Sixteen years ago when I stepped out of the realtor’s car to look at the house we eventually purchased in Paradise, Utah, the man across the street was cursing like a sailor, or in this case as a man they say was traumatized in WW2 or who had Tourettes, one or the other. He had his head under the hood of an old car. Later as we drove by, I noticed that the car had a bumper sticker, “ Just another crappy day in Paradise.” The real word wasn’t crappy, but I’ve substituted it for my more sensitive readers.
Since that day, we’ve had a few crappy days, days where tragedies occur or you hear about someone diagnosed with cancer or where someone’s world is rocked with divorce, or scandal. Few weeks though have been overall as crappy as this last week. It started out with the suicide of a middle-aged man who grew up in Paradise. His family still lives here and I taught two of his girls in Church. The day after I read his obituary, I heard about Wes a sixty-nine year old modern day rainmaker and legendary gun-wielding character. I met Wes the first summer I lived here. I left my truck in neutral in front of our tiny post office. The ground seemed as flat as an ice sheet, but never the less it rolled into the parked car of the post mistress. Yes it did damage her car somewhat, and our bumpers were hooked together.
While I stewed about getting them apart another pickup truck came up and out stepped a man who looked like he belonged in a Western movie. He was as skinny as a rail, had long gray hair and sported a beard. His cowboy hat was tattered and he wore scuffed boots, that later I found out held his knife. It seemed like he got out some tools or maybe he pulled my truck off with a wench, I don’t remember for sure, it was sixteen years ago, but what I did notice was the gun strapped to his side. I saw a lot of that gun over the years because it was always there, the holster strap open—just in case. Wes was an imposing man, but a good man. He was the water master and rainmaker both, and that's why he welded onto his truck a large H20. He came to symbolize our community. He spent sixteen years in the Marshall Islands where he married and had children, before returning to his hometown. His house always had extra children—few of us knew who were his and who weren’t—as both he and his wife welcomed relatives who wanted to live here. When I received word that Wes was killed in a rollover accident near Grouse Creek where we had lived, and where my novels are set I felt heart sick and knew how it happened. Driving those gravel, hilly roads is tricky and deceiving, and rollovers are all too common. His son in law had to walk eight miles to get help. Wes seeded the clouds to bring rain to the valley and on the day he was buried—it rained buckets—a fitting tribute.
A day of two after Wes was killed, Sharill, a seventy-four year old rancher slipped away during the night. He wasn’t sick, he wasn’t even that old by today’s standards and could easily have lasted another twenty years. He was the last of his breed. His house was one of the first you come to, a gateway to our community and a fitting gateway, flanked on one side with barns and cows and on the other side with a wooded field, a favorite place for deer, hawks, and hoot owls. Sharill owned a good deal of land in the mountains surrounding our beautiful community. He ran cattle here and there and hired workers to help him out. Seeing Sharrill driving around in his big blue flat-bed truck to check on his herd was a common sight on my daily walks. He always lifted his hand in a wave, or stopped and rolled down his window for a chat. He and his wife were the perfect grandparents to their brood, many who live here. There house was decorated for each holiday and greeting signs lined the streets to welcome their loved ones home from missions or elsewhere. He fought to preserve his land from encroaching development.
Then on the day after they buried our rainmaker, I got another one of those phone calls that began with, “Did you hear?. . . “ Well Betty, another long time resident, who spent most of her life compiling and writing histories and a few years back published a detailed and well-written history of Paradise. She had an aneurysm and is on life-support. Word is they are taking her off today.
I wonder if Heaven was tired of the run of the mill regular folk that were entering through the Pearly Gates and needed some of our extraordinary folks, those who defined our community. One chose to go before his time, but the others were either jolted in the next life or slipped away from one Paradise to the next. All I know is this Paradise won’t be the same without them.