by Stan Crader
As a consequence of writing several novels and posting a regular bog, I get the chance to speak about, you guessed it, writing. After a few speaking engagements I’ve developed a sense on how best to adapt my talk on writing to specific audiences. I begin with a short introduction and jump immediately into answering follow up questions from previous engagements. The most popular answer is to the question, “What are some interesting things that have happened as a result of being an author?” The following is the long answer to a short question; it involves a trip to NYC as a result of donating book proceeds to veterans.
Earlier this year I bought a black suit-it was the first suit I’d purchased in maybe two decades. I also bought a new white shirt, tie, and dress socks but stopped short of new shoes. I’m funny about shoes, one of those rare people that still get them resoled. The new suit, shirt, tie, and socks were for a special event to which Debbie and I had been invited-or so I thought.
We’d been invited to attend the New York Stock Exchange Congressional Medal of Honor Gala. It would be our first trip to New York. We weren’t particularly looking forward to New York City but felt honored to have been invited to a most prestigious event.
Since we were sure this would be our first and last trip to NYC, we arrived a day early and planned to make a weekend of it, taking in all of the famous sites. We awoke our first day to the winter storm that paralyzed the eastern half of the country Valentine’s Day week. Having watched the weather forecast days before, we’d taken the right clothes. There’s no such thing as bad weather, I always say, just bad gear.
Debbie and I braced ourselves and stepped out of the warm hotel lobby into a cold wintry NYC. “Need a cab?” The bellman asked. “Nope, we’re walking.” He gave us one of those looks. As it turned out the cabs were of little use-the snow was already several inches deep. We made our way to the subway and miraculously got on the right train that took us to Grand Central Terminal. I need to mention that we asked directions several times during the day and found everyone to be most gracious. In four days, we never encountered a rude person. It wasn’t what we expected.
While enduring a driving sleet and snowstorm, we raced to every major attraction in the city by foot and subway. It was a mess; we had a blast.
We returned to the hotel with only minutes to spare before time to head to the Gala. I got my tie tied on the first try, a harbinger of good things to come. Once through security, we were ushered to the New York Stock Exchange floor where, along with several others, were greeted by thirty four Congressional Medal of Honor recipients-one WWII, three Korea, twenty five Vietnam, and five Iraq / Afghanistan.
The experience was exponentially more than anything we could have imagined. It was a spine tingling surreal evening. Because of our support of veterans through book sales proceeds, Robert Simanek, a Korean War veteran, presented me with his challenge coin. It was a chin quivering moment.
During the banquet each table was honored with a hero. Don Ballard, a Vietnam era recipient and a user of Stihl products, was seated at ours. Don shared with us the events that resulted in him being awarded the Medal of Honor. During dinner I asked the others seated if they had ever been in a room with a more distinguished group of people. None could say they had. I was sure that I hadn’t and furthermore would never again be in the presence of such a moving group of people. I would be proven wrong again, and too soon.
One week after Debbie and I returned to Missouri, my father passed away unexpectedly. On the day of his Victory, he and Saundra, his wife of seventeen years, had attended Church where he played the piano to everyone’s worshipful delight. After worship service they’d gone to lunch at Jer’s, famous for fried chicken, with friends. That afternoon he worked in his yard, sat down on a bench that sets between two towering trees, and fell asleep, for the last time. He passed peacefully from this world into that of our Heavenly Father. Jesus promised he was going to prepare a place for us. And now Dad is there. But I’m stuck here with the rest of my family. Ever wish you were in two places at the same time?
An endless stream of well-wishers and mourners waited hours in line to share their personal Don Crader story at his visitation and funeral. My knees never hurt so good while I stood with my family for over six hours shaking more hands than a politician on election day. Against my will I spoke a few words at the funeral. While standing at the podium, and looking out at a sea of friends and family, I then realized two things. The reason I’d purchased a new black suit wasn’t for the previous week’s Gala event, it had been for Dad’s funeral, but God hadn’t taken him yet. And the most important group of people I’d ever have the privilege to be in the presence of weren’t those assembled at the Medal of Honor banquet–they were in that sanctuary.
It’s not always what you think.
Stan Crader was born and raised in Bollinger County Missouri. Coming of age in rural Missouri provided him the material for many of the rich characters in his books. He credits the variety of jobs and the people with which he has worked for providing him his creative foundation.