Sunday, July 26, 2009

To a Great Man

Robert “Buck” Edmondson IV

1927 - 2005

(reposted from winter 2005)

Last month, just four months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my father-in-law passed away at his home with his family around him. He was 78. I knew Buck for 15 years as a farmer, husband, father and shrewd, conservative investor. I learned a lot from him over those years and will miss him greatly.

Buck grew up in Riverside, California during The Depression when the value of a dollar was cemented into his generation in ways today’s children in America cannot possibly relate. For him, you respected a hard days work and earned everything you had and therefore it meant more to you. You fixed what was broken and reused everything. You didn’t throw things out as is the common practice in today’s society where this year’s products are obsoleted in 12 months or less. His 1940’s Ford Tractor still runs and is occasionally used to free a modern truck or two from the mud or snow.

He grew up in a time where you respected your elders, the government and most importantly, if you grew up in the agricultural belt of Orange County at the time, the land and all it bore. Buck was a thin athletic man who lied to joined the Navy at the age of 16, like so many others of his generation, because the world was calling and World War II was “the good fight.” After losing more friends than could be counted and seeing his brother come home with a Purple Heart, Buck returned from the war and again respected the land, but through eyes that had seen atrocities thrust upon them that were far removed from the care he and his family had shown to the orange trees around them at home.

Those orange trees grounded Buck. His greatest peace was achieved walking through the rows upon rows of Valencias he and his brother inherited and climbing and repairing wind machines that seemed constantly in need of care. The wind machines seemed to need so much of his time we often wondered if it was the trees or the wind machines, that kept them from freezing in winter, that needed him most. Buck also spent countless hours in winter tending to a series of old-world smudge pots that delivered heat to the trees and fighting snails and “political snakes” over precious water rights. To say Buck had a green thumb was far shy of an understatement. If it came from the soil and needed water, Buck could make it grow.

Shortly after I met him, he and his wife Bobbie moved from Riverside to escape the encroaching LA smog and settled in the small Gold Rush town of West Point, California. About an hour outside of Sacramento, West Point was a long drive from Buck’s orange groves and he diligently made the over 9 hour drive to tend his trees. It was only after he had planted every tree the Bureau of Land Management could spare that West Point began to feel like home for him. The BLM, fighting the ever-ending battle to keep California green, supplied anyone who wanted them with saplings. Buck’s son Bob told me that the BLM only expects a 10-20 percent survival rate for the saplings it distributes -- over 90 percent of Buck’s are still growing on his 10 acre ranch.

I think there were only three other things Buck really loved in this world -- bowling, stocks and most importantly, his family. Sure, he grumbled and rolled his eyes at the menagerie of dogs, horses and cats, and the constant stream of knickknacks, family squabbles and silly whims nearly every family experiences, but he cherished his wife Bobbie who was the only thing in this world that meant more to him than his trees. He was her wall of strength and reason. She showed Buck that love, spontaneity and frivolity were the rewards of a good life and not to take them for granted. Sure he would grumble about going as Raggedy Ann and Andy at an annual Halloween party, but then be the host with the most until the last guest had left, ensuring everyone had a good time.

Buck was good at just about everything, especially sports. One time my wife and I took 6 weeks of golf lessons, then went with Buck and Bobbie up to the links near West Point and watched him school us both with dead on straight shots, perfect putts and a humbleness that simply should not be allowed in someone who hadn’t picked up a club in over twenty years. Nearly everyone in West Point can attest to Buck’s bowling skills. You didn’t want to play against him and you definitely didn’t want to get ahead of him with three frames remaining.

While he probably would never have said he lived a charmed life, from most people’s vantage point, he had it all - happy, committed marriage; loving children; a great career that had allowed him a comfortable retirement; the looks, confidence and charisma that turned every head (yep, even women half his age looked), and his health. I never saw a day go by that Buck wasn’t working and in his seventies he took on tasks most men in their forties couldn’t finish. Yet cancer got him anyway.

Cancer got my mother too. She was in her fifties and had been a professional dancer and dance teacher her entire life. A picture of health and I miss her terribly. My wife never got to meet her and for that I am very sad as I think they would have been the best of friends.

You see cancer doesn’t care if you are in peak physical condition. It doesn’t care if you have a perfect diet. No supplements, herbal remedies or fad diets or exercise programs can keep it away. Yes, taking care of yourself can help lessen your risk of getting it, but genetics you can’t control. And if it wants you, it’s going to come calling. Thankfully a lot of us will reap the rewards of the incredible medical and genetic breakthroughs that are being developed and will be among the cancer survivors. But many will not. And those like me and my wife’s family outnumber both groups. We’re their survivors and we have a great responsibility. It is our job to keep fighting this disease and use the memories of our loved ones to drive us on in this fight. Some of us fight with our dollars, others with our time and others as our profession. I run and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a proud member of their Team in Training endurance athletic program that funds cancer research, and patient care and education. However you choose to fight, remember that we fight not for those the disease has taken but to prevent others from succumbing. And so I thank all of you who contribute in whatever way you can.

We miss you Buck.

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