22 July 2000
I don't remember the day I met Howard Edler. Perhaps it was the day he and Diane came over to my dorm room at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It was May of 1997. Steve and I had gotten engaged in March and were planning to move to an apartment in Arvada. I had no idea how many car trips I was going to have to make from my dorm to the apartment, and I didn't even have a car. Diane and Howard had just moved back from Michigan and had a U-Haul at their disposal for another day. An hour before I had to leave for work, Steve showed up with Diane, Howard, and the U-Haul. Back then I had a really heavy computer -- the case was thick metal and it had a 20-pound hard drive that my father insisted would be the only thing to survive a nuclear holocaust. I could barely lift it. I remember being so impressed that Howard could lift that computer and its monitor together. He carried them out the door like it was nothing. What impressed me even more than his strength was that there were two almost complete strangers in my dorm room, helping me move, and willing to unload my stuff with my husband-to-be at our new apartment because I had to be at work.
As time went on, it became obvious that this kindness from my husband's family was not an isolated incident. Meeting the mob of Kientzes was overwhelming for me. Yes, I am from a large family too, but I'm the oldest and definitely shy. I guess it was natural that Howard was my lifeline in these first Kientz family gatherings. He always had a smile for me and would make small jokes and laugh at them until he got me laughing too. Howard could find the humor in just about anything, but it wasn't just his humor that got me through those first awkward meetings. Howard didn't care about politics or religion -- Howard was interested in me, the person in front of him.
In fact, I think Howard and I discussed religion only once, since he was the only person I knew at the time that had married into the Kientz family as openly non-Catholic. We were both struck by the absurdity of being counseled on married life by a Catholic priest, someone who had never been married and was forbidden to do so. We finally came to the conclusion that God doesn't care what religion you are, just that you're a good person and do the right thing whenever you can. I realize now that those were the same criteria Howard used to judge a person.
I must confess that Howard had a musical influence as well. Steve and I were driving back from a large Kientz gathering late one night when the funniest song came on the radio. It was called "Wolf Creek Pass" and told the story of two truckers with a flatbed full of chickens driving over the pass. I happened to mention it to Howard the next time we were swapping redneck jokes, and he told us it was by C.W. McCall. Well, we purchased the CD that very weekend and have listened to it on every road trip since. It's good stuff!
I think it was Christmas of 1997 when I first joined the Kientz gift-exchange gathering. I didn't enter because I wasn't married to Steve yet and I really felt like I didn't belong at this family gathering. Steve dragged me there with the admonition that I would be family soon enough and I'd better get used to it. I was surprised that there were gifts for me -- one from Steve's parents and another from the Edlers. I opened the gift from the Edlers and found a really neat pocket tool. Diane tapped me on the arm and said Howard had picked it out himself, and did I like it? It was the only thing I got for Christmas that year that I remember because it was the only thing I would have picked for myself. In a scant 8 months of knowing me and seeing each other only at large family gatherings, Howard knew enough about me to know I loved tools.
Diane and Howard invited us over to their home in Aurora to celebrate New Year's Eve 1997 with them. I remember the potato cheese concoction – I think it was some kind of soup. I remember Steve and Howard heading out to the only place open to buy a VCR so we could watch movies. I remember Howard tapping the keg of beer over the kitchen sink and the beer just flying everywhere. Diane was hysterical, but Howard couldn't stop laughing. Steve got totally drenched and ended up changing into one of Howard's shirts.
Steve and I asked Howard to be the videographer at our wedding in August of 1998. We knew if anyone could get people to open up in front of a video camera, it was Howard. My parents had given Steve and me a really nice camcorder a few weeks prior as a wedding gift. We'd played with it a bit and then passed it on to Howard to try out before our big day. Howard loaded a tape that morning and proceeded to take over an hour of footage during our wedding celebration. When we tried to view the tape late that afternoon, we discovered there was a glitch with the camcorder that caused it to not record correctly. It was the strangest thing I've ever seen, and to this day we have been unable to reproduce the glitch. We brought it to a few video shops and they all said they'd never seen anything like it either. Howard felt just awful about it, but Steve and I decided that in the grand scheme of things, it really wasn't important. We have beautiful pictures and even better memories of that day. Personally, I'm inclined to think that the presence of the Creator at our wedding celebration was so strong that it interfered with the camcorder. God must've been standing right next to Howard.
By the time Austin James Edler was born in February of 1999 I had decided to make the best of this Kientz family thing, and I was going to start by making a baby gift. I found a crochet pattern for booties and a hat and went for it. The hat was especially cute -- it was white and variegated shades of blue with earflaps and a tie under the chin. When Howard first asked me to make a matching one for him, I thought he was joking. When he offered to pay me for it, I knew he was serious. I told him I didn't want his money and I hadn't decided what to do with the leftover yarn anyway. I spent most of the following week crocheting that hat, delighted that somebody liked something I had made enough to want one. The picture of him and Austin in their matching hats is by far my favorite picture of Howard.
We dug out the camcorder again for Austin's baptism. God must've been standing next to Howard again because I was a good twenty feet away and the camcorder worked just fine. When we got back to their house, we pulled out a bunch of wires with the intention of dubbing the VHS-C tape onto a regular VHS tape right then. Our first challenge was keeping Austin out of the stereo cabinet because as soon as we opened the doors, he made a beeline for the pretty lights and big knobs. Our second challenge was finding a VHS tape worthy of such a recording. Our third was getting that tangle of wires figured out so we could copy to the VCR they had bought that New Year's Eve. Well, we failed on those last two points but the tangle of wires from the camcorder to the TV was manageable enough for everyone to at least see the video I'd taken. We laughed at ourselves the entire time -- two people and a baby tangled up in the wires and totally clueless.
I think the most important thing I'll always remember about Howard was the way he played with Austin. He was always interacting with him, flinging him up into the air, making faces, getting him to laugh. I hope Steve is that kind of father someday.
I started to write about how I reacted then I got the news that Howard had died, my week in San Francisco, etc., and decided that I'd rather hang onto these memories than talk about pain. I've already been through this hell in my journal and I don't want to do it again right now. Howard was such a wonderful person, and as trite as it may sound, he'd want us to be happy. If he were here right now, he'd be swapping jokes with me, trying to get me to smile. That's the way I want to remember him.
Yesterday was the first day that I drove to work feeling like everything in the world was right. I sat down at my desk and read my first e-mail, an office memo advising us that two of our co-workers had just gotten the news that their father was killed in a plane crash and they are going to be out of the office for the rest of the month. The world wasn't right after all.
I was digging in my bible a few weeks ago when I came across the following passage in the preface: "Why does God allow suffering? There are glimpses of loving purpose even in the ills and misfortunes of life. Gravity, which causes a disabled plane to crash, is necessary to hold us on our planet and to keep the elements of the universe in balance." I just have to trust that God knows what He's doing, because the Master Plan is clearly beyond my comprehension.
Diane, I'm sorry I didn't have this ready for you when you asked me that Saturday. I'm sorry I didn't have this ready for you when you showed us the scrapbook you'd put together when we stopped by a few weeks later. These memories are important and I wanted to make sure I had them thought out before committing them to paper. I woke up this morning knowing that everything in the world will never be all sunshine and rainbows, but I can do my part to get it as close as we can. The moments that we spend with loved ones are so precious, and time with Howard seems even more so because of what an extraordinary person he was. I am only thankful for the moments I was given.