Archive for the ‘Yesterday’s Memories’ Category

This is the speech I gave at this year’s Denison High School Band Banquet, at which I presented the seventh annual Super Steve Award. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this award was created in 2011 to honor my late son Stephen, a DHS band member who died in an accident in June 2010 just a few weeks before his 16th birthday.

Good Evening.

Each year, I am honored to be invited to come before this group to present the Super Steve Award. I’d like to thank the band directors, the boosters, the parents, and especially you students for taking the time to remember and honor my son in this way. And, for as long as I have a breath in me, I will always be more than happy to come here and make this presentation.

Seven years. It’s hard to imagine almost seven years have passed since the accident that took Steve’s life. It seems like only yesterday for me, and for anyone else who knew him. Do you remember where you were seven years ago? Most of the Freshmen here were just finishing up second grade…imagine that! You Seniors sitting in front of me didn’t start playing in Band for another year. That seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? And now you’re ready to move on to the next phase in your lives, hopefully filled with new experiences and exciting adventures. I certainly wish you all the best as you move forward in the world. But, be sure to remember where you came from and those you spent time with in class; you might be as surprised as I was to learn how much they really thought about you but were too shy or too cool to say anything back in school.

I realized the other day that very few of us in this room actually knew Stephen. I once said that eventually the day would come when no one here will have ever known him, and that it was the responsibility of those of us who did to tell those who follow a little bit about him. Steve’s friends and classmates still talk about him and the influence he had on their lives; I know this because many of them stay in touch with me through Facebook. That makes me very glad, knowing the memories will stay alive and the stories will keep passing down for a long time to come. Perhaps someday they may be the ones standing here, telling those that come along after all of us are gone what he was like, and why this award is so different from most of the other ones that are handed out this evening.

There have been many superlatives used to describe Steve and his personality. He’s been called a leader, a hard worker, a true warrior, a dedicated trumpet player, and an ideal student, among others. My favorites are “Mr. Integrity” and, of course, “Super Steve.” His accomplishments in academics were well recognized, having won numerous awards going all the way back to elementary school. He was second in his class, and well on his way to becoming valedictorian. He always strived to do his best no matter what he did, including Band; there were countless hours of practice he put in to make himself better.

But, to me the superlatives that mean the most are inscribed on his gravestone – Son, Brother, and Friend. Stephen was a Son whose talents made Chris and me as proud as any parents could ever be. He was a Brother who fought like cats and dogs with his siblings but fought harder when someone crossed them. And, he was a Friend who never hesitated to help others in need.

The criteria used in selecting the individual to receive this award are also superlatives in a sense; they are all qualities that were a part of Stephen’s character, the essence of the “everyday Steve” his classmates and teachers knew and admired, and still talk about to this day.

First is Pride for Band. This speaks for itself. Steve was very proud of being a member of the Touch of Gold, and when he was selected as a section leader he took the job to heart, working hard to learn how to be one of the best. Had he lived, I’m sure he would have been.

Next is Integrity. He stood by what he said, he followed the rules, and both celebrated his successes and owned up to his mistakes. I’d say the title of “Mr. Integrity” was well earned.

Leadership comes next. Steve was a natural leader in many respects, but most importantly he wouldn’t ask anyone to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself.

And finally, Selflessness. He gave of himself – his time and his talents – with no expectation of anything in return.

That sounds like a lot to live up to, doesn’t it? I suppose it is. Steve took it all in stride, and I’m sure if you ask any of the previous recipients of this award that question they might say the same thing. That’s what makes them “super”.

And with that, it is my honor and pleasure to present this year’s Super Steve Award to Maxwell Perez.

(Some background for new readers of my blog: I lost a son, Stephen (Steve), in a drowning accident on June 15, 2010; it was a few weeks before his 16th birthday. He was a member of his high school marching band, and was well regarded and respected for his intelligence, integrity, and just being an all-around “good guy”. The band members created an award during the next school year in his memory called the “Super Steve Award”, and it has been my honor to be asked to present it each year during their end-of-year awards banquet. I write a speech each year as part of the award presentation; this is the speech I gave tonight when I presented this year’s award.)

Good evening. I usually try to start my presentation with some sort of lighthearted lines before I get more serious, but I also figured those of you who’ve heard me up here before would probably appreciate it if I could give a shorter speech. Well, try as I might, I simply couldn’t make it any shorter this time, so I guess we’re just going to have to tough it out together.

I’d like to take a moment to thank the band directors, especially Mr. Onspaugh, for continuing to invite me to present the Super Steve Award each year. I consider it a great honor to do so, and I don’t take this task lightly, just as I know the task of selecting the recipient of this award is not taken lightly.

2016 marks the sixth year this award has been given. We’ve come a long way since a very dark day in June of 2010. The class of 2010 had just graduated, Stephen had just finished his sophomore year, and if my calculations are correct you Seniors had just wrapped up your first year playing in the B. Mac band. Do you remember those days? I know your parents do…and probably the band directors as well.

Now here we are, almost six years after the accident that claimed Stephen’s life, and the class of 2016 is graduating. That’s significant in at least two ways as I see it:

First, it means all of you Seniors are finishing high school and moving on to the next part of your lives, whether that’s college, military service, trade school, straight into the workforce, or someplace else that I haven’t thought of. This is no small accomplishment, and I congratulate all of you on reaching this point. While it may seem like the last six years have been a long time for you, it feels like yesterday to me. Let me give you one piece of advice: the time passes faster as you get older – so don’t blink!

2016 is also the year that many of the members of the DHS class of 2012, the class Steve was in, are graduating from college. I’m very fortunate to be friends on Facebook with a good number of his classmates, and I’ve been watching over the years as they have been posting notes about their highs and lows as they made their way through college, or wherever their lives have taken them. Now, of course, I see photos of many of them wearing their caps and gowns as they prepare to cross the stage to get their degrees. I’d like to think some of them will take a moment to remember the friend they lost way too soon, and when they do I hope it’s with a good feeling from knowing he’s looking down and smiling from above.

Steve’s dream was to attend Harvard University, and if the circumstances were different I might very well have been traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts this coming week for their commencement. It might seem far-fetched, or even impossible, to imagine someone from a smaller town like Denison ever getting into a school like Harvard, but if you had ever been around my son you’d also know he was determined enough to make it happen. And that, in a sense, is what the Super Steve Award is all about.

You students were given a set of criteria to keep in mind when choosing the person who will receive this award. I didn’t come up with them, but in looking at them I can tell you they include values he lived by every day, and no one was harder on him about them than he was.

So let’s talk about those for a minute.

The first is Pride for Band. How many of you have seen the display about Stephen in the trophy cases outside the band hall? If you haven’t, I invite you to take a few minutes next week and look at it. What you’ll see are mementoes showing how much Steve loved being in the Touch of Gold band, from his well-worn trumpet that he practiced on forever and a day, to some of his music, to patches he earned from band activities. He loved playing in the band, listening to band music, and always looking for ways to better himself as a musician.

Integrity. What do we mean by that word, integrity? I’ve used the phrase “say what you mean and mean what you say” to describe what I think it is, but lately I’ve thought it goes beyond that. I think it also refers to someone you can count on to be there when you need them, doing the best they can in whatever they are asked to do.

Leadership. What does it take to be a leader? For centuries people have written books about it, philosophers have pondered it, and every generation has had to define it for themselves. There are a few things we all seem to agree on: a leader is someone who can make a decision when others cannot; a person who is strong in their convictions and willing to stand up for them; someone who will go to bat for their team, or their friends, and give their all; a person who wins triumphantly, but humbly, and loses gracefully; and someone who knows when to lead and when to follow. Was Stephen all of these things? Not all at the same time, but yes…and with time I’m certain he would have continued to grow and become even better.

And finally, when was the last time you set your own needs and desires aside to help someone else? That’s the essence of selflessness, the last of the criteria. Parents do it all the time for their children, but unfortunately it’s not as common to find it in someone who was Steve’s age. As I go about my life and meet people who knew him, I learn more and more how he would always be willing to help someone else out with things like schoolwork, or just trying to be a friend. It was really frustrating during his last semester of school when he’d call and say he missed his bus, and we’d have to go pick him up… almost every day. Months after his death, we learned he was hanging out with a friend so she wouldn’t have to sit alone waiting for her mother to pick her up.

Will someone having these values be assured of getting into Harvard? Well, I certainly can’t answer that; I gave up predicting the future a long time ago. But, I’m pretty sure a person who does, including this year’s recipient, will do very well in whatever career choice they make.

And now, it is my great honor to present the Super Steve Award to Ali Javed.


This is the day I said goodbye
This is the day you reached out to fly;
This is the day I let go of your hand
This is the day you alone would stand.

This is the day I wanted to weep
This is the day you were laid down to sleep;
This is the day I felt ever so numb
This is the day you showed me how to be strong.

This is the day I will never forget
This is the day you taught me to feel no regret;
This is the day I felt so much love
This is the day you shined down from above.

This is the day I said goodbye.


One Year Later

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Tomorrow's Dreams, Yesterday's Memories

It has been a year since that fateful day
When your rapture came and you went away;
And in this time we have all come to see
The many things that were so special in thee:
Wisdom and talent that through the years
Earned you much admiration from your teachers and peers;
A quiet inner strength and a warrior’s heart
Were qualities that clearly set you apart;
But with ever a gentle and caring soul
That made one so young seem so old;
These memories of you we will cherish forever
Until our rapture comes and we are again together.


A New Honor

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Tonight, I had the honor of presenting the first Stephen Bernier “Super Steve” award at the Denison High School’s annual Band Banquet. When I was first asked three weeks ago if I would be interested in making the presentation, I wasn’t sure if I could find the right words. But, because the band leadership was so keen on creating this new award and helping to keep Steve’s memory alive, I accepted the invitation and the challenge. I was given a list of the criteria used for determining who would win the award, and I used that as the basis for my speech. Two weeks later I had my first draft written, and earlier this week I made the final edits. After an exhausting series of run-throughs (and I do mean exhausting — I was up very, very late last night practicing), I felt I was ready.

The band had done all of the voting on who would receive this award. I had no hand in the decision process; all I did was approve their creating the award in the first place. I did not even know who was to receive it until I was told at the banquet tonight. When I was given the recipient’s name I was pleasantly surprised; it turned out to be one of Steve’s best friends and a fellow section leader.

When I was called up to make the presentation, I ran through the speech almost exactly as I had written it; but, I found myself using contractions and blending my sentences together a little bit during the delivery, and I even ad-libbed in a piece at the very end before I announced the recipient’s name. By all accounts, even with those minor differences I nailed the speech — there was nothing but positive comments, handshakes, and hugs afterward. In talking with several people at the banquet, I found they were interested in getting a copy of the speech; so, I promised I would post it here as soon as possible.

Well, here it is. This is the original text I had planned to speak; at the end, I will include the “ad-libbing” I did on the fly.

Good evening.

When Brandon (Head Drum Major Brandon Fisher) asked me a few weeks ago if I would make this presentation, I was very hesitant. I asked myself, “How could I possibly come up with words that were fitting and appropriate for such an honor?” I accepted his offer, still unsure of exactly what I was going to say. But, I knew that if I could walk into the band hall the afternoon after Steve’s accident and stand in that room full of people – in front of many of you – totally unprepared, and somehow manage to say something that was halfway intelligent, then having a few weeks’ notice would be more than enough time for me to find something to talk about tonight.

And, I have.

This award – the first of its kind, and hopefully not the last – recognizes a band member who, according to his or her peers, has displayed several of the qualities that our son lived every day: pride for band, integrity, leadership, and selflessness. I cannot think of a better time or place to present it, for this is one of the last times everyone in this band – Steve’s last band – will be together. And since it’s the first of its kind, I hope you don’t mind me taking a couple of minutes to talk about those qualities as they applied to Steve.

To say that Steve was proud to be in the band is a gross understatement. If there was one thing he absolutely loved heart and soul, it was playing in the band. He practiced whenever he seemed to get a free minute, and when he didn’t have time to play because of schoolwork he would still listen to band music. When he found a sheet music company that posted recordings online, ohh, it was like he’d reached Nirvana. The only down side to that was when he liked a particular piece he would play it over… and over… and over, to the point where I was ready to rip the speakers off his computer. But, he would have an expression on his face while he tapped along with the tune – a pleased, excited, happy look – that told me he was absorbed into the music, and that was something I didn’t dare try to take away from him. He was always critical of his own performances, and never stopped trying to improve himself and be a better band member. There were numerous times he’d run me out of my office so he could work on his SmartMusic lessons, and while it all sounded perfect to me, he would sometimes take an hour or more before he was satisfied with his work. We recognized his great devotion to music by having the image of a trumpet engraved on his headstone, and if you haven’t seen it I invite you to pay a visit to the cemetery and have a look. Hopefully it will make you smile the way it does for me every time I go there.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “integrity”? Most people think of things like honesty and truthfulness. It also means “to be consistent in one’s actions”, and when a person “has integrity” they are acting according to their beliefs. In other words, they always do what they say they’re going to do. Did you ever know Steve to not be that way? Around us he was no different – when he said he was going to do something, by golly he did, and Lord help you if you got in his way. He would frequently say his goals after high school were to attend Harvard, go into politics, and one day rule the world. He had started on a plan to reach them, too. First he was working to graduate at the top of his class, and he crammed his schedule with AP courses in his effort to get there. He even did something I never dreamed of doing – he actually studied for the PSAT. He never backed down from his plans, either; a few weeks after the funeral, when we got the results from the AP exams he took that spring, we found he had listed only one college to release his scores to – Harvard. Would he have ruled the world one day? We can only imagine…

For Steve, leadership came somewhat naturally to him. He always wanted to lead, starting with leading his brother around the house and deciding what they were going to play. As he got older, he tried his hand at leading in other ways. Did any of you know that he raised and showed goats in 4-H for five years? Well, he did, and one year he stepped up and became president of the Livestock Club. We were all very proud of his accomplishment, and he took his new title to heart. For one of the first meetings after he became president, he went through all the steps of preparing for it – he called all of the members to remind them of the meeting, he prepared an agenda, assembled his materials, and was ready to go…unfortunately, no one else showed up. You could tell he was hurt, but he didn’t let setbacks like that bother him for long…they just made him try harder. Many of you know how hard he worked to become a section leader, and when he learned he had been selected, it was one of the happiest times I’d ever seen him. He threw everything into preparing to be his best, too…attending the leadership clinics, organizing the section party at the lake, even buying the pizza and drinks for it out of his own pocket. I have no doubt he would have been an awesome section leader for you this past year.

Last but not least is selflessness. Steve often would set his own needs and feelings aside to focus on the needs of others. Sometimes it was from a sense of duty: one of his AP classes had a cookout, and somehow he ended up doing the cooking…he wouldn’t sit down to eat until he made sure everyone else was taken care of. Sometimes, it was from his sense of wanting to do the right thing: he once scolded a group of kids on the school bus because they were distracting the driver and could have caused an accident. And sometimes, it was because he was looking out for his friends: toward the end of his last year in school he frequently missed his bus home. It wasn’t until several weeks after the funeral that we learned why. Among the many cards, letters, and messages we received was this: “(I) don’t know if you knew it but Stephen would stay after school outside the band hall with my daughter until I got there to pick her up each day for about the last 2 months or so of school, even if I was running late and didn’t get there until around 4 or 4:15.” I won’t name names here because I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but I’m sure some of you know who the girl was. That note went on to say: “I’m sorry we didn’t get the chance to know him because she really liked him a lot. And from how the other kids talked about him he must have been a special guy.”

Yes, he was.

It seems only fitting that someone like him is remembered and honored in the many ways you have done so throughout this school year. And tonight, we add one more honor to that list with this award created and given in his name.

[In my mind, this award should be given to all of you, because all of you have been super. Please, give yourselves a hand! (applause) But, just like the words I remember from an old movie, “there can be only one”], And so, it is now my honor, and great pleasure to present [the first-ever “Super Steve” Award] to Alex Tucker.

Alex then ran up on stage and gave me a bear hug, crying his eyes out and saying something I could not quite understand through all the tears. I hugged him back and told him everything was okay. He finally slowed down enough to accept his plaque from me, shook my hand, and returned to his seat. I then closed by simply saying “Thank you” and left the stage, shaking Brandon’s hand along the way.

Congratulations, Alex. I am sure Steve would have been very honored and proud to have you as the first recipient of this award. I know I am.


Collecting Memories

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

My son and I went to a coin show yesterday. I started collecting coins when I was a few years younger than he is now, and for me it has been a lifelong interest. I got both of my sons started in the hobby a few years ago; Stephen was building a set of Lincoln cents (and had almost completed it) when he died, and Matthew has been working on Buffalo nickels. Not to be completely left out, I chose to collect Indian Head cents. On top of that, I have almost finished a set of Eisenhower dollars (I have one more coin to find).

My crowning achievement in coin collecting is a set of all the State Quarters. Or rather, four sets – one for me and one for each of my children. I spent nine years putting them together, picking up the new coins as they came out each year and gradually filling up the album pages. It was a complete secret from everyone in my family; I had been keeping the albums locked in a desk drawer at the office. The last state, Hawaii, came out in early December 2008, and after all that work I was finally able to give them to the kids as Christmas presents that year. The looks on their faces when they opened up those boxes was priceless; they simply could not believe that anyone could keep such a project “under wraps” for that long without a single word about it getting out.

But, what I thought was equally important was the following letter I included in their albums. Michelle read it out loud for everyone:

Christmas 2008

To Michelle, Stephen, and Matthew,

There are so many things I’ve thought about saying to you when this time finally arrived; I really don’t know the best place to start!

Maybe I should start with answering some of the questions I’m sure you have:

  • No, you are not dreaming…you each have a very real, completely full album of uncirculated State Quarters. Every P and D mintmark for all 50 states are here – 100 coins in all.
  • I bought the albums and coins and assembled them all myself, and even though the pages let you see both sides of each coin, I put the P quarters in face-up and the D quarters face-down; I thought they looked better that way.
  • I started working on them in the year 2000, the year after the State Quarters program started. In all, it took me 9 YEARS to put them together!
  • No, your mother did not know anything about them. I have kept them locked up in a desk drawer at work until the week before today.
  • No, I don’t know exactly how much it cost me to put them together, or how much they are worth, but I’m sure that whatever it is today will only go higher in the years to come.
  • And yes, as I was putting these albums together, I put a fourth one together for myself. Now that I have given these to you, I plan to keep mine in my office at home.

 Now that I have those questions out of the way, let me try to tackle the one that I didn’t answer: Why did I do this?

I could probably write a book about all the reasons why I put these albums together for you, and maybe someday I will. Until then, here are the reasons that mean the most to me, and hopefully they will mean a lot to you as well:

First of all, this is the last Christmas all of us will be living in the same house, and I wanted to do something to remember these most precious years that have simply flown by for me; by sheer coincidence, this worked out and I was able to complete these albums at the same time. I’ve watched all three of you as you’ve been growing up, each developing your own personalities and starting to choose the directions you want to take. These have been the key years for you, and as I’ve turned through the pages and looked at each coin, I think back to what each of you were doing, or learning, or trying to be at that time in your lives. Those are days I will never, ever forget.

Next, I wanted to demonstrate to you how it is possible to achieve your goals, even when they can seem impossible to accomplish. The key is perseverance. As I mentioned, it took 9 years to put these albums together; other than school, I’m sure there’s very little you can imagine spending that much time doing right now. I’m sure you all have many dreams, and maybe some really good ideas of what you’d like to do with your lives – and I’m also sure many of those dreams and ideas seem out of reach. When you look at your album, remember the effort it took to put it together, and know that you can do whatever you set out to do if you stick with it long enough.

The last reason I’ll mention here is going to sound a little selfish. I wanted to give you something to help you remember me in the years to come. We are all placed on this world for a measure of time, and these albums will still be here long after I’m gone. When those days come, it is my hope that every now and then you will find the chance to pull yours out, look through it, and think about a happy time when we were together. And when you have your own children and they grow old enough, perhaps you’ll be able to share that time with them as well.

Let me close by saying that, although I haven’t always “been there” and it’s felt at times as if I’ve been so busy that I don’t seem to notice, I am so dearly proud of all three of you. I could not have asked for children who are any more gifted with knowledge and talents than you are, and it will be my great pleasure to watch in the years to come as you go higher and father and achieve more than I have been able to do.

Love Always,

As she was reading, I looked at Steve. He was looking down at the album and slowly shaking his head. Then he lifted his head and I could see he had a slight smile on his face. I knew in that moment I had made a connection with him that only a parent could understand.

That is one memory I will forever treasure.


Visible Cause, Hidden Effect

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

Had my father lived, and had my parents stayed married, they would have celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary this week. But, sadly, neither of those events occurred. My parents made it about 18-1/2 years as a couple; their divorce became final about a month before I graduated from high school in 1980. Dad lived only eight more years after that, dying from cancer at the age of 57.

I don’t know the exact description used back then for the grounds of the divorce; these days, it would probably be called “irreconcilable differences” because they truly had a conflict between them that tore their marriage apart. I don’t know all the details, and I don’t want to know them; what I do know is my mother filed the papers and my father didn’t contest it, hoping she would change her mind and want to work out their differences…but it didn’t happen. He kept on hoping she would take him back for the better part of seven years. Finally he met another woman who he eventually married, and she cared for him as he became more ill in the months before his death.

I used to think that their divorce did not affect me very much; after all, I left home for college a few months later. Now, I’m not so sure.

I’ve been married for a little over 17 years, having celebrated an anniversary just last month. By all appearances, my marriage is on track to last much longer than my parents’ time together. Like my parents, my wife and I have had our differences, but so far there is nothing we haven’t been able to work out. Not too long ago, I was asked by a more-recently-married man what our “secret” was. “Just keep talking,” I told him. “Don’t clam up and walk away and hope things will fix themselves, because they won’t.” When I thought about it later, I realized that I had learned that lesson by watching my parents. Whenever he didn’t like what Mom was saying to him, Dad would simply close his mouth and walk out of the room; if he had stayed and kept talking, I believe he and Mom would have been better able to work out their differences. Who knows? Maybe they would have stayed married a few years longer, perhaps until he passed away.

I wonder how many other lessons I learned from my parents without realizing it?


The Final Award

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

We received a large envelope for Stephen in the mail today. It was from the College Board, the organization that manages all the standardized testing that students take when applying to college, like the SAT. Steve had taken four Advanced Placement (AP) tests back in May in an effort to earn some college credits for his high school work. He was waiting for the scores to come in when he died, so he never knew how he did. When the scores finally arrived in mid-July, we learned that he had done extremely well on three of the four exams.

This takes us to the envelope that came in today. In it was a letter of congratulations on his test scores, and a certificate recognizing him as an AP Scholar. The date on the certificate was August 14th – a month after his scores came in, and almost two months after the accident. It is the last award Steve will ever receive in a very long line of awards he earned over the years, starting with numerous prizes for reading in elementary school. He won every reading award the school offered, and he pushed the limits so far that the faculty had to invent new awards to recognize his work. He won numerous academic trophies, medals, and certificates over the years, and was very proud to receive each and every one. Many of his medals and trophies are on our fireplace mantle and the nearby shelves, and we framed and hung many of the certificates on the wall outside his bedroom; but, we quickly ran out of space to put more up, and the newer ones ended up scattered around his room and the rest of the house. He far and away outstripped me and the awards I received in school, and he was in an excellent position to achieve his goal of becoming class valedictorian.

And yet, in spite of everything he accomplished, he never felt satisfied with his work. He always pushed himself to try harder with each new assignment given to him, and his schedule during his sophomore year was filled with almost all AP classes. He sometimes whined and lamented over that, but he was quick to remind himself that it had been his choice to make, and then he would go back to his work.

It is unfortunate for all of us that he died just as his efforts were starting to pay off for him. There will always be the thought of “what might have been” making its way through the corridors of our minds, but there is some comfort in knowing that whatever might have been, Steve would have strived to be the best.


An Unwanted Anniversary

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

It was 22 years ago today, on August 20, 1988, that my father passed away. It was a Saturday morning, and the word came from his wife at about 7am (my parents divorced in 1980, and he remarried in 1987). The entire sequence of events that followed, right up to the end of the funeral two days later, are as clear in my mind today as they were when they happened. Those memories were actually helpful to me when my son passed away in June; having been through the experience of making funeral preparations back then made it much less confusing when the time came to make Stephen’s arrangements.

For the first few years after Dad died, I would visit his grave on this day. I was always by myself when I visited…that was not because I wanted to be alone; it just seemed to work out that way. He had been in the Army when he was younger, and the government provided a metal grave marker that sits flush with the ground; I would usually make sure nothing was growing over it, then stand there silently for some time. Some years, I would talk to him as though he was there listening patiently; somehow, I felt he was.


Photo courtesy of Randy Sheppard

I got married in 1993, and the effort of raising a family took me away from visiting his grave regularly; then finally in 2000 I moved out of the state altogether, making any kind of simple visit impossible. I have been back to visit relatives several times since then, usually around holidays or while on business trips, but I never seemed to have enough time to pay Dad a visit.

When I stop to think about all of the changes in my life since that day, it boggles my mind – getting married and raising three children, moving 1,000 miles away from where I was raised and starting over in a new town, watching the kids grow into teenagers, sending my first one off to college, and recently losing my son. I have reached the pinnacles of success and the depths of despair, and had many accomplishments in between that were both good and bad; I wonder, though, how many of those might have been different had I been able to seek Dad’s counsel. There were countless times I wanted to talk with him about what I was doing and where I was going, and ask for his advice on so many difficult decisions, but I could not; instead, I had to figure things out on my own. I have tried to reason with myself, asking “what would Dad have done in this situation?” but it is simply not the same as talking to a living, breathing person.

If he were alive today Dad would be 79 years old, but I would be willing to bet his mind would still be as sharp as it ever was. He was a big baseball fan, and would watch or listen to every Atlanta Braves game each season and could rattle off stats about all of the players; today, he would probably still be trying to follow them, even though their games are rarely televised any more. He and my son Stephen would have gotten along great because Steve was also a big baseball fan, having played in Little League and also having followed the Braves as much as he could. I am certain they are both in Heaven now, swapping stories about their favorite players and games. They might even be taking turns hitting some balls around; both of them liked to do that, oddly enough. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of catching up to do with both of them when I get there!

And so, this is my salute to you, Dad. May you always rest in peace.


I Could Be Their Next Winner!

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Do you ever enter sweepstakes or contests? You know, the kind where you have a one-in-ten-zillion chance of winning but you do it anyway?

In my after-college years before the Internet became a part of daily life, I used to get tons of junk mail in my mailbox, mostly from companies that were trying to give away something, whether it was cash or some piece of merchandise – cars, boats, vacation trips, and electronics were the most popular items. All you had to do was fill out their forms and mail them back in, and “you could be the next winner!”

What is lost on a lot of people is the fact that these companies are not in the business of giving things away for nothing. There’s always a catch somewhere, whether it’s to get you on their mailing list (which they often sell to someone else), or they have a particular product they want you to buy. Case in point: perhaps the most infamous giveaways of all are the ones from Publisher’s Clearing House, or PCH as some like to call them. This part gets lost in all the advertising they mail out by the ton, but PCH is actually in the business of selling magazine subscriptions. Back in those pre-Internet days I used to subscribe to several magazines, and found PCH often offered them at very good discounts. It seemed like a good fit for me at the time, and as long as I didn’t stray away from that group of magazines, I could enter their contests and everything worked out okay. Once I got married, family life took the place of magazines, and one by one I let them all lapse. Of course, the mail didn’t stop; once you’re on their mailing lists, you pretty much have to die to get off of them…and even then it’s not certain. For a couple of years after my dad died in 1988, we continued to get contest mailers addressed to him.

These days these contests have mostly moved online, but their purposes haven’t changed. The companies are still trying to sell products, and use the contests to bring in potential new customers.

After many years of avoiding all the contests and sweeps, both in the mail and online, I finally succumbed a couple of months ago when the prizes were too good for me personally to pass up. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I like to collect wristwatches, and I’ve found two online stores that offer weekly contests to give away a free watch. All I have to do is re-register on their site each week, which puts me on their e-mail list to receive their advertising and special offers (something I was already doing anyway). That’s not as bad as having a mailbox filled with paper that gets thrown in the trash; and, if need be, I can simply delete the e-mails as they come in.

I haven’t won a free watch yet, but who knows? There’s always the chance that “I could be their next winner!”