Warren was good to me.
From as early as I can remember, he took up residence in my life as a driving force. Warren taught me to fish. He was a bass man, and damn proud of it. As such, my early childhood fishing was dedicated to chasing large-mouth, with some crappie fishing mixed in when the bass weren't being cooperative.
It's easy to trace my fishing roots. Hell, I grew up along the Mississippi river, my parents took me camping quite a bit, and with an influence like Warren in my life: becoming a lifelong fisherman was practically written into my genetic code. The memories of the trips to Lake Thunderhead (somewhere in Missouri) with Warren, Ann (his wonderful wife) and Babe are the memories that mean so much to me that I rarely talk about them.
It wasn't unusual for Warren to call my dad and tell him to bring me over to go pheasant hunting, or to get my stuff ready for a weekend fishing trip--we would be leaving right after I got home from school.
For those who know my father, he is an old softy now--age will do that to you-- but back in the day....people didn't just "tell" my dad what to do. Ever.
Except of course, Warren.
Through years of working closely together in the shops building "crawlers" for J.I Case, an amazing friendship was forged. I don't remember much about what he did at the shops other than he was a welder and my dad was the foreman. My dad tells me that he's never seen a better welder than Warren; apparently his fillet welds looked like works of art. They had been through some tough times in that factory and had a friendship that was a strong as they get.
While Warren was a big part of my life, his dog "Babe" left a pretty solid dent in my heart too. Babe was a gorgeous English Springer Spaniel, and has always been the yardstick by which I measure dogs. I can't be sure, but I would bet that if Babe were ever threatened by something or someone, Warren would have protected her with his life. I know Babe would have protected him with hers. There was a bond between them that can't be described. It was, for lack of a better way to express it...absolute love.
Warren and Babe were inseparable. Pheasant hunting was Warren's other passion and in the field was where Warren and Babe were at their best. There wasn't a pheasant in west central Iowa that was safe with Babe working the field and flushing birds with Warren patiently waiting, shotgun in hand. When he shot, he rarely missed and when it was time to retrieve, Babe never failed. They worked as if they were one, and as far as I was concerned, they were superheros. I remember asking him once, how he had found the perfect dog? His answer? "I didn't pick Babe. I picked her litter, then all that was left was commit to the puppy that came home with me. It just worked out that Babe and I were meant to be together".
If wisdom were a single person, and had a voice--Warren was it. That said, I don't believe the "meant to be" part of his comment. He gave Babe his undivided attention and love. She was the recipient of the type of environment that every dog deserves: an owner who fully committed to her. Warren may have said it was "meant to be" but I happen to believe that it was more like a good marriage; sometimes difficult, but they were always devoted to each other, and it was always worth the effort. He treated her with love and respect, she simply responded in kind.
I wasn't old enough to undetrstand at the time, but because it was Warren who told me this, I filed his words away like so many other things that he taught me.
Warren had a great sense of humor and a way of boiling down what needed to be said into precious few, carefully chosen words. Occasionally, one liners and pearls of wisdom from him bubble to the top, and I catch myself singing a limerick that was made up about me one night in the camper. On that night, I bolted out of my bunk and outside into a severe thunderstorm because I had waited too long to go pee. I barely made it past the awning and nearly got hit by a tree branch that came down from the wind.
It was a funny limerick, and was made even better because he made it up spontaneously. Over the years, we had a lot of laughs over that night. In fact, my parents and I still enjoy bringing it up occasionally,. Warren still brings smiles to our faces, despite the fact that 30 yeas have passed since we last saw him.
In the way that wisdom can be sneaky, the limerick has also served as a cautionary tale about waiting too long to do what needed to be done.
I'm listening Warren. I am definitely listening.
Warren past away in 1986. I was 16 and never had the chance to really tell him what he meant to me.
To be continued...