One man gathers what another man spills.
One icy morning in January of 1984, as the University of Oregon’s wrestling team headed to their next tournament in Pullman, Washington, the driver of the bus on which they were travelling lost control of the vehicle on a mountain road and could do nothing to stop it tumbling through the guardrail and over a 300-ft cliff. One boy, Lorenzo West, was killed on impact; another, 20-year-old Jed Kesey, was left brain dead. He passed away within days.
Shortly after Jed’s funeral at his family’s farm, his dad, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey, wrote the following letter to five of his closest friends
Dear Wendell and Larry and Ed and Bob and Gurney:
Partners, it’s been a bitch.
I’ve got to write and tell somebody about some stuff and, like I long ago told Larry, you’re the best backboard I know. So indulge me a little; I am but hurt.
We built the box ourselves (George Walker, mainly) and Zane and Jed’s friends and frat brothers dug the hole in a nice spot between the chicken house and the pond. Page found the stone and designed the etching. You would have been proud, Wendell, especially of the box — clear pine pegged together and trimmed with redwood. The handles of thick hemp rope. And you, Ed, would have appreciated the lining. It was a piece of Tibetan brocade given Mountain Girl by Owsley 15 years ago, gilt and silver and russet phoenixbird patterns, unfurling in flames. And last month, Bob, Zane was goose hunting in the field across the road and killed a snow goose. I told him be sure to save the down. Susan Butkovitch covered this in white silk for the pillow while Faye and MG and Gretch and Candace stitched and stapled the brocade into the box.
It was a double-pretty day, like winter holding its breath, giving us a break. About 300 people stood around and sung from the little hymnbooks that Diane Kesey had Xeroxed — “Everlasting Arms,” “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “In the Garden” and so forth. With all my cousins leading the singing and Dale on his fiddle. While we were singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Zane and Kit and the neighbor boys that have grown up with all of us carried the box to the hole. The preacher is also the Pleasant Hill School superintendent and has known our kids since kindergarten. I learned a lot about Jed that I’d either forgotten or never known — like his being a member of the National Honor Society and finishing sixth in a class of more than a hundred.
We sung some more. People filed by and dropped stuff in on Jed. I put in that silver whistle I used to wear with the Hopi cross soldered on it. One of our frat brothers put in a quartz watch guaranteed to keep beeping every 15 minutes for five years. Faye put in a snapshot of her and I standing with a pitchfork all Grantwoodesque in front of the old bus. Paul Foster put in the little leatherbound New Testament given him by his father who had carried it during his 65 years as a minister. Paul Sawyer read from Leaves of Grass while the boys each hammered in the one nail they had remembered to put in their pockets. The Betas formed a circle and passed the loving cup around (a ritual our fraternity generally uses when a member is leaving the circle to become engaged) (Jed and Zane and I are all members, y’unnerstand, not to mention Hagen) and the boys lowered the box with these ropes George had cut and braided. Zane and I tossed in the first shovelfuls. It sounded like the first thunderclaps of Revelations…
But it’s an earlier scene I want to describe for you all, as writers and friends and fathers…up at the hospital, in cold grey Spokane:
He’d finally started moving a little. Zane and I had been carrying plastic bags of snow to pack his head in trying to stop the swelling that all the doctors told us would follow as blood poured to the bruised brain. And we noticed some reaction to the cold. And the snow I brushed across his lips to ease the bloody parch where all the tubes ran in caused him to roll his arms a little. Then more. Then too much, with the little monitor lights bleeping faster and faster, and I ran to the phone to call the motel where I had just sent most of the family for some rest.
"You guys better get back over here! He’s either going or coming."
Read the rest on the lettersofnote blog: (X)