by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
April 14, 2005
REQUIEM FOR A REBUILDER
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I've never been confident enough to speak at funerals, and I usually regret it afterwards. So it was last Saturday, at the funeral of someone I deeply cared about, Steve VanDemark of Hinsdale, N.H., who died, way too young, at 55.
If I had spoken at the funeral, I would have begun with the story of how my husband and I met Steve. We were trying to get rid of a piano, a huge, dusty, clunky, unused old upright that had been taking up too much room for a decade. We had the bright idea of putting an ad in the Bargain Box.
"Piano free if you can get it out of the house," was the general idea.
And one bright Sunday morning, the ad brought Steve to our door. A barrel-chested, cheerful man bristling with mustache and energy, he told us his hobby was restoring pianos. And in under an hour, he and a friend had maneuvered the piano onto a dolly and then, trailing dust and spider webs, onto the bed of his truck. Before he left, he gave us his card. "Rebuilder" it said. "Remodeling & Home Repairs."
If I had spoken, I would have admitted I was so impressed with him that I kept the card. A few years later, when we had saved some money for home repairs, I called him. For the next two years, Steve was a happy weekend presence around our house. With an ever-changing cast of assistants, he put in a new deck, a new shower stall, widened some floor vents, and pretty much invented a few things from scratch. One was a line-and-pulley system that holds two swinging bird feeders - and almost always keeps the squirrels at bay. He also invented a small armored dumpster which, for several springs now, has withstood the attack of newly-awakened and hungry bears.
If I had spoken, I would have talked about how much Steve loved his wife, Louise. He told me that when he met her, he knew instantly she was "the one." In a few short months he had convinced her, too. It was a great love story; they were married for 34 years. At the funeral, one of Steve's co-workers said she wished she could find a man who would love her as freely and unconditionally as Steve loved Louise.
He was also deeply involved with his very large family - his father, his brothers and sister, his two children and their spouses, his six young grandchildren. At the funeral, the six sobbing youngsters placed long-stemmed roses in a vase in front of the beautifully hand-carved box that held Steve's ashes.
If I had spoken, I would have admitted that Louise and I, who became instant phone friends, were also friendly rivals. I had to compete, for example, when they decided to raise turkeys and Steve took the weekend off from our half-finished deck to build them a cage. He often told us how much he loathed those birds. We lost him for another weekend while he gleefully slaughtered them. "If we don't do it now, we'll have to buy another bag of feed," he said. He cooked two of the turkeys for his family for Thanksgiving.
If I had spoken, I would have said Steve was that rare thing, a natural man. He fit into his own skin. There was no pretense in him. His easy, open, hearty friendliness was a blessing. Although he was a constant complainer and grumbler, he was also clearly a joyous man who was capable of loving deeply. He was eager to work. As far as I could tell, the only thing that scared him was climbing onto the roof.
If I had spoken, I would have said that once he got sick, it was difficult to watch him weaken and lose weight. But he scorned any sign of our concern and was determined to bull it through. He even started painting our house. Then he couldn't paint anymore, and all winter long, as he fought for his life, I would look at the place where his brush strokes ended and pray he would return in the Spring to finish the job.
If I had spoken, I would have said that "Till death do us part" is not only a grand romantic promise. At the end of every great love must come the loss of that great love, and with that loss, for the remaining lover, comes unimaginable pain. That is why we must cherish every moment we have with the ones we love.
Steve built his cheerfulness, his love of life, and his straight-ahead strength into the very fabric of our home. I see it around me, everywhere I look. It was an enormous gift, and I can't believe the giver is gone. On weekends, I still expect to see his truck pull into the driveway.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.