I wrote last time about the dangers of driving on our roads. A few days later, in a sad irony, those very roads took one of our own. It’s different then. When I see in the newspaper every week the accidents and deaths on the oil field highways, I feel sympathy, but a distant sympathy. I don’t know them. They don’t know me. They usually hail from states like Arkansas and Washington and Wyoming. I feel bad for their families for a fleeting moment, and then I move on to the next story. It’s hard not to become a little numb to all the accidents when they happen so often.
This time, it’s different. This time, it hits close to home.
On March 23, a sunny Saturday morning, my cousin Rory was killed in an accident with a semi on a major highway only miles from our farm. Rory was 30 years old, a young 30. Sometimes he seemed more like 22 or 23. He had lived in the oil field for the past two years, originally hailing from Reno, Nevada, but always connected to western North Dakota and especially his Grandpa Tom, an Irish farmer who was a lifelong native of the area. Rory came here to stay in 2011, the same year I did, and quickly made a name for himself with his love for action and persistence to engage anyone and everyone around him in a debate. Locals began to recognize his boisterous laugh and crooked hat. He lived in his little four-room cabin in the bottom of a tree-filled break, drove around a dusty Dodge Neon or one of two old pickups — depending on the day — and took his dog Holiday with him wherever he went. Rory was especially close to two of my brothers. I have to admit, Rory wasn’t always on my good side. He liked to push my buttons and more often than not, I allowed him to, but in the end Rory was a loyal cousin and friend. We had a couple good conversations that last week when he came in visit during my shift at the hotel, the last time I talked to him before his accident. Of course, he didn’t leave that night without one last debate between us: this one over the pronunciation of Phuket, Thailand. (Our debates, as you can see, often involved matters of little to no real importance.) I don’t think we ever figured out who was right… Oh well.
I wish I could write everything I want to write about Rory. I spoke some words about our friend-foe relationship at his family service, and I think that’s where those words will have to stay. For now, I have had my fill of memories and sad farewells. But I don’t feel I could continue to write a cheeky blog about the oil field without recognizing some of the harsh realities, the losses that we experience in the untamed face of progress. The oil field is bringing our area a lot of possibilities and exciting opportunities. But sometimes… sometimes it takes just a little too much in return.
Rory is lying at rest next to his Grandpa Tom in a small western North Dakota cemetery, only yards away from my own Grandpa Tim and Grandma Marjorie. They lie there under granite headstones, memories of the past homesteading days and casualties of the current energy-producing madhouse. They lie there as reminders to give what we can, remember those who have gone before us and most importantly, appreciate the ones still left around us.
Because sometimes, we don’t think about those things enough until it’s one of our own who reminds us.
When my Grandma Tim died in 2005, I wrote a poem that was inspired by his life in western North Dakota and, more specifically, the small cemetery where he is buried. I thought it was fitting for Rory too, so I’m sharing it below.
The meadowlark is singing, singing sweetly sad its song
Its melody is simple, caring not for right or wrong
How can it know of mortal pain
When singing sweet its song?
The prairie wind is blowing, breezing softly by the bales
The grasses dip their heads before its never-ending gales
What does it care for life or death?
Its forces never fail.
The endless sky is stretching, sunlight sinking to the west
It glows upon a graveyard where beloved lie at rest
It shines there but a moment
And it gathers to the west
A man is but a memory, a twinkling of the eye
His time is like the prairie wind, a softly fading sigh
Only he can sing his song before he passes by
And goes to meet his Maker in the endless prairie sky.
Rest in Peace, Rory. Here’s one last North Dakota sunset for ya.