Living. That's the point, isn't it? We are all born, and we all will die. It's what we do with the living years that really matter.
I have reached a realization that with all I have shared with each of you about how Dale died, I have failed miserably in sharing with you how he lived. And that's really the point, isn't it? Because how someone dies is only a small part of their story.
I'd like to introduce you now to a fine, sweet man whose name was Robert Dale Cameron. He was born on August 25, 1960, and he died on August 20, 2009. This is how he lived:
"Dale" was the third child of Jane and Albert Cameron (both of whom also are called by their middle name, just like Dale). He has two older brothers, and one younger sister was born when Dale was two years old. They lived in the country when Dale was born.
Sometime before he started school, his family moved into town. His heart would always remain in the country. His Great Uncle, Arlee, was a lifetime bachelor who owned some farmland not far from where they lived when Dale was born. Dale really loved spending time at "the farm" with Uncle. To this day, Uncle's house has no indoor plumbing. I believe electricity was added sometime in the late 1970's. So when he was at Uncle's, they truly lived in the "old days". He would help with the horses, cows, chickens and the garden. My God how he loved to garden! He often shared stories of sitting on his Uncle's lap in the old rocking chair, hearing stories from Uncle about family and friends and learning the ways of farming and country life.
This is Dale with his nephew, Jason, on Uncle's old horse, Prince. Dale really loved this horse and spent countless hours laying on him, riding bareback, hanging out with him in the barn and talking to him.
Dale's father raised and showed American Redbone dogs (raccoon hunters). He enjoyed that activity with his dad and still beamed as big as the sun when he talked about the day "Cameron's Wildwood Rambling Rose" won the Female Best of Class award. This is surely where his love for dogs began, and that was something we definitely had in common.
He learned to take pride in his work. He learned to show up every day and do what was necessary to get the work done. He was always polite, always had a smile and a great laugh for you. If you were down, he always had an encouraging word to share.
When he was still in high school, he worked as a janitor for the school. Once he graduated high school in 1979, he got a job at a company which, at the time, was called Sperry Vickers. The company would change hands a few times over the years, but he would stay with this company until they closed in 2005. In one of his yearly evaluations, his supervisor answered the question, "Is employee reliable?" by saying, "As reliable as the sun rising in the morning". He worked for the company for 26 years and never used a personal day. He took his vacations, sure, but never used a personal day and never called in sick. Once the company closed down, he took a job at Shelter Insurance in their bulk mail room. No matter where he worked, the ladies always loved Dale. At Vickers, all the older ladies called him "Baby Cakes". He could always make the old ladies at church smile like teenagers. He was charming and sweet and always quick with his big smile!
He loved hunting with his cousin, David. On Dale's memorial page, David wrote this not long ago: "Startin' to look forward to Dove Season. I think Cousin Neal [Dale's brother] is gonna come hunt with me. I'll never forget when Neal and Dale came down just to go Dove Hunting with me in Oklahoma. We got stuck in the mud, left my truck and walked to the hunting spot. Then got caught in a DOOZIE of a thunderstorm with no where to go. In the midst of the melee of high winds, heavy rain, and big lightning, Dale calmly asked, "Is this one of them Oklahoma tornadoes I always hear about?" I said, "Not yet"! We ended up having a great hunt and when we were done, we sent Dale to the farmer's house to come pull us out of the mud. And the funny thing: not one of us would trade that day for anything.That's the way WE roll."
He also shared this memory, too: "Goin' Turkey scoutin' in the mornin'! One of my favorite times of the year. The Camerons haven't always turkey hunted. There didn't used to be any. But when people around there first started hunting them, Dale was there. He blundered around 'till he figured it out, him by himself or with his buddy, Scott. Then Albert, Neal, Bob, myself and now Michael, all have known the magic that is "Turkey Hunting", thanks to Dale. HE started it. See ya in the woods, Cousin. Peace"
And how he loved the St. Louis Cardinals!! Always listening to games, getting so frustrated when they were losing that he would turn off the radio or the TV if he was watching. He reignited my love for baseball, and I will always be a Cardinals fan thanks mostly to him (even though my father was an avid fan, too).
He LOVED music. All types of music. Not including cassettes and cd's, these were the vinyl albums he had: George Howard, David Sanborn, Sade, REM, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Genesis, The Who, Billy Joel, Toto, Asia, The English Beat, John Cougar, Jackson Browne, Molly Hatchett, Led Zeppelin, Wynton Marsalis, Bryan Adams, Falco, The Pretenders, John Lennon/Yoko Oko, Nat King Cole, The Cars, The Nails, Styx, Dweezil Zappa, Big Audio Dynamite, Supertramp, Paul Simon, Tears for Fears, Ray Price, Triumph, Waylon Jennings, Elvis Costello, Blue Oyster Cult, REO, The Moody Blues, Joan Jett, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Grover Washington, Jr., Pink Floyd, 10,000 Maniacs, Lone Justice, Eagles, BB King, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Charley Pride, Air Supply, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Dan Fogelberg, Pat Benatar, Steve Perry, Charlie Daniels Band, Little Stevie, The Time, The Human League, The Motels, Climax Blues Band, Hank Williams, Loverboy, Kenny Loggins, Quarterflash, Nicolette Larson and ELO. Wow!
I met Dale at Vickers when I started working there in 1988. I was 19, and he was 28. He had just separated from his first wife who he had dated for about 5 years prior but after only 6 months of marriage, he learned of her infidelity, and so they were separated but not yet divorced when we first met. It was in February of 1989 that we first went to lunch together. It was in March of 1990 when we married.
Those early years were spent with me watching him play softball with his friends, going on hikes, taking the dogs for nature walks, dinners and drinks with friends, finding and renting our first apartment together, buying our first house and starting our family. Looking back now, it seems we had our whole lives in front of us then. All I can do now is think back, smile, cry and shake my head.
We went on to have three beautiful children. He was a good father. He loved babies and spent lots of time holding them, talking to them and playing with them. I couldn't count how many hours he spent playing Barbies with our oldest daughter, putting together Legos with our son, taking the little one down to the creek to throw rocks in, supervising a painting project, hosting impromptu after-school dance parties, nature hiking with the boy and playing with all the Fisher Price little people with them.
My vow to Dale now is to never let them forget who he was in life.
It's amazing how it's the little things in life that remind you. Horses. Cardinals baseball. Gardening. Farming. Hands in the soil. Fishing! Sun on his face. Loose t-shirts. Levi jeans. White t-shirts. Flannel shirts. REM. Bonnie Raitt. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. INXS. Pink Floyd. Bitchin' Camaros. German shorthairs. Redbones. Fishing. Turkey hunting. Neatly folded socks, t-shirts and underwear. Flannel shirts. Singing out loud. Road trips. Michael. Scott. The Kemper boys. Camping with cousin David and brother Neal. Sitting in the rocking chair with Uncle. Having Old Timers' Day at the farm. Cute kittens. Froggin'. Muddin'. Rose moss. Cottonwood trees. Mums. Peonies. Roses of all kinds. Tilling. Planting. Cooking on a wood stove. Fire in the fireplace. beans. fried potatoes. G&D pizza. Fresh, ripe tomatoes. Cottage cheese. Strawberry shortcake. Los Lobos. The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Booche burgers. Brittanies. Coffee. Reading the newspaper. Falling asleep on the newspaper. Stories about nieces and nephews when they were little. Snoring. Baby powder. Polo cologne. Listerine. Barbasol. Ivory bar soap. Lysol kitchen cleaner. "Life's messy. Clean it up." (favorite slogan) Fishing on the back 30. Hiking randomly in the woods. Deer hunting. Falling out of trees. Turkey scouting. Playing harmonica with dark sunglasses on. How he couldn't lie (he would always rub his index finger over the top of his mouth when he was lying or trying to pull one over on you). Rubbing his hands together fast. Walking around the house with the turkey call in his mouth practicing calls. Perfect imitation of a hoot owl. Making the kids laugh by singing in his "opera" voice.
And there was so much more.
"...the point, gentlemen, is that they lived."