It’s October 8th, which means it’s my closest friend in the whole wide world’s birthday. I had this idea that I could put some thoughts together this morning and celebrate my favorite things about him, so here goes.
1. DWYSYWD. This is an acronym for a phrase that characterizes one of the things I most admire about Ron. It stands for “Do what you say you will do”. From the first time Ron stayed in our rental home in Long Island, to our lunch together yesterday at the BBQ place in town, I can’t think of one time…not once, where Ron didn’t do something he said he was going to do. I’ve heard other stories from other men I know who’ve had similar experiences with him. There’s a side effect to that trait in some people. Often times, the world will take advantage of that and grind someone down to a nub. Not Ron. He’s like the tungsten-carbide of DWYSYWD. I heard a story once about how the main offices of his prior job, EAS, had moved him in a management position to an affiliate office that was under-performing. When he got there, the people at that job essentially told him in so many words, “We know who you are and what you do, and you’re not going to change the way we do things here”. I find stories like that fascinating, because people who say those kinds of things to Ron, don’t really know him and should be handed a T-shirt that reads, “resistance is futile”. You don’t get the nickname, “Rojo-Diablo” for nothing.
2. The quarter in my wallet. We all ask that question at one point or another – either forced to by life or via mental exercises, “who will come get me if I run out of gas?”, or “who will I call if I get arrested and get one call?”. I don’t have to think twice about either of those. Ron’s the kind of friend whose car door you can hear as he walks out the house before hanging up the phone you called him on for help. One time we were travelling with a family that we were taking care of from New York whose mini-van (loaded with kids) broke down on Route 77 past Statesville. A long lonely stretch of nowhere. 60 minutes later Ron was there in his nice car, taking the family back with us the 60 or so miles back to my house. He returned with me the next day to two the mini-van back to the POS pastor slash used car dealer who told us “it worked fine when I sold it to her”. I don’t even have a 2nd name on that “who do I call list”. I’ll never need it as long as Ron is breathing.
3. Consistent as the northern star. If you spend more than a week with Ron, you come to value the consistency that is the wake of having him for a friend. He always says, “I’m better than I deserve” when you ask him how he is. He always has a ‘blast radius’ of parts and metal around him when he’s building something or working somewhere. He always orders sweet tea…and never orders an extra glass of ice even though I know he’ll need one 5 minutes after the first cup when the lady brings his refill. He’s always not quite on time to things. His directions somewhere are always about 20% longer than MapQuest’s. He always thinks he’s giving you a shortcut, though. His hair cut and beard cut haven’t really changed in the 15 or so years I’ve known him. He wears the same crazy P-cap that his grandpa loves, even though I think it makes him look like a gangster. There’s something to be said for consistency, and I value that currency more and more that we’re friends.
4. Love for family. Ron loves his Grandparents. And his parents. His wife, and his daughter. Not the kind of love you see on TV. The kind of love people dive on grenades for, or stand in front of other people when they’re being shot at, love. Though quiet, and reserved (seemingly distant) to people outside his acquaintance circle, those inside the radius know how deep that river runs inside him. If Ron could keep his family alive longer by donating his blood a little every day, he’d be walking around with an IV bag hanging from a custom cart that Duane Willis would have welded up for him out of titanium. If you know him, you’re probably shaking your head up and down right now.
5. Eerie skill levels. I don’t know that Ron has ever done something half-heartedly as long as I’ve known him. If it’s the shooting sports (pistol/rifle/archery/slingshot/rubber bands/throwing rocks), or learning a new skill (building a windmill or a battery powered stand alone solar generator based FM gospel radio transmitter) there’s no, “good enough for now” point where Ron stops trying. He takes it to the point where he’s pretty sure there are 3 or 4 guys on Earth that are maybe – maybe as good as he is doing the thing he’s doing. It’s not in an intimidating way, either. It’s just a ‘that’s the way it is” kind of way. When a young guy wins, “Top Shot” a popular American sharpshooter competition reality show on cable, I know that I know he’s sitting on his leather couch thinking, “I could have made that shot” and probably have been right.
6. Package deal. When Ron adopts you into his circle of family, your whole family comes into the circle with you. He loves my kids like they’re his own nephews and nieces. Thinks about my wife like he would about a sister in law. There are presents at Christmas (consistently) and praise and accolades for each of them when he comes upon something they’re working on or working with. He encourages them on trips we take, and has never made any of my children feel bad about themselves when they’re in his presence. Once, a very young Caleb swung his very small bee-bee gun in Ron’s direction when we were setting up tree stands in Stokes Country, and Ron lost his mind – but that’s because Ron’s crazy – not because he doesn’t love my kids. If we were hit by a car on the way home from the store today, I’d want Ron to raise my kids because in my heart I know he’d love/he loves them like his own. It’s a very short list when I think on it, now, in fact.
7. Second-hand Lions. When I first saw this movie with Michael Cain and Robert Duvall, I wondered if someone had been watching Ron and I for a few years. There’s the safe, fairly placid intellectual Michael Cain, and his daring risk taking adventurous brother, played by Duvall. If you’ve seen the movie, the two die together flying a bi-plane that they’ve built upside down through a barn on their property to see if it would fit. If I outlive my wife, and my kids were okay, I think I’d get in that plane with him 45 years from now without a second thought. I can easily picture the two of us arriving at heaven’s gates seconds later, each of us in our matching Mountain Hardware sweaters laughing our asses off with tears in our eyes and dripping bladders making “that’s what she said” jokes before a befuddled and somewhat impatient St. Peter. “Did you see the way that guy looked at us on that lawn tractor before he drove into the ditch? That was huge!”. “That’s what she said”, I would say, and the laughing would start up again and St. Peter would glance down at his watch, knowing damn well he’s gotta let us in. (as I re-read this I’m remembering Ron’s dad was a pilot…so this one is on the ‘possibility’ list, actually).
8. He who is forgiven much, forgives much. My best friend loves Jesus. He’s all in, as much as you can be all in. I don’t know anyone who does the right thing more often than Uncle Ron. If you have him as a customer, you’re likely to get the biggest tip that day. If you come in after him in a restaurant, your bill will probably get paid sooner or later before you’re done eating. If you live on the way to somewhere he drives, and there’s an obvious need from the window of his car- that need will be anonymously met the next morning. Many of you reading this right now have been recipients of the grace poured over in his life overflowing into your own, or seen what I’ve described first hand. I’ve stood next to him feeding homeless people, and helped him deliver groceries to total strangers we’ve met at a Walmart. Being around him, I feel like I understand what it was like being Paul and Barnabas back in the pages of the New Testament. These two guys who just left crater grace impacts in the lives of the people around him. I see Ron maybe arguing with Paul over who was really the “chief” of sinners, but that goes back to the whole ‘being the best at everything’ thing, above….
9. Legacy of creation. When Ron leaves planet earth, there will be hundreds, if not thousands of things running, humming, churning, chunking, widgeting and gadgeting when they pour the dirt in behind him. Sewing machines will be cycling and sewing. All sorts of everything you can imagine will be turning and running the wheels and cogs of the world. Tractors assembled and disassembled will be turning up fields for gardens and green beans. Pocket knives and foot long daggers will be shiny and cutting and hacking away at this or that. I think heaven for Ron is coming back in the new creation and making everything he made the first go around better than he did the first time. Ron’s a third generation – maker-builder. His grandfather’s grandson, and his father’s son. Gardners have been making stuff and building things as long as there have been Gardner’s, I suspect.
10. Iron sharpens iron. Being around Ron, makes me want to be a better man. He’s probably protest right now, say something about how he didn’t know anything about that. But when you’re around him, it rubs off in tangible ways. When I’m with him, there’s pretty much nothing I can’t accomplish. We’ve opened a business together and thrived in the worst economic conditions in the history of the world. We’ve walked over debris fields in northern India carrying hundreds of pounds of gear some 500 feet above a raging glacial river below. We’ve evacuated men from mountain tops mid-winter night so cold you can’t feel your fingers. I don’t regret a minute of time I’ve ever spent with him, and I can’t say that about too many people. I know as sure as shinola we haven’t hit our peak yet and secretly can’t wait to see what sorts of trouble we can’t get into as we keep going forward. Proverbs says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another”. I can say when I see Jesus that from all the verses, I know I got at least one – had at least that one, figured out. I knew what it meant because I’d experienced it first hand.