|Memories from Hannah and Nancy |
Seventh grade was when I was first charmed by Ben. I did weekly
pull-out classes with him and Hannah during Mr. Harshfield's class. We
made a solar cooking box which Ben asked to take home for a while. I
don't know why he wanted it - maybe to show you, Bob and Michelle.
After we built it we discovered we couldnít use it because it was
winter and the solar angle at our latitude wasn't right for cooking.
We made other projects - one of which was a little motor powered
by solar panels. When we needed a soldering iron for this, Ben
volunteered to bring one, saying, "My mom will buy anything as long as
it is educational."
He loved to fiddle with the knife sharpener, experimented with
soldering his tennis show bottom and was generally eager and cheerful to
participate in everything. He was so sweet, good-looking, kind and
bright. I remember thinking he is going to be a wonderful man.
Ben was not a wonderful dancer. He was a little stiff and often
not on the beat. (We girls used to tap out the rhythm on his shoulder.)
Despite this Ben was always being asked to dance by all of us, because
it was fun to dance with him. Ben was always near the top of our list
of boys to invite to our dances, because he was so much fun and we knew
we could talk him into coming. We always fought over who got to call
and invite Ben.
Ben and Paul both had the same last name. When they both
figured that out, the first thing both of them said was "just like the
Eder river in Germany!" Later, Paul challenged Ben to a cereal eating
contest at breakfastÖof course Ben won. Paul quit eating after only
Ben always tried to make sure we played Egyptian Rat Screw
before our matches. It was his strategy to get all of us tensed up so
we would buzz in faster to answer questions.
Any geography question they asked our team was Ben's question.
I was amazed how much Ben knew about placed I'd never heard of.
The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago has a giant
periodic table on the walls of one of its spiral staircases. Ben and
Brent had just read in the newspaper that a new element had been
created, so they went running over to see if it was on the stairs. Ben
couldn't find the new element, so he cornered some museum employee and
asked if they knew their table was incomplete.
Ben became a Pizza Pal rather than a visitor by engaging each of
us no matter our age. He came in, flopped down in a chair and talked
and listened with focused interest, warmth and curiosity. Ben made an
emotional contact with each of us - he talked science with those who
liked that, played cards and Frisbee with all comers, joked kindly with
the younger ones and treated Cedar as a young man rather than as a
useless kid-brother. What sealed his belonging was that he sometimes
came when he knew the girls weren't there - because he was one of us.
Ö.weíre all at a baseball game. After a while, Ben and Brent
got bored and started playing Frisbee across some empty seats.
Eventually one of them threw it too far and the Frisbee floated out over
the edge of our balcony. Ben was really attached to his Frisbee because
of all the other trips it had been on, so he and Brent went down to find
it. Unfortunately, the Frisbee had hit some huge guy in the head, and
he made Ben pay him $5 to get it back! Ben was outraged, but of course
he paid up.
Ben and Hannah left the 1998 August party early to go to Reed
the next day. There was a sweetness and a savoring of the last days in
that phase of their lives that was beautiful to watch. Lauren,
Hannah shared a tent and walked around hugging and loving each other.
They played Frisbee, all ages soft ball, Egyptian Rat Screw, and
played in the Alsea River. At night I remember Ben watching Hannah play
the stand-up bass with fascination. He said he didn't really know much
about the music but that he was really proud that she could play it.
I drove them back to Newport so they could pack and leave for
Reed. As we drove away from the campground Ben said, "I feel like I'm
leaving something really important back there."ÖI didn't know if he
meant Lauren or the community. We began to talk about Homer's Oddessy.
We talked about their new life at Reed as the beginning of their Oddessy
and that they would explore and have their adventures and grow up and
then come back to their beginnings.
I have remembered this conversation as I have heard about osme
of the madcap escapades of Ben's more recent years. I believe he was on
Jan. 9, 2002
Dear Bob, Michelle, and Dylan,
I am thinking of you and Ben every day.
There are so many things that I admire about Ben and so many reasons
that I am glad I got to know him.
I admire his brilliance, his openhearted interest in people and the
world, and his curiosity. I admire that he followed his dreams. I
admire the enthusiasm and hard work that he brought to the Habitat For
Humanity when we were on the board of directors together.
Most of all, I admire his kindness and sensitivity. Has Hannah ever
told you about a time when Brent was visiting them at Reed, and the
three of them were talking about the movie, Zorro? Brent commented that
he thought that one of the actresses was the most beautiful woman he had
ever seen. Ben was horrified and said, "Brent, how can you say that in
front of Hannah?" Many times, Hannah and I have reminded each other of
that comment and have smiled at that little vignette which says so much
Ben was the kind of person I would like to be and the kind of child I
would like to raise.
I admire you, Bob and Michelle, for raising him to be the fine young
man he turned out to be. You did a great job.
Bob, Michelle, and Dylan,
Writing this letter, I am struck by the thought that really I
should be writing to thank all of you for the privilege of having Ben as
part of my life -- first here in Newport and then at Reed.
I have many funny memories of Ben: chasing him up the backstop
at a Reed softball game, hearing his sheepish apologies after he missed
another one of our calculus tutoring sessions. During our first two
years of college together, I remember Ben as a blur of motion and
excitement. He would come over to my dorm room, bringing Peter and
Ethan, to raid my Cheerios box and complain about the huge guys who
tackled him during Rugby. He filled his room with maps and stole some
chairs from a lounge somewhere to make a couch for his room.
What made Ben really special was the intense concern he had for
the people he loved. I remember Ben's funny expression when I came to
see him after he'd burned his lip. He looked so upset that I thought he
must be in pain. When I asked what was wrong though, Ben burst out
"What am I going to tell my Mom?!" I think he was as worried about your
feelings Michelle as about his lip!
I felt, and still feel, lucky to have been one of Ben's friends.
His caring and concern were a huge comfort as I left Newport and headed
off to Reed. Bringing Ben, I knew I was bringing one of the best parts
of home along with me.
Ben always looked out for me. He gave me his warning and
opinion whenever he thought I wasn't making the right choices. Ben even
tried to monitor my choice of boyfriends because he didn't approve of
who I'd been dating. He told me that in the future I had to consult him
before dating anyone new.
Another side of Ben that I remember was his pride to be able to
call himself a fisherma
n. Once, I was teasing Ben about his beard which
had gotten very scraggly over winter break. Ben told me quite seriously
that he couldn't go on the boat clean-shavenÖwhat would the other
fishermen think? Ben looked forward to going home and working on the
boat. He told me that after a semester at Reed when he started to feel
that all the academic work was artificial and meaningless, he could come
home and fish. Ben said working on the boat seemed very real and
important in a way that college couldn't.
Ben was a wonderful friend. I feel lucky to have known him.
Thank you for sharing him with me.