Posted by: kerryl29 | September 7, 2016

In Memoriam

In recognition of the fact that the subject matter of this post is substantially different than the material that ordinarily appears on this blog, I beg your indulgence.  While there is some detail of a photographic nature tangentially connected with what appears below, I’ll save that for a brief future post.

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In the early afternoon of August 22, I received word that my friend Craig Steffen had passed away that morning, the victim of an apparent pulmonary embolism.  August 22 was a travel day for me and shortly after I arrived in the Chicago area upon driving there from Indianapolis, my wife, Meg, called me.  The news came as a complete shock; Meg and I had spent an evening with Craig and his wife just a few weeks before this tragic event.  On that evening, they had told us of their plans to embark on a yearlong sabbatical during which they’d wander the country, with no real firm plan of where to go or how long to stay.  It sounded idyllic to my ears and remembering this plan–which was to have commenced on October 1–made the news of Craig’s passing even more painful, if that was possible.  Craig and his wife of more than 30 years were true soulmates and I quite literally grimace every time I try–unsuccessfully, no doubt–to imagine how difficult this must be for her.

Craig and I met, roughly 25 years ago, because of our mutual participation on a Baltimore Orioles baseball fan forum on a proprietary on-line service.  In 1993, two years after our on-line introduction, we met face-to-face for the first time when we drove to Baltimore–Craig lived in west-central Ohio–for a week’s worth of games.  This was a tradition that we’d continue, almost annually, for 20-odd years, with several other people, including Meg, as regular attendees.  Craig and I also participated in seven or eight baseball tournaments in Florida over the years.

But while the genesis of our relationship was baseball, it gradually became centered on far more important things.  While we came from wildly different backgrounds and experiences, I was struck by how often we ended up in the same place, intellectually and philosophically.  I think we both came to feel that our differences were far more superficial than consequential and our ability to recognize this fact made our friendship all the more meaningful.  That and the fact that Craig was the most genuine person I’ve ever met are probably the most important reasons why his passing has impacted me so deeply.  Probably.

Frankly, I’m still sorting out exactly how and why.  My response is not as simple as a stereotypical “wake up” call that life is short or anything remotely like that.

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Shortly after hearing the news, and recovering from the immediate shock, I found myself feeling the need–not necessarily the desire, in the classic sense of the word–to go to Baltimore, and to an Orioles game or two.  I wasn’t really interested in attending the games for the sake of being a fan; but I did feel the need to spend some time in a place that I inherently associate with Craig.  I spoke to Meg and a mutual friend, Bob, who lives about an hour from Baltimore, about it.  The four of us had been at the center of the group of people who had participated in those weeks of games over all those years and we were all deeply affected by Craig’s passing.  After some discussion, we agreed that Meg and I would drive to the Baltimore area over part of the Labor Day weekend during the club’s next homestand and take in a couple of games, as well as visit some of the other spots around the park and in the general area that were such a regular part of our annual visit.

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We did several symbolic things to aid our sense that Craig was with us in spirit.  I had Craig’s Orioles warm-up jacket and I brought it to each game.  Bob handled the tickets and he made sure to purchase one for Craig.  We placed the jacket in one of our seats and it remained there throughout each game.

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Bob had another truly inspired idea.  He purchased orange and black–the Orioles’ colors–baseball shirts with Craig’s last name and uniform number (he always wore #44) for each of us, which we wore to both games.

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My wife had another good idea.  On the pedestrian walkway beyond right field–Eutaw Street–a group of caricaturists work before and during each home game.  For a relatively small fee they produce Orioles-themed caricatures for fans who sit to have the caricature drawn (they advertise that it takes only five minutes).  They’ve been doing this for some years, but none of us remembered until we walked in during the first game and saw their work space.  Meg suggested that we have one of Craig made, so she asked one of the artists if they could produce a caricature from a photo.  We were told that they would.  So before we went to the second game, we found a digital picture of Craig and Bob produced a print.  When we entered the ballpark for the second game, we took the photo to one of the artists and he promised he would create the caricature during the game, when traffic on the walkway could be expected to be relatively light.

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Early on during our excursions to Baltimore, it became a regular thing for us to stop after night games at the Double T Diner in Catonsville, Maryland.  On one of our first stops there, many, many years ago, Craig noted that among the hundreds (or thousands) of listed items on the menu was peach pie.  So he ordered it, but was told they didn’t have any that night.  He asked several more times that year, and the next, and it was never available.  This became a running gag and he would ask if they had peach pie every time we went–even if he didn’t want it.  They never had peach pie available.

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So when we stopped at the Double T after the first game we dutifully asked if they had peach pie.  Of course they didn’t.  But before the second game, we stopped at a local grocery store and found a peach pie, and we ate a piece after the game, in Craig’s honor.

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We made a quick stop at Faidley’s Seafood, a favorite spot of Craig’s.  Faidley’s is located in the Lexington Market, about six blocks from Camden Yards in Baltimore.

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Another frequent attendee of the games in recent years, David L., joined us for the second game.  Even though David is a fan of the New York Yankees–a major Orioles rival–he dutifully donned his “Craig shirt,” with Orioles colors.

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(That’s David with the beard and the Yankees hat; Bob is to David’s right, holding the jacket.  I’m the one with the Orioles hat and the glasses.  Meg is to my right.)

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Outside one of the main gates there are a series of “number sculptures,” representing the uniform numbers retired by the Orioles over the years.  Historically, the #5–Brooks Robinson’s number–was a pre-game meeting spot for our group.  I made a point of photographing Craig’s jacket with the sculpture.

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As if on cue, there were spectacular sunsets both nights–probably the two most impressive sunsets I’ve ever seen at all of the many, many night games we’ve attended in Baltimore over the years.

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The Orioles won both games we attended.  In fact, they shut the Yankees out both nights.  Ordinarily that would be a big deal, but on this occasion, I scarcely cared.

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I knew going in that this visit wasn’t about baseball.  Oh I paid attention, more or less, to the action on the field while the games were going on, but I really didn’t much care about the outcome.

If it wasn’t about baseball, what was it about?  I’m still sorting that out.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that I’ll ever completely understand.

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It wasn’t about “closure.”  At least not for me.  While I understand the concept, intellectually, I’m really not sure that I comprehend, emotionally, what the term even means.

No, to the extent that I’ve been able to decipher what was going on inside of me, this experience was about remembering.  That’s what a memorial is supposed to be about, after all:  memory.

I don’t think that there’s any danger that any of us–or any of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people whose lives were touched by Craig–will ever forget him.

But there’s remembering and there’s remembering.  I want to remember and, somehow, this revisiting of places that were so much a part of the time we spent together has helped with that, ever so modestly.

Over the two-plus weeks since that tragic event on August 22 I, repeatedly, have had the words to the Simon & Garfunkel song Bookends rattling around in my head.  And with good reason:

Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.

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Responses

  1. That is so awesome!!

  2. What a testament to Craig’s impact on people. Beautiful.

  3. This captures the weekend so well. The two things that didn’t quite fit in with a usual baseball trip: No rain delays and the Orioles won both games. I don’t know why but they never, in all the years I went to games (I missed a few of the baseball weeks), had a winning record.

  4. This is a beautiful tribute to friendships and relationships that are uniquely human.

  5. A great tribute….and I feel sure that talking (writing) about your friendship actually helped. Memories remind us always of friendship and happy times…..somehow they do dull the memories of those sadder times

  6. I am so sorry for your loss. I keep telling myself that life is so short and I try to live within the moment, but sadly find that I am always falling short.

  7. Very touching memorial, when you got to the point of the empty seat with your friend’s jacket in it, I was in tears. This is a very loving tribute and I am sorry for your loss which obviously is a huge one.-hope memories will always give you some comfort. Reminds me to treasure the moments.

  8. Thank you for sharing your memories. A moving tribute.

  9. A sincere thanks to everyone for your comments and words of support. They’re all very much appreciated.

  10. An excellent tribute to a very valued friend.


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