There’s a time capsule feature in our newspaper that reports what happened on this day, ten/twenty five and fifty years ago. I used to only recognize the decade mark, but now it’s gotten that I remember all the quarter century stuff and the reality is that pretty soon the half century events are going to be fresh in my mind as well.
The entry for this date hit me like a sledge hammer in the gut. Under the Ten Years Ago heading it said:
"Sebringville native Buddy Wellwood, one of the most respected harness horsemen in Canada, died at the age of 45 years."
I don’t know why I had such a strong reaction. The fact that my brother died ten years ago today certainly has been on my mind a lot. Milestones do that. I have gone through the past couple weeks thinking ‘It was ten years ago that I last was with him, ten years since I last heard his voice, ten years since I last saw that grin'. There was a melancholy attached to those thoughts though, not the unexpected stab of pain that seeing it in the paper brought. It was like a knife ripping open a carefully controlled floodgate of emotion, making the grief as fresh and intense as it was ten years ago.
I carry the reality of the loss of my beloved brother quietly in my heart every day. He’s seldom far from my thoughts, and when the remembrances pop into my head it is with fondness and often a smile; with regret of course, but also acceptance because that is simply the way it is. I'm used to our family thinking and talking about it – we do it all the time. It must have been seeing it in print that made it too real again and caused the knot in my heart.
I wrote of my sweet brother in a post on 04/14/09 entitled ‘My Buddy’ when I found myself with a little face that reminded me of him. I shared a few remembrances of him then. There’s another story though that very few people know about. It’s was Bud’s last gift to me, one that I treasure and cherish. One that proves to me that there is more to life and death than we can possibly understand. It really was a gift of Hope. Perhaps now, ten years later, it’s time to share the story.
It was June 5th, 2000: Bud was turning 45 on June 12th. Myself and a dear high school friend of mine, whom Bud had a life long crush on since he was twelve years old, decided that we would have a little birthday party with the three of us. We had a wonderful evening of reminiscing about the good ol’ days; laughing about the crazy stuff that we had done as kids and digging up all kinds of silliness that we hadn’t thought about for years.
At one point, Bud said to me: “Do you remember when I backed into your car?” “Oh yeah… I DO remember that!” I assured him. I was 18 years old and had just gotten my first car. He was 16 years old and had just gotten his license. He backed my parent’s big old boat of a Ford right into the side of my shiny new Maverick. He said: “Do you remember the note I left you?” “No, I don’t remember a note.” I replied. He grinned: “I said: “Don’t worry, I’m alright. “Well,” I laughed, “I don’t remember that but it certainly sounds like something you would do.”
After a wonderfully memorable evening, as we were leaving, I said to him: “I’ve gone to a lot of trouble for your birthday, the least you can do is call me on mine.” The image of him sitting on the couch with us standing at the door – the look on his face and his very voice is frozen in my head forever. He said, all too seriously: “I’ll be dead by your birthday.” My friend expressed her shock that he would say something like that. I just responded: “Yeah right… that’s six weeks - you’re telling me that you’re going to check out by then. Call me!”
Nineteen days later he was gone. No lingering, no goodbyes – just walked into his house a little past , took his watch off and dropped over dead.
So ten years ago tonight, I was looking for photos for a memory board for the funeral home. I was specifically in search of an article from when he was 18 years old and was named ‘Rookie of the Year’. We had so many laughs about that. It’s like the Oscars of horse racing: a major event at the Royal York in Toronto where they call the winners up to present them with an award. In front of hundreds of people, they gave it to him, shook his hand and asked if he’d like to say something. He said ‘No thanks.’ and walked off the stage. We got a lot of mileage with that over the years.
I looked in every conceivable spot for that article. The only place left was left was up in the attic. I knew there was no possibility of it being there, but I was walking in circles anyway and I had no where else to look. Before I even got started, the phone rang and I had to go downstairs and make arrangements for his burial plot.
After that, I didn’t have the heart or the energy to continue my quest and went back upstairs to just turn off the light. I was exhausted. I did not have an ounce of energy or desire left. So when I saw the piece of paper laying in the middle of the steps on my way back down, my first response was to leave it lie. A voice, for lack of any other description, kept urging me – insisting actually, that I PICK IT UP. I specifically recall arguing with myself that I was too tired, I could NOT stoop down and pick it up. Besides, I didn’t care. PICK IT UP something insisted.
So I did. It was a lined piece of paper, the kind with the holes for a three ringed binder. It was folded in half with a piece of masking tape still stuck to the top. I opened it and saw a note to me in Bud’s handwriting. THE note. It said: “I ran into your car. Don’t worry. I’m all right. See you soon … Buddy Wellwood.”
There is no logical explanation for that note. When he wrote it 28 years earlier, I had been living at home. I moved away to college, I got married and had three major moves. I never once came across it. In fact, up to just days before I didn’t even recall that it had ever existed. It was Bud who brought it up, and he who remembered the exact words that he had written almost three decades before: “Don’t worry. I’m all right.” Spelling was never one of his strong suits.
The note was definitely not there the first time I went up the stairs. They are bare wooden steps so it’s impossible to miss something on them. I chuckled that Bud knew that he had to be blatantly obvious for me to get the message. A sense of peace came over me, and gratitude. He knew how much I loved and cared about him, and worried about him. He knew how devastated that I would be and somehow orchestrated it all so that I would know that he was indeed ‘all right’.
As we headed to the funeral home, I folded the note in quarters and put it in my pocket. Approaching him there for the first time was somehow not as difficult as it could have been. I had a message back for him. "Thank you." I whispered to my dear brother at rest "Just, thank you."