Lothlorien or the Ewok Village

We thought we were building Lothlorien or the Ewok Village

I’ve had a lot of good witnesses to the Christian faith in my life, but Ross was the first kid my own age, my first peer, to witness the Gospel to me.  He made sure we’d be friends forever.  He never did anything small.

Some people are like flames that burn brightly and are gone too quickly.  There is another man who had a deep, abiding impact on those he met yet barely lived beyond 30.  I have a feeling he’s waiting for Ross with outstretched arms, holding a helmet in one hand and the keys to a dirtbike in the other (do dirtbikes need keys?).

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About bkreuch

I like to read, I like to write, and I like to make people laugh.
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