Friday, July 31, 2009

Because I knew you: Remembering Matt Boles

They buried Matt Boles today.

Matt was 18, a year older than Katherine, a year younger than Andrew, and someone whom the family has known for at least 10 years.

Even as an 8- or 9-year-old, this boy was “The Matt Boles.”

The connection comes through Scouting. Back in those days, I was a Scoutmaster, and I got drafted to join the staff of a series of Cub Scout weekend camps. Those are fun, and that’s where I met the Boles family, even before moving to Mt. Pleasant.

Val Boles, Matt’s mother, also was a staffer.For the next five years or so, I’d run the shooting range and Val would run the archery range about five times a summer at Camp Rotary and Paul Bunyan Scout Reservation. Our kids were part of what was called “Half Staff.”

The Half Staff did a lot of things – including being part of the Saturday night lakeshore campfires. These were amazing events, and a big reason was the way this charismatic kid could dominate the scene.

It seemed inborn. He had no fear of performance, and he was willing to do the most audacious things. Matt looked good in a dress – and that was guaranteed to bring down the house.

He loved it.

Matt didn’t appear to be afraid of anything. Fear usually is what holds people back, but that wasn’t part of his makeup. The stories at his wake Thursday night reminded me a lot of the way Tom Wolfe described test pilots in “The Right Stuff,” but applied to the arts and business.

I’ve been to larger funeral gatherings for young people, but only for soldiers and Marines killed in action. Many of the people who turn out for those events are there to honor their country more than honor the decedent. These people turned out for Matt Thursday night and Friday.

All three big rooms at Clark Funeral Chapel in Mt. Pleasant were filled to capacity. The Clarks ran out of chairs, and people sat on the floor. Friends that Matt had known at Mt. Pleasant High School, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp and through Scouting told stories.

Matt could be arrogant, but it always was softened with humor. He could be persistent, but it was always gentle. Mostly, he was audacious and didn’t let himself get in his way.

The story was told about how he put together a group of kids who, late one night, knocked on a favorite teacher’s door unannounced and declared they would be camping in her back yard. She let them. Matt cooked pancakes in the morning.

Another story came out about how Matt had planned for weeks to surprise and “kidnap” a friend on her 17th birthday. He had it planned down to the last detail – except for the state trooper who wanted to know why he was carrying off a blindfolded teenage girl.

Matt often would call a girl and say “I’ll be there in 10 minutes. You have to come with me. Look cute.” Somehow, the girls said yes and their dads gave their blessing, at least most of the time.

People who are effective at getting things done often bend the rules, and Matt sometimes twisted them into knots. But he did it with such charm and effectiveness that few people were offended.

He was effective – that’s how he helped keep Mt. Pleasant High’s 2009 graduation in Rose Arena, despite a lack of school funding. That’s how he was named to the staff at the Scouts’ National Youth Leadership Training program. That’s how he convinced Mt. Pleasant High to present “Cannibal, the Musical” – “All Singing! All Dancing! All Flesh Eating!”

His goal had been to head to law school. After all, if you’re going to bend the rules, you need to know the rules.

But something freaky, bad and still unexplained stopped him in the middle of Hall’s Lake last weekend. He was following the rules – a boat was trailing him as he swam, the people got him out of the water when he got into trouble and got help fast.

It wasn’t enough.

So many people’s lives really start when they head to college, shed their childish fears, claim their dreams and remake themselves. Matt’s had already begun.

The tears flowed when the song “For Good” from “Wicked” was played:

“So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

"Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
Because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good."

“I’m sure Matt’s looking down at us,” one speaker said, “and laughing. Ha-ha! Made you cry!”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Katherine, the Drummer and Tahquamenon

On our way to Paradise, we stopped at Tahquamenon Falls. After a stop at the Upper Falls - always very impressive - we headed to the Lower Falls. Katherine and the Drummer kind of drifted ahead of the rest of us.

They couldn't stay out of the river.

The ledge above the falls is a perfect spot.

The sound of the water ...

Your friend nearby ...

... just to be together in a beautiful place.

Together ....
Even if they were with HER PARENTS!!!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A U.P. Fourth

One thing that mid-Michigan doesn't have that da Eastern U.P. does is the truly off-the-wall Fourth of July parade. Every parade has the fire trucks - but how often do the volunteer firefighters get to douse the crowd as they go by?

These guys gets serious about it, ya know, eh?

Ya gotta be ready if you're gonna be standing along Newberry Avenue in Newberry.

At least these guys didn't take part in da tradition. Business is good, eh?

It wasn't just the firefighters and the honey dumpers. Nope, the Newberry High School Marching (Riding on a trailer?) band played at both the Newberry and Curtis parades.

There was a definite sense that it was the time to get dressed up and let loose, eh? After all, you let the Franklin stove finally go out on the Fourth of July, so let's celebrate!

It won't hurt us to go to Curtis! Young families make the scene!

Still can't figure out if the car's done in rust or camo. Doesn't matter - same effect, eh? Add the snowplow and the roadkill, and you get a true expression of da culture youse don't get nowhere else, eh?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Another day in Paradise

After Kissy Missy and I went to Hell, we just simply had to go to Paradise.

Paradise is on the shores of Whitefish Bay, part of Lake Superior, in the eastern Upper Peninsula. Whitefish Township School is located there, as are Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal and Methodist churches. In the winter, Paradise regularly gets more than 20 feet of snow, so it truly is a paradise for snowmobilers. Robert, Katherine, the Drummer, Kissy Missy and I noted something truly interesting: There are biker bars in both Hell and Paradise.
In Paradise, the biker bar is the Yukon. The snow caved in the roof of this log cabin a few years back, but a new roof has been raised above the log walls. There's a grate on the floor where snowmobilers can knock the snow off their boots. Behind the bar, there are Christmas lights - made of illuminated shotgun shells. The men's room contains graffiti dating back to at least 1977. There are boards missing from the floor of the hallway leading to the lady's room.
And when NASCAR came on the tube, every TV in the place was tuned to it.

We went to Paradise on the Fourth of July, and the community put on a completely awesome fireworks show. It lasted about a half-hour, launched from a pair of barges out in the bay. It was one of the best shows that I've seen in a long time, as you can see in the composite image.
But it got chilly next to the big lake - right after sunset, we could see our breath.
Makes sense that Paradise would be a lot cooler than Hell.