Archive for the 'Personal' category

 | February 13, 2012 3:39 am

One of my grandfather’s favorite pastimes was to fish. He loved to deep sea fish, he would travel for the salmon run (one of the things he most loved to talk about were the many trips to Alaska to fish for King Salmon), fly fishing (he spent hours tying his own flies), and lake fishing. He has albums filled with pictures of dead fish, moments spent on the lake, and the good times that came from his love of nature.

Along with his love fishing came a natural, and only slightly less passionate, love of boating. He loved to motor boat, sail, and paddle.

As long as I can remember, he’s always owned a boat (and occasionally more than one). The one I remember most was a top of the line waterski cruiser. It was beautiful, with red and white racing stripes and an overpowered, oversized, outboard motor. It was also always referred to as his “fishing boat,” which seemed a bit like calling a Rolls-Royce the “casual” car.

That was hardly the first boat that he had ever owned, though, or even his second. His first boat was something of a legend. It was called the Amazon Queen, her name inspired by a famous movie of the time.The Boat Crew

The salesmen of Standard Supply Company hard at work on the Amazon Queen. Taken in the chicken coop at my great-grandfather’s home. At far right is my grandpa, Charles Stillman. At his left is great-grandpa, Gary Wayne Stillman.

The Amazon Queen began life in the chicken coop/shed of my great grandfather as a hobby project. He went to my great-grandfather with the idea that it would be fun to build a boat, and Great-grandpa agreed. Apparently, others agreed that it was a great project idea as well.

Working on the boat became something of a company past-time, at least for the sales people. Every night after work, an entire crew would head to Great-grandpa’s house and spend all night shaping boards. After several years of work, the Amazon Queen was finally finished.

The Queen was fifteen or sixteen feet from bow to stern, with wood panel sides and an outboard motor. She could comfortably sit four people and could uncomfortably sit about a dozen.

Before her maiden voyage, though, the crew faced something of a dilemma. When it came time to get the boat out of the coop, they discovered that she was too big for the front doors. It was impossible to get her out!

Faced with such a challenge, they did what any self-respecting boat lover would: they tore down the chicken coop, taking great care not to damage the boat.

The Amazon Queen on her maiden voyage

The crew from Standard Supply company, enjoying the Amazon Queen’s maiden voyage.

The maiden voyage of the Amazon Queen took place at Pineview Reservoir (located near Ogden, Utah) a couple of months after her official unveiling. Because so many of the staff at Standard Supply Company had helped in her construction, she became the star attraction at the company picnic. The photo above was a snapshot from the picnic and shows her crowded with sales people, accounts receivable clerks, and stockroom workers. (My grandpa is the one sitting on the bow.)

The Amazon Queen had a long and happy life. She toured the width and breadth of the Western United States, visiting the lakes and reservoirs of Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, and Colorado. The only requirement was that the fishing be good, or that the water skiing be acceptable.

Like any well loved thing, the Queen was also well used. She taught daughters to water ski, children how to survive on the back of an inflatable tube, and was manhandled by friends. Occasionally, she was even a bit abused, including one infamous trip to Bear Lake where Grandpa’s best friend, Charlie McDonnell, ran her  into the beach at full speed. (Of course the children in the boat immediately ran up the beach looking for my grandpa, yelling, “Charlie beached the boat! Charlie beached the boat!”)

No boat, no matter how lovingly built, is meant to survive that kind of abuse, and the Queen eventually gave out under the strain. In her case, it was during a family trip to the lake. Friends of my grandpa were out for a late afternoon run on the water, when the bindings at the front of the boat, began to come undone. Then, as she bounced over the wake of another motorboat, the entire boat came apart from bow to stern into two separate pieces. This sent the pleasure goers sitting on her prow flying into the water and those who survived the wreck swimming for shore. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Bitten by the boat bug, though, my grandfather wasn’t to be put off long. It wasn’t a year later that the whole family was back on the water in another hand-built wooden boat.

Grandpa Stillman's Mahogany Boat

 | February 7, 2012 3:47 pm

For his entire life, Grandpa was a collector. He collected coins (gold and silver dollars, pesos, pounds of the British Empire, historical coins of interest, and even a couple of Reichsmark from the Veimar Republic of Germany), guns, stamps, jokes (usually of questionable appropriateness), and baubles of interest. When I was quite small, I remember sitting with him as he would show me some of the items in his collection and talk about where they had come from.

Apparently, the drive to collect things is something that he’s always had. When he was a child, Grandpa was always filling his pockets with things, usually until there was room for nothing else.

These were mostly the harmless sorts of items that all boys bring home – bottle-caps, interesting stones, pretty feathers, bits of colored (and probably broken) glass, and bugs. But though most were harmless, there was one exception: Grandpa also liked to collect matches.

Like any mother, this tendency greatly concerned Great-grandma (especially as the parent of a prankster-prone boy). She was thoroughly convinced that grandpa, either deliberately or by accident, would burn the house down.

(Apparently, there may have been some rationale to these fears. Several times in my life, I’ve hard reference to an “incident with the chicken coup.” No one seems to know the specifics, but the consensus is that it was damaged, and that it was my grandpa’s fault.)

Great-grandma tried, gently, to persuade Grandpa that collecting matches was a Bad Thing. This, however, was less than successful. So, Great-Grandma decided to take bold action. One night, while Grandpa was sleeping, she took all of his clothes and sewed up the pockets.

Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful as well. He still managed to find ways to bring things (including matches) home.

 | February 6, 2012 6:25 pm

Note: One of the good things (yes, there are good things) about a funeral, is the opportunity to see friends and family, to remember your loved ones, and to hear the untold stories from their lives. As part of the preparation to speak at the funeral, I’ve been talking to friends and family about what they best remember about my grandfather. This story comes via both of his sisters.

Grandpa Stillman and brother, Richard (circa 1932)

From the moment he was born, Grandpa was a trickster. Few moments passed where he wasn’t planning a prank, pulling one off, or fleeing the consequences. (Usually to the dismay of his mother, Florence. Years later, she confided to one of grandpa’s sisters, “The children were easy to raise, except Bob.”)

On one occasion, when 10 or 11, Grandpa had done something so odious (no one seems to remember what), that it had to be punished. For that reason, his mother set about to catch him (usually more trouble than it was worth).

Grandpa had other ideas.

At first, he tried running away, but Great-grandma could run just as far and fast. With that not working, he decided to try another strategy: hiding. Great-grandpa and grandma had a big, bulky bed that was just high enough to sweep under, but not quite so large as to allow an adult to crawl underneath.

This is where Grandpa headed to wait out the storm, with Great-grandma heading right after him. Grandpa, however, made it to the bed (and safety) first and great-grandma couldn’t follow.

Being a smart lady (grandpa got it from somewhere, after all), she decided to try a different tack. Nicely, she tried to coax him out from under the bed. They could talk about what had happened and then everyone could be happy.

Grandpa wasn’t having any of that.

Upon the failure of persuasion and long-suffering kindness, Great-grandma decided to try and grab him. She reached under the bed to snag his feet.

Grandpa wasn’t having any of that, either.

Each time she would get close, grandpa would roll to the other side of the bed, just outside of her reach.

This left only one recourse: brute force. Great-grandma went to the kitchen where she kept the broom and proceeded to clear him from the bed much as you would coax an angry and vicious cat: vigorously.

Again, though, no luck.

Unable to deal with her son, Great-grandma settled for another target: scolding the two young sisters, who had watched and giggled through the entire exchange from the doorway.

I’m not really sure that anyone knows what got grandpa out from under the bed. My personal bet, though, is that it involved ice cream. You could pursue Grandpa to do just about anything with ice cream.

 | 5:18 pm

This past week, my grandfather passed away, and I’ve been asked to write a speech for his funeral. It is the strangest thing, this being asked to distill eighty-seven years into twenty minutes. What do you include? What do you say? Do you tell the story about grandpa as reluctant mouse-hunter (it ends badly)? Or the one where his hip went out at the lake and his friends decided to take him to the emergency room, boat and all? Do you talk about the distressed husband, at the bedside of his dying wife, realizing that there might have been a lost opportunity to express just how much he loved her?

Human lives are complicated things. When well lived, they encompasses moments of beauty, love, friendship, and happiness in addition to tragedy, lost opportunity, and regret. (And my grandfather’s life was well-live.) What’s more, we human beings are embodiments of paradox: a man may be both a great philanthropist and a brutal monopolist, who built his fortune upon the shattered careers of others. Or he may be a vicious murderer and anarchist who “loved sunflowers, eating yogurt with honey; who took his children to the beach, and let them sleep under the stars.” How do you capture all of it: the good, the bad, the ugly, the contemplative, the tragic, and the hilarious?

The only answer I have been able to find to that question was given by Neil Gaiman, while being interviewed by a reporter about someone still very much alive:

I spent half an hour yesterday talking to a reporter who was working on the obituary of someone who is currently very much alive, even in good health, and it was … well … very odd. I’d always known that obituaries aren’t just knocked up (or perhaps tossed off. Look, neither phrase sounds particularly wholesome) on the spur of the moment by some dusty, but hard working, obituarist whenever someone kicks the bucket, but they are written ahead of time, often rewritten many times over the years. The Daily Telegraphs are the best, I don’t why this is, but it’s true. Here is my favourite Telegraph obituary ever, because it contains:

Despite a brisk code of discipline, Singleton took a laissez faire approach out of the classroom. Every November 5, the smallest boy in the school was sent down a tunnel to light the very core of the bonfire. None, so far as anyone can recall, was ever lost.

Good obituaries (and by extension, eulogies), it appears, is much like any other sort of writing: a careful product of thought, time, review, and attention.

That is, perhaps, why they are such an art-form. Unlike other types of communication, they have to be composed in moments of pandemonium, distress, and chaos; at a time when it’s essential to find precisely the right words under conditions which make it all but impossible.

Manifestly unfair, if you want my opinion.

 | 12:26 am

Grandpa Stillman-2011-0205-6Note: This past week, my grandfather passed away. This is his obituary. I’m publishing it here because I loved my grandfather and I think he should be commemorated.

Charles Robert Stillman (Bob) passed away on January 31, 2012 surrounded by his family and friends following a short, but courageous, battle with cancer.

Bob was born August 29, 1924 to Garrie Wayne and Florence Stillman in East Millcreek. He graduated from Granite High School and the University of Utah with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946 as a medic in the Pacific Theatre of World War II. His brother Richard, a pilot, lost his life in the same war.

Bob married his college sweetheart, June Clark, on November 3, 1950. They were married for 60 years prior to her passing in the Spring of 2010. They have two beautiful daughters, Susan and Wendy Oakes (Gene) and four grandchildren, Robert (Marie), Rachelle, Jordan, and Tyler. He is survived by two sisters, Frances Fehr and Marilyn Stillman, and preceded in death by his brothers, Garrie and Richard.

Grandpa Stillman-2011-0205-47

Bob joined his father in the family business, Standard Supply Company, in 1946. He loved his work at Standard Supply. He enjoyed spending time at the office, visiting with clients, working with the staff, and enjoying the success of his lifelong efforts. He was at his desk just a few weeks prior to his passing. He shared a tremendous bond of friendship with his colleagues at Standard Supply and considered them to be members of his extended family.Grandpa Stillman-2011-0205-32

Bob loved being out of doors. He was an avid sportsman and fisherman who tied his own flies, filled his own shells, and actively helped to manage the family duck club. He was happiest when on the water or in the wild with family and friends.

His other great passion was golf. He came to the game late in life, at age 50, but played for over 35 years. He was a lifetime member of the Alpine Country Club and a founding member of Bloomington Country Club. He enjoyed every aspect of game, except for the sand and water hazards, and even made his own golf clubs.Grandpa Stillman-2011-0205-58

It was in his avocation as loving father and doting grandfather that he was happiest, though. He was loved tremendously and will be missed greatly.

 | March 15, 2009 6:45 pm

imageWe all have our Ray Hunt memories and stories.  Mine all go something like this, “I once rode with Ray Hunt, and it changed my life.”

Yours might be similar.  In fact, many Ray Hunt stories start in much the same way and conclude in similar manner.  They typically involve a “problem,” an old man who watches and listens, a bit of conversation, and a “solution.”  They might happen one-on-one or amongst a crowd of hundreds.  But despite their similarities, every recollection is important and tremendously personal.

Why?  What makes a seriously gruff and short-spoken cowboy so special?  After all, he didn’t carry formal education or degrees.  He didn’t possess a pristine competition record and on a bad day, his criticism could feel downright abusive.  Yet nearly every trainer, rider, con man and huckster I’ve ever met will go out of their way to talk about their “Ray Hunt moment.”

The man himself was bold, brilliant, controversial and occasionally brutal in his honesty or criticism; as he liked to say, “I’m here for the horse.”  Everything else was secondary.  Sure, helping improve communication and understanding paid a rich dividend, but Ray wanted no misunderstanding: he was the horse’s representative and advocate.  And for an individual who sought description or honor like oil seeks water, it was one of the few titles he ever claimed.

What made Ray important were his ideas and vision.  A vision composed of thousands of tools, notions or thoughts; and each one was a detail that could significantly impact a horse and human relationship.  Thus, every Ray Hunt story includes wisdom, cryptic mutterings, and smashed bits of where Zen simplicity met Western practicality at high speed:

“Fix it up and let [the horse] learn it.”

“Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.”

“When a horse is right on his feet, he’s right in his head.”

“Control the life in the body, so then the mind gets it.  When the mind understands, then the feet [will] understand.”

RayHunt - Teaching Ray spoke a language that was utterly his own, and it could be irritatingly difficult to parse.  After all, what does life mean (beyond the obvious)?  If the head gets it, then of course the feet are going to get it.  The head controls the feet.  The language was philosophical, poetic and far too practical.  That is, until deciphered, after which it was simply perfect.

Going to see Ray wasn’t purely an educational experience, but also a social and sometimes spiritual one.  Everywhere he went, he attracted the curious, the devout and the desperate in the hope that he could help them solve their “problems.”  For those who came in the right frame of mind, the results could be utterly transformational.  As the man sat on his horse to speak, mutter and criticize; a new world might open for those present.  A point of view where the horse is treasured teacher, mentor and friend.  And while it might have been a profoundly personal, it was also something to both see and share.

Today, as we mark Ray’s passing, I find that I already miss the future pilgrimages which will never be.  But even though Ray Hunt has left the stage; he is hardly gone.  Forty years of travel, teaching and muttering have ensured that the his ideas and legend will never die.  The advocate did his job and shared the horse’s message.  So while the new “Ray Hunt” moments might not involve old men and fences, that’s okay.  There will still be new Ray Hunt moments.