Not every person in a family is related by blood…or even by marriage. Sometimes, a lifelong friend is, in reality, as close as family. Such is the case with Burl Ford. Burl was one of the neighborhood kids that my mother, Collene Byer Spencer and her siblings played with as children. The first time I heard that they had been childhood friends, I was amazed, because by that time, we were living just down the street from Burl and his family, and in fact we were all friends, with them and their kids. Burl’s kids, Lisa, Susie, Burly, and Judy, were all in gymnastics, and his wife, Thea had learned how to coach and spot for the tumbling. So when my younger sisters and I were at their house, the natural next step was to do tumbling in their basement. It was Thea who instilled in me, the love of gymnastics, which I continued doing through high school.
Cheryl remembers playing Jacks on the patio in their back yard with Burl. That is an unusual thought, because Jacks was primarily a girls game…at least in school. Burl didn’t care about that. He loved kids, and playing with his kids and the neighbor kids was totally within his nature…and in fact, growing up was totally not in his nature. Burl was a kid all his life. And…Burl loved his pranks!! I suppose these days he might have found himself in trouble, but those were different times. One prank, in particular, that lots of their family friends remember is the cherry bombs. In those days, kids could safely have sleep overs in someone’s back yard. The Ford’s back yard had a slight slope to it, and made for a perfect sleep over spot…in theory. You did have to take Burl into account. He would wait until we were all settled out there sleeping, and out of the blue, in the middle of the night…a cherry bomb would go off. Burl was careful of course, and never threw it near anyone, but it was something that definitely got your attention.
Today, we said goodbye to Burl…all of his friends and family. It was a beautiful service filled with happy memories, and yes, the shedding of tears. Thea’s sisters reminded us of his love of sports, including the Broncos and the Colorado Rockies, as well as the Super Bowl games he got to attend, and throwing out the first pitch at a Rockies game. They told of his love of fishing, camping, snowmobiling, golf, travel, and precious time spent at their mountain cabin. And they told us about the many pranks and his bag of tricks. Burl was a member of the Oil City Slickers and Gentleman’s touch, both barber shop musical groups. The group sang at his service, and it occurred to me that, while the songs were beautiful, there was one voice missing. Those were wonderful memories, but it was something the minister said that particularly struck me as amazing. As he told of his last visits with Burl, and many before that, he said that the one thing he noticed was that Burl was always so happy and full of life. Then, he said that he wished that he could take some of Burl’s happy, joyous spirit and zest for life, and throw it out into the world. Instinctively, I thought…just pack it in a cherry bomb.
While we were visiting many of our family members in Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota, our cousin, Bill Spencer surprised us with a copy of a slide show that he had put together for his family. We were so busy while we were there, that there was no time to take a look at the slide show. When I got home, I looked at it briefly, but nothing really in depth. Yesterday, I took another look…a longer look. I had no idea what a gold mine that slide show would turn out to be. As I watched it, I felt like I had been instantly transported back in time. It was so fun to look at those old shots of all of us as kids. It also felt just a little bit lonely when I looked at holiday pictures from the time right after we left Superior. Prior to that, we would have most likely been in some of those pictures, and I’m sure that my cousins would agree with me when I say that feels a little bit sad too.
Cheryl and Pam had always been good friends, and the younger kids naturally partnered with Bill and Jim. That could have left me feeling like a third wheel, but I got along just as well with the younger kids, so it worked out very well. The reality was that I thought the stuff the younger kids were doing was more fun most of the time anyway. Not to say that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend time with Cheryl and Pam, but I was a pretty active kid. and the rough housing that the younger kids and I did was quite appealing to me. In fact, I probably instigated much of it…if not all of it.
I was really into gymnastics, with tumbling being my favorite part of it. My sisters and I used to practice our tumbling on the front lawn, so it stood to reason that we would do that when our cousins were there too. We practiced things like cartwheels, hand springs, and touching our toes to our head…which turned out to be a little difficult for my cousin, Jimmy, try as he might. And believe me, his trying was pretty funny. I don’t know if he really thought that he could pull his legs up to his head with his hands, but believe me, you can’t do it. Either you are limber enough, or you aren’t. It’s as simple as that.
The younger kids would do their best to gang up on me, to prove their superiority…or maybe it was just the mere number of them against me, or maybe they had a little help from Aunt Doris. Whatever the case may be, sometimes I found myself out numbered. Of course, it was all in fun, and we had such a good time when they were here or we were there. Just looking at the picture of the dog pile makes me smile. All I can say, is that I’m glad I didn’t have all those kids on top of me. I would have been squished for sure!! What crazy, fun times those were.
Seeing my cousins this summer, took me back to those carefree days. Sometimes, you get used to being away from those you love, and you somehow don’t realize how much we miss those times, until we go back for a short time. Then, the memories flood back in. You talk for hours about all the old times, and you suddenly realize just how much you have missed those times. Nevertheless, time has marched on, and you can’t go back to when you were young. All you can do is try to keep the memories alive in your memory files, and pull them out once in a while so you can relive those moments. Those days are gone, but the memory lives on to remind you that those were the days, and they were great. Childhood is but a fleeting moment, but those days will always be a part of who we are.