I'll keep doing it 'as long as I can'
So many human stories, so little time and space for remembering them. That’s an ongoing reality for community newspapers as time-honored publishers of so many “last stories” about people.
We often go beyond the obituaries to write more in-depth articles about people who achieved community prominence through civic leadership, high-profile business success or some other noteworthy set of accomplishments. But we miss a great many people whose lives were equally or more influential in ways we just don’t know about.
Even if we knew, we wouldn’t have the capacity to investigate and report on all those quietly extraordinary lives. So we depend on families to assemble and submit obituaries so we can share them with at least the broader community.
I was reminded of all this when Norm Bernards died last week. There wasn’t a newspaper feature story, but his services filled St. James Catholic Church with family, friends and admirers.
Norm lived a good life, helping people, sharing his faith, relishing his 31-year stint as owner-operator of the local John Deere dealership. One item missing from his obituary was that in retirement, he stayed in touch with those career roots by mowing fields, and I felt fortunate six years ago to be on his short list of annual clients.
Norm was 81 the last time he knocked down my one overgrown acre. As usual, he handled the pickup, trailer and tractor rigs with an effortlessness that came from long experience. Once, as he prepared to re-trailer the tractor after a long day mowing, my wife suggested I give him a hand.
“Believe me, honey,” I said, “Norm doesn’t need any help with that … least of all from me.” We watched him load and secure the tractor, and invited him for a glass of lemonade on the porch while I wrote a check that arguably was too small for the value received.
That’s when Norm told me about the evolving health situation that was bringing his good life to an end. I asked how long he was going to keep hauling that John Deere around — “As long as I can,” he said.
I could tell that his mastery of the task and his solitary times atop that tractor were important to keeping his good life going as long as it lasted.
There weren’t public headlines about Norm Bernards, as is the case with so many good people who make our community what it is.
Jeb Bladine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-687-1223.