Thursday, November 02, 2017

Second Prompt – First Job (or…”We think you’re perfect for this job”)

This is my second article in the “Prompt” Series.  The prompt for this piece is merely two words…First Job.

I am struggling with what to exactly write.  After all, my first job after college was as an assembly engineer for Mitsubishi Semiconductor out of Durham, NC.  I was sent to Japan for two years to learn my craft; so obviously, this first job is a bevy full of stories.  However, if I were to recall my FIRST job, that would be as a lifeguard at Lakewood Swim Club while in high school and college.  At least this is the first job from which I received a paycheck…minus taxes of course.  But then again, my literalist side starts to argue that my very first job was mowing lawns in the neighborhood, especially for the one house across the street as the occupants moved and “hired” me to upkeep their lawn until their house sold.  This job could certainly create a story or two as the house was atop a riverbank and I spent as much time knocking down monstrous wolf spider webs in the back yard as I did actually mowing.  This was a stressful job for someone with arachnophobia.

All scenarios are worthy of a “first job” prompt, but my gut tells me to switch things up a bit.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently unemployed.  The ride I’ve ridden the last two months while seeking employment has been rather interesting.  It’s not like I haven’t searched for a job before, but after 20 years since my previous job search, things have changed quite a bit!

When I sought out my very first job as a lawn mower (before “landscaper” was a known term), I pretty much knocked on doors.  The only competition was from other kids in the neighborhood.  Honestly, I got the one job because I used to play with the family’s oldest son who was two years younger than me.  There weren’t many in his grade in the neighborhood so I believe the family “rewarded” me with the job.

My first paying job as a lifeguard was almost a default position.  I was on the swim club’s swim team since an early age…a regular pool rat.  Nearly every summer day was spent at or in the pool unless I was mowing a lawn.  It was nearly a rite of passage for those older “15 to 18” age group swimmers on the team to work as a lifeguard once earning their Water Safety Instructor certificate.  Once you earned that WSI badge, you were pretty much guaranteed a job of whistle twirling, trash collecting, restroom scrubbing, and sun tanning.

My first “adult” job was assisted greatly by my college career counseling service.  Companies from all over the east coast would visit the university seeking out college seniors to hire after graduation.  I interviewed with a couple companies without really having to reach out by myself.  All I had to do was look at the companies listed for the next week, sign up for an interview time, and show up.  This is how I introduced myself to Mitsubishi…not all that difficult.

About 9 years into my career I was laid off and had to seek employment on my own.  It was tough.  This was before the internet, so I spent countless hours in the library reviewing classified ads and microfilms of regional newspaper ads.  I remained unemployed (except through a temp agency) for about 16 months.  Eventually I found the job that would cement my career path for the next 20+ years.

A few months ago, a series of events and decisions took place that led me to my current unemployed status.  Once again, I faced the daunting task of finding a job, only this time I had a wife and kids to worry about supporting.  Oddly, I wasn’t worried. After all, I had years of experience and respect in my position as well as plenty of business contacts.  Plus we now had the internet which opened the world up to my fingertips.  Finding a job would be easy…right?

Almost immediately upon uploading my resume onto various job boards, I received notices of potential employment in my email inbox.  “Wow,” I thought, “this will be easier than I thought!”  Then I opened the emails.

“We’ve reviewed your resume online and feel that you would fill our needs perfectly as a sales consultant for Liberty Mutual Insurance….”

“My manager has authorized me to contact you to with an employment opportunity as a franchise owner...”

“Your resume has been reviewed by our Human Resources Department and we are contacting you for employment as a gift wrapper effective immediately….”

“Uber wants you….”

I was totally surprised.  And disappointed.  Jobs related to my actual experience and skills were not as easy to come by as I had hoped, but I never expected to be inundated with the “junk” job offers I received several times a day.  The offers extended into phone calls as well.  The phone would ring and my name would be mentioned followed by an inquiry as to whether I was still seeking employment.  My heart would race with excitement until I realized it was once again an opportunity for under employment.  Apparently I was perfect for so many jobs for which I had absolutely no skill set or interest, and yet not quite right for those positions that more closely matched my experience. 

The good new s is that I have been hired for a position and I start the job in a few days.  It’s a job with a familiar company from my past but in a different position, so there’s some nerves and excitement for something new.  I might not be the perfect fit at first, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be a heck of a lot happier that I would be with one of those other “perfect” jobs.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

First Prompt...My Earliest Memory


It’s been a long time since I’ve written any of my thoughts down, especially here.  I spent a good 4 or 5 years writing on my “Black is the New Pink” blog page, but I’ve failed to contribute to that blog for over a year now.  It’s not for the lack of desire, but due to the lack of time and opportunity.

No…that’s not true.  I have time now like I’ve not had for many years.  You see, I’m unemployed now which has opened up a lot of time to spend on writing.  Or maybe not.  If I seem rather unfocused it’s because being laid off of a job messes with your brain.  It drains you of enthusiasm.  It causes you to wonder why you’re in such a burdened position.  It causes you to stress out.  A lot.  And when you’re stressed, especially about needing to find a job, you feel guilty when you’re not taking action to find that job.  But in today’s day and age, you check the online job boards and you email friend s or colleagues and you input the same information over and over and over again at each application for a job you “might” be able to do.  And after to press the “Send” button, you sit there.  You wonder if your application is truly being seen.  You sit there.  You worry.  And you realize sitting there does nothing…but there’s no more you can do.  So you have to do something physical to get your mind off of the worry.  You mop the floor.  You paint your children’s bedrooms.  You power wash your drive way.  You work on your landscaping.  And at the end of the day, you still don’t have a job and you worry.  And at the beginning of the day…you repeat and rinse.  So is there truly time to write one’s thoughts…or are you afraid of your thoughts? 

I choose the latter.  I’ve been afraid to write only because it takes me away from my job searching activities which…are unfulfilling.  Writing fulfills me…but I feel guilty when I do write.  It’s taking precious time away from what I should be doing.  It’s a maddening cycle.  But I’ve come to realize that, like the physical work, I have to exercise my thoughts…my brain.  I have to escape the worry and stress zone and take my brain for a walk.  The easy way would be to binge watch Netflix, but that’s sedentary, and not exercise.  The keyboard is my treadmill.  It’s time to walk.

So after that dramatic portion of this prologue, what is it I’ll write about first?  Well, I have a good friend who made a suggestion.  She shares an interest in writing like I do, but she in fact writes.  She has a blog and her words are occasionally published in a local magazine.  I’m quite proud of her work and definitely listen to her when she makes a suggestion.  What she did was provide me a prompt…a statement or scenario or word…something.  And from that simple prompt, I’m to write whatever that prompt inspires.  As we discussed this exercise, the topic of early memories came up.  I can’t recall why now in that our conversations are typically quite random…almost like a waking texting dream.  But as the topic of early memories came up, she said, “That’s it!  Describe your earliest memory!”  So…with that being said, here’s my first entry of my “Prompt Phase” of writing….

My First Memory

I began to write an entire thesis on memory loss and how one can recall an event many years in the past, but can’t remember what they wore to work a couple of days prior.  But that didn’t really address the prompt of “what was your first memory?”  So I’m starting over.

I lived most of my childhood in a town called St. Albans, WV.  I attended all 12 years of school there and my parents lived there throughout my college years.  But the first 2 ½ years of my life, my family lived in a small town called Nitro which sat across the river from St. Albans.  At such an early age, it’s difficult to imagine that I have any memories at all, but I do have two distinct images that I can remember from our time on Lee Street.

The first of the two images (and I’m not sure which one is actually first) is my view from my bed.  I envision laying on a twin bed, but the view I had was of the ceiling where the wall meets.  I know it sounds weird, but that’s about all there is to it.  I’m thinking I just awoke from a nap or else I was being put down for naptime.  Heck, it could even be that I was having my diaper changed.  Either way, I know that my mom was nearby.  She’s not in my image, but I sense her presence there.  That memory, or sense of a memory, gives me comfort.

The second recollection also involves my mother.  We were good friends with the family that lived across the street and down a house or two.  I remember that they lived in a brick ranch house while our house had light colored siding…possibly wood.  My mom used to play bridge with Mrs. Walker…her first name was Alpha, which seems like an odd name today.  I believe Alpha was also in a bowling league that my mom also participated in.  But that’s beside the point.  They also had a son which I can’t recall whether or not he was younger or older.  His name was Paul; Paul, Jr. to be exact because his father’s name was also Paul. 

Anyhow, on this day, mom and I were leaving our house to walk across the street for her to play bridge.  I must have been rather small because I had a set of large plastic keys like you see for infants and toddlers who are teething.  They were primary colored and I held them in my hand.  As we were walking out the front door, I turned around to lock the door with my play keys.  I remember my mom telling me that I did a good job as we stepped down the stairs.

It’s an odd memory and I found that I remembered more detail as I wrote it just now.  This leads to one other digression.  After my mom died, my dad wrote a book about his earliest memories of growing up in Nitro during the depression and World War II.  The title of his book is “Growing Up in Nitro.”  I can see now that he wrote the book not only to document the times of his childhood and the story of growing up and falling in love with my mom, but to help provide the detail that passing memories generally don’t provide.

What pleases me most about the two “earliest memories” is that they involved my mom.  That’s pretty special. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014


When I think of family and holidays, I can’t help but think of Christmas.  I have so many fond memories of Christmases past with my mom, dad and brother.  I recall Christmas in Japan.  I remember the infamous Christmas Ball.  I remember my own children’s first Christmas and beyond.  Christmas is such a magical time of year.  Yet, I think it’ll be Easter that holds the most special part of my heart.

We’re not an overly religious family.  Oh, we certainly have our roots in religion, especially on Kim’s side of the family.  Her mom worked at the church when we first met and through the years well after we were married and had children.  Kim has been through Confirmation and all the other Lutheran traditions that I’ve not experienced.  I even give our faith credit for allowing our children in our lives as we introduced prayer in our ritual while attempting artificial insemination.  Yes, I have faith that there is a power…perhaps a God…that seems to have a hand in all that happens.  Easter is perhaps the most religious day of the Christian year.  But this is not why I’ll hold Easter dear to my heart.

About four years ago, in 2010, I was into a hobby called Geocaching.  I still participate on rare occasion, but back then I was full on into it.  So was my brother Jeff.  It was stated that our mutual interest in geocaching is what brought my brother and I together more than any other event in the last…well, many years.  It was true.  Our once in a blue moon phone calls turned to weekly calls to compare geocaching stories.  We even had a little bit of a contest going to see who could find the most.  We were somewhat competitive that way.

Since I was into this treasure-hunting hobby, I decided to make Easter, 2010 a little bit of a geocaching-like event for my kids.  Instead of placing the baskets on the coffee table as I had done on previous years, I hid them, and left a single egg with a clue within.  This led the kids to hunt out a series of eggs throughout the house, collecting clues that eventually led them to the ultimate hiding place.  I was nervous that the first such hunt would be foiled by discovering the baskets too soon, but my plan worked perfectly.  So I did it again the next year.  And the next.  And the next.  And this year, I hid them in a puzzle-like way for the 5th year in a row!

Last year I changed the written clues to simple yet challenging photo clues.  This year, I allowed the egg hunt to be more traditional, but each egg contained a letter.  When all were collected, it was up to the kids to piece the letters together to form the solution.  Next year, who knows what I’ll do.

While this hunt is certainly the main reason I hold Easter so dear, it’s not my own ingenuity on developing he hunt that makes it special.  Watching my kids work together, think for themselves, and experience joy at the challenge is my greatest joy.  My kids are good, they’re smart, and they love one another.  There is no greater joy to a parent than to realize that about your children.

Tonight, each of my kids separately admitted to really enjoying this day.  They started off with the egg hunt, and then we colored eggs (a chance for them to be creative and silly).  They didn’t fret on limited gifts, but enjoyed what they received.  They enjoyed another hunt at their grandparents’ house…showing me how much they love being around the previous generation.

Easter is an incredible day for many reasons.  But for me, Easter is a day that allows me to have fun, and reminds me every year how blessed I am to have these incredible children.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Little About Me

I’ve noticed as my “Black is the New Pink” blog gets more readership, a few people peek in on this blog.  As I stated in my last post about 2 months ago, I don’t write as often as I should here.  This is more of a private journal than a soapbox…but still, I put it out there for anyone to read.  Stupid perhaps…but that’s me.
Speaking about me, that’s what this post is about.  I figure if some of the BITNP readers happen to stumble in here, I might as well introduce myself…or at least as much as I’ll allow myself to do online.  Consider this post a special treat for being a little curious about the BITNP writer/founder.
As you may know by now, my name is Al.  I’m 49 years old, married (for over 15 years) and have two beautiful twin children…one boy and one girl, age 9.  I work as an engineer for a manufacturing company and have a pretty cookie-cutter life.  I learn more of how to be a parent every day of my life and realize that I’ll never be an expert.  I stay up late at night…mostly typing on BITNP or surfing on the web.  As a result, I get far too little sleep.  My company was just acquired by another, so while the future seems bright at work, there’s still always a little uncertainly.  I have the same worries as everyone…finances…kids…health.  And I have many of the same dreams.
About 5 years ago, I became aware of a dream of mine.  That dream is to be a writer.  I had begun this blog before that time, but decided to really start making an effort.  That lasted a few months.  (Losing motivation seems to be a flaw of mine.)  Still, I had a yearning to write, but my work/life schedule never seemed to offer an opportunity.  You’ll notice when opportunity struck as you review the history of this blog.  There were some months that I had several entries and other months where I had none at all.  I think what I lacked was focus.
Then my brother died.
My mom died back in 2005.  Her passing affected me very hard.  I fell into a bit of a depression from which I finally crawled out.  I think I was in denial during her illness…thinking that my mom would never leave.  When she did…well, she was gone and I wasn’t prepared.  I finally came to terms with it about two years later.  But in 2010, my brother’s melanoma came back.  He’d had it before, but none of us really took “skin cancer” all that serous.  (You should know by the BITNP blog that I take it VERY seriously now).  Anyhow, his passing didn’t affect me as much as did the months leading up to his death.  I can’t explain why I handled the two deaths differently, but I did.  And Jeff’s passing suddenly became that writing focus I needed.  In March 2011, “Black is the New Pink” was born.  The rest can be read there.
But I will tell you here that I can’t be any happier with how it’s going.  I never EVER expected to have over 17,000 page views…or over 900 “Likes” to the accompanying Facebook page.  My goal was never to reach a certain number, but how cool would it be to hit 1,000 by my first anniversary?
And THAT is the most amazing part.  I’ve been writing for 10 months and entered over 75 blog entries.  I’ve had focus and motivation!  I’ve tried to make each one unique yet to have a common theme.  It’s not an easy task and I often have blogger’s block…but it’s SO rewarding to me. 
But it comes with a price.  I become close to some of the reader’s own stories.  You see, I don’t have melanoma but so many of my readers do.  No matter how much I read of personal accounts, there is no way I can truly understand what it’s like to have melanoma.  While it’s inspiring to read some blogs, it’s heart breaking to read others.  One of my favorite bloggers (Chelsea) said it best…”We live from one scan to the next…3 (or 6) months at a time.”  I don’t see how these folks can live as they do…yet they do and they’re inspiring.  Unfortunately, some have died…especially in the last couple months.  And each death reminds me of the passing of my own loved ones and that gets me a little depressed.  It’s hard to hang out in the lobby of the Hotel Melanoma.  But at the same time, I can’t imagine a better place to be.
Not only am I taking steps towards my dream to write, I feel as if I’m helping…doing something.  A co-worker and reader of mine told me that I am inspiring people…teaching people…saving people.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m “just writing.”  Other times, I know I’m inspiring others because as I read my own words, I feel inspired.  I know that sounds a bit arrogant, but it’s true.  Would a musician write music that’s uninspiring to him?  I would hope not.
I felt as I wrote “Real People of Melanoma” that it was my best piece…my most inspiring piece.  It put a face to Melanoma.  And my goodness, did the readers respond!  I’ve had nearly 1,000 page views on that post alone…easily triple of any other.  I am most proud of that piece, and proud that my readers seem to agree.
I’ve written dogs as well.  Some I thought were decent and others just didn’t flow well.  In one piece, I wrote about a friend and his bout with melanoma.  He contacted me later to remind me that cancer is private to many folks and asked that I take down that post.  I did…I forgot that while folks talk openly about their cancer in the Hotel Melanoma, many people…most people…consider cancer a very private thing.
And so, I’ve learned.  I’ve learned more about melanoma.  I’ve learned a little on how to write.  I’ve learned a little about how to not write.  And I’m still learning.
Thanks for coming along for my learning experience…
PS…Please do not link this on Facebook.  While I don’t mind others reading it, this is intended to be more of an intimate chat than a soapbox session.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Let the Living Begin

Wow…has it been a year?  Yes…it has.
Mind you, while I’ve been absent from “Causal Thoughts,” my writing juices have been flowing over at “Black is the New Pink.”  I realized that all of my “Causal Thoughts” postings were becoming centered on my brother Jeff and his death from melanoma cancer.  So, rather than bog down the sometimes humorous slant here, I decided to devote an entire blog site to his memory, which inevitably led to writing about melanoma and skin cancer.  It was a good decision, and I plan to keep that blog going, but I’ve decided it’s time to return to my more casual thoughts.
However, my thought tonight is hardly casual.  My Aunt Irma died yesterday.  She was just over 93 years old and lived a good long life.  Honestly, I never really knew her.  I vaguely remember seeing her over 16 years ago when my mom and dad drove her south to see my late Uncle Bernard in Myrtle Beach.  They stopped by my townhouse in Durham and stayed for a short while.  Other than that, I have very little recollection of Aunt Irma.
She left three children…Steve, with whom I’ve had some contact on Facebook; Vicki, with minimal contact on Facebook; and Carole, who I think is closest to my age but with whom I’ve totally lost touch.
I called Dad and told him of Irma’s passing.  Unfortunately, I had to leave a voice mail.  But eventually we did talk “live.”  Our conversation was light, but there was one moment of tenderness or sadness when he stated, “well, there’s only three of us left now.”  He was talking about him and his siblings.
Dad had five brothers and one sister.  Grenfall (aka, “Sweat”) was the oldest born in 1911 and died in 1990.  I remember that Mom and Dad were visiting me when they got the news.  Irma was the next oldest, born in 1911.  Next was Earl, Jr. (aka, “Bubbles”).  He was born in 1921 and died during the Vietnam War in 1968 when I was almost 6 years old.
Bernard was next in line and the first of the Estep Uncles that I knew better.  He lived in Nitro and Cross Lanes when I grew up in St. Albans, so we would visit he and his wife (Geri first, then Pat) and kids a few times a year.  He was born in 1923 and died in August of 2003.  Kenneth was even closer to me, although never really “close” close like some Uncles can be.  I was just never the kind of person to be close like that.  But our family and his family would get together about once per month.  He was born in 1926 and still lives with his long time wife Gertie in Nitro, WV.  Robert was born in 1928 and still lives in Missouri near St. Louis.  I’ve seen Uncle Bobby a few times over the years and recall a couple long trips to St. Louis to visit his family.  My dad, Keith is the youngest…born in 1934.
I’m sharing this mostly as a blog for my kids to read later in life.  As they (and you) most likely know, my dad wrote a book about him growing up in Nitro, West Virginia during the depression and World War II.  Both of my kids have a signed copy of his book and they’ll both hopefully read it someday.  I have one as well, but I have something a bit more valuable to me.  Dad “published” his first draft in a three-ring binder, and included photos, drawings and unpublished tidbits.  To read these more “raw” thoughts is incredible and invaluable to learn about oneself.  I have to admit I’ve not read all of Dad’s published book but I have read about all of this pre-published work.  Within this piece, he shares a brief passage about Irma:
Irma Lee Estep Sandifer
Irma married Carlton Sandifer, a construction supervisor from Lynchburg, Virginia who was in Nitro building a rayon manufacturing plant for American Viscose Corporation.  They had two daughters who reside in Virginia and one son who lives in West Virginia.  Irma is known for her short stature, pleasant personality, and giggly sense of humor.
Writing this blog isn’t about Irma…or about Dad.  It’s about family…and sharing one’s experiences in life.  I recently posted that this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for life's experiences...past, present and future. And for the lives of others that have graciously affected my own.  I hope to start writing in this blog again, along with BITNP, as a means to document my life to the world, but mostly to my kids.
Let the living begin.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Being Watched

As most of you know, my brother passed away only a couple weeks ago. I decided that I wasn’t going to flood my blog with “memories of Jeff” stories, although I’m sure I’ll share some over time. However, I was encouraged to share one story…I suppose our last story...with others.

If you’ve read some of my Facebook postings, you know that I engage in a hobby known as geocaching. Basically, geocaching is a global scavenger hunt. The location of hidden objects can be found on the website, If you type in an address and find the link to a map, you’ll see that there’s most likely a hidden object nearby. There are about 5,000 “treasures” hidden within a 10-mile radius of my house. In fact, there are well over a million such treasures, or caches, hidden world-wide from country parks or city blocks and even the International Space Station. I bet there’s one near you!

Caches are rated 1 to 5 for both difficulty and terrain with 1 being the easiest. Seeing as I’m not a rock climber or scuba diver, I tend to look for ones rated 1.5 or easier. Whenever I travel out of town, I can load the latest cache locations into my GPS along with previous logs from other geocachers and a description of what I’m looking for. Caches can range in size from smaller than a thimble to a rather large water-proof box. I’ve found all sorts, although there are some types that are more common than others.

A 35mm film canister makes a perfect geocache container. Other geocachers hide the caches for others to find. One simply places a log inside for geocachers to record their find and perhaps adds a coin or little trinket. All caches contain a log on which the finder will sign his or her geocaching name (mine is MountieAl). Most small caches contain only a log. The “treasure” is in the hunt itself, not the end prize. Anyhow, one takes this small container and hides it in a tree stump or other such place. One very common hiding location is within a light pole in a parking lot. Most poles have a metal or plastic skirt at the base of the pole which can easily slide up, thus making a perfect hiding place for smaller caches underneath. And yes, most cachers will giggle when announcing they’ve found a cache “under a skirt.”

Jeff read a few Facebook postings of my intitial geocaching finds and started to ask me about the hobby. After I described it, he started looking for some in Ohio, especially while walking his dog. I remember the first day he found one…he called me on his cell phone asking questions and giving me updates. He was so thrilled at the first find, and I knew he was hooked. “Jadestep” was introduced to the geocaching world. As he always did with things that interested him, he quickly became very involved in the hobby and even helped organize a few Geocaching gatherings. He started to become one of the more involved geocachers in the Akron area.

When Jeff and I attended my step-mother’s family reunion in June, we made sure to go on a Hurricane, WV area cache run together. We found about eight caches that day…a record for me at the time. When we finished, my dad commented that geocaching was the first thing Jeff and I had done “together” in a long, long time. And it was true…somehow this silly little hobby bonded us closer than we’d been in years.

During that trip, Jeff commented that he had wanted to hide his own on a guardrail near the Walgreen’s in Hurricane. He always liked puns and many geocaches were given such titles which would also offer up a clue to the hide. His idea for this cache was “Guarding the Wal.” Jeff was always quite clever. Sadly, he never got to hide that cache.

Before I traveled to WV for Jeff’s funeral, I loaded the caches along my travel route into my GPS as I usually do. Granted, I had no intention of making this a caching trip, but seeing as how he loved to geocache, I thought it appropriate to be able to find one or two during the trip...perhaps at a rest area along the highway or near a restaurant during a lunch or dinner break. But honestly, my mind was far from caches as I drove up the day before his funeral.

The next morning, I decided to run out before we headed to the service and fill my car with gas. As I drove past Walgreen’s in Hurricane, I noticed an icon on my GPS indicating a newer cache had been hidden near the drug store only a couple weeks prior. Again, I hadn’t planned on seeking any caches, particularly on the day of Jeff’s funeral, but curiosity got the better of me. I drove past the guardrails and into the parking lot. The prize seemed to be hidden under a lamp post skirt like so many others, so I parked near the suspected post. Attached to the pole was a sign that said “Area Under Video Surveillance.”

I pushed a few buttons on my GPS to read about the cache and look for any clues. What I read gave me chills. I jumped out of the car, lifted the skirt (giggle) and grabbed the 35 mm film canister. There was only a log inside, as suspected, and I signed it “MountieAl for Jadestep.” I returned the cache to its hiding place for others to find and then sat back in the car with my heart racing. Not to sound cliché, but I had tears in my eyes as I drove away and yet, had a very peaceful feeling.

The name of the cache that I found on the day of Jeff’s funeral at the location where he wanted to hide a cache? “Big Brother Is Watching.”

Jeff, thank you for continuing to join me on my geocaching adventures…and thanks for letting me know that you’ll always be watching.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Memories of Jeff

My brother Jeff Estep passed away last night (November 15, 2010) after a brief bout with Melanoma that metastasized to his brain and lungs. He left us far too soon.

I can’t really compose my thoughts at the moment…but I thought typing random memories and thoughts may help me a bit. There seems like so few…and yet so many, if that makes sense. While I stop to think of specific memories about Jeff, I have trouble coming up with much at all. But then something happens and a memory will hit me like a ton of bricks.

One such occurrence was as I was putting the dishes away the other evening. I grabbed a paper towel that I had bread sitting upon and I suddenly recalled that it was Jeff that taught me how to fold up a paper napkin and not spill all the crumbs (corners in first). Of all the things to remember, that’s one specific lesson I remember.

Christmas…oh my. As we prepare the house for Christmas decorations, many memories flood on in. He and Debbie love Christmas so very, very much. Even when I visited in September, there was a Christmas tree in Debbie’s dressing room. It’ll be hard to have Christmas without Jeff coming to mind. And I know that Jeff wants us all to enjoy Christmas…not to shed a tear for losing him, but cast a smile on the beauty of the season…and the beauty his life left behind.

I remember the Boy Scout Indian Hand signals we used to use as kids. Our plan was to get up on early, and I mean EARLY, on Christmas morning to see what Santa had left behind. We’d not talk, but walk stealthily through the darkness with flashlights while communicating with Indian hand signals learned from the Boy Scout handbook. Of course, upon first sight of the Christmas tree and decorations, we forgot all hand signals and made a bigger racket than we did the year before.

We had a couple Christmas that I’ll keep to myself. It was very juvenile and sophomoric…but it was ours. I know Jeff is smiling when I mention it.

The golf ball. What a wonderful tradition that was. Exchanged over several years, we would alternately give this old Elmer Fike golf ball to one another for the holidays. Until my last attempt pretty much destroyed the ball, we would both look forward to either receiving the ball, or the delight in watching the other receive. It was a tradition followed by many…and enjoyed so much by the two of us.

The two of us. We were seven years apart. When I enjoyed Bugs Bunny, he was into American Bandstand. When I started watching Dick Clark, he was back to watching cartoons. He entered WVU as I was still in elementary school. Eventually I also attended WVU…and a very large reason I did so was because of witnessing Jeff’s experiences in college. It wasn’t the partying…and there was some. It was just the whole experience and how I witnessed my brother grow up from a geeky acne-faced teen to a responsible young man. Whether he knew it or not, watching that was as much of a mentorship as I ever had.

He so loved that college. One of the highlights of his last couple months was attending a game and having his cousin, Coach Dunlap, take him on a tour of the locker room and inner sanctum of the team. I’d never heard him talk in such a giddy way than he did about that day.

I take that back. There was another time, at WVU that he was more excited and full of life. That’s when he met and fell in love with Debbie. He could never have asked for a better partner than Debbie. The love they share is incredible. And once again, showing his love and devotion became another standard I hoped to follow.

Like I said, we were 7 years apart, so we were never really “close” close. We were brothers, but not the call-every-day type. It’s just how we were wired. Or maybe it’s perhaps how I’m wired. Regardless, we still were brothers. And when he lost his job in Florida several years ago and lived with me in NC for a short while, that’s the first time we really shared our brotherhood. We shared secrets of growing up…stories of our experiences. While that was a tough time for Jeff and Debbie, it was a very special time for me.

Recently, Jeff and I shared the hobby of geocaching. I’m not sure why, but that hobby brought us closer than I ever recall. We actually started to become a pair of brothers that would call one another often…just to share stories of the hobby and, of course, toss in a few tidbits about life as well. The last photo I ever had taken with Jeff was when we went gecaching together in September. That’s most definitely my favorite photo of us, ever.

He was with me when I got my first birdie in golf, and he was the obvious choice for Best Man in my wedding. But I guess the greatest legacy I have of my brother is his shared birthday with my kids. How ironic that they were both born on his 47th birthday. They’re a product of my love for my wife Kim…and yet a reminder, even once a year, for the love I have for my big brother.

One final memory I'd like to share, although I apologize for the dark humor.  When we were kids, we played cops and robbers or some variation of the game.  Whoever played the robber would ultimately get shot and play out a death scene.  Every time, the robber would mutter, "The treasure....the treasure is...the treasure is hidden in the....." and then die.  My father told me that on Jeff's real death bed, thay my brother muttered something illegible three times before taking his last breath.  He could have said anything, but a part of me thinks that maybe, just maybe, he was playing that game one last time.  That was his sense of humor.  And I think he's safe with his treasure.

I do love you Jeffrey…and I’ll miss you. God bless you