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Does He See the Sparrow Fall?

By: Bob Stubenrauch

Preview and purchase Bob's excellent book about WWII Cat Thirteen. Thank you for supporting the authors of WordShack.

I am a father, now seventy-one. My beloved wife, Leah, still by my side, a year or so younger. We had two wonderful boys, the first we named David, the second Bruce. They were thoughtful young boys, a joy to us then, and they became thoughtful, loving bothers and considerate young men, workaholics both.

David joined the army after graduating from high school in 1975. After his three-year hitch he declined an army offered appointment to West Point, returned home and fell in love with the theater. He slowly climbed that difficult ladder and in late 1987 was the lighting director of a prominent Baltimore theater, proud of his title, his imaginative work, his salary, and his associates. The night before the premiere of a new show, he died. He died of a cocaine overdose.

Somewhere in those years he lived away from us he fell into the awful trap of drug addiction. His mother and I stumbled and struggled to cope with our loss. We held a memorial service for him in Canton, Ohio. Canton was our home, his growing up home, and I performed the most difficult task of my life - I wrote his eulogy. I was incapable of reading it at the service and a minister read it for me. One hundred people attended, most of whom had not seen him for seven to ten years.

In Baltimore, his friends in the theater held a night long vigil and wake for him. Three hundred people attended. He was thirty years old in 1987.

From a family talk years before, his brother Bruce remembered that David had once said he could not bear the thought of a casket descending into the earth, and should anything happen to him, he wished to be cremated and his ashes scattered on the ocean.

His mother and I, bound by that wish, decided it would be appropriate to perform that rite where we had, as a young family, had the happiest days of our lives - visiting the small village of Stony Brook on the shore of Long Island sound from our home in Massapequa. Four of his fellow workers from Baltimore drove up to meet us on a raw, chilly day in mid-September.

My younger brother and his family lived just an hour away and his kitchen and living room became our base for the day. We all met there and drove in two cars to the docks of Port Jefferson, adjacent to the harbor at Stony Brook. On the road I thought back to those earlier days starting when David was six and Bruce three. We made several trips every summer until we left New York, our goal the carriage house museum, the waterfront with its display of an ancient man-o-war figurehead, a whaling dory, and always ended with the boys vying in climbing the trees that overhung the shed protecting its maritime treasures.

This was not the kind of day we would have chosen - cold, windy, low scudding clouds - not the balmy days of summer with a welcome stop in an old fashioned store for a frosty bottle of Yoo-Hoo, the chocolate drink we all favored.

Those were the days we chose, a lifetime before - today it was chosen for us, to honor our son, to say farewell, to begin another, different life without him.

My brother led us to the dockside where rolling in the swell was the fishing boat, some thirty feet long, whose owner-skipper had agreed to take us out into the sound and cruise off Stony Brook harbor while I emptied the urn containing the ashes of my son and our life, to deliver them to the dark green running sea.

We clung to the stern rail as the boat chugged outbound, alongside the long stone jetty that separated the two ports. My wife was seated on a bench against the rear of the cabin, David's friends clinging to the rail and one another.

There was a vicious short chop and the boat pitched and rolled as we passed beyond the jetty and turned west to press on a quarter mile or so until we were opposite Stony Brook harbor. It struck me first that out here all was overcast under a rumpled dirty gray sky, while on the distant shore, the sun had pierced that folded old quilt of cloud and bathed the village in bright light, even lighting the furled sails of scores of boats bobbing at anchor.

The captain had told me to come to the wheelhouse when we were ready and he would slow down with just enough headway to remain in place.

Now, I did that, and the roar of the engine settled down to a murmur. I squeezed up against the stern rail, and holding the urn tightly to my chest, held out the prayer card I had removed from my breast pocket and read as well as a crying, shaking, old, loving and dumbfounded father could, the 23rd Psalm.

The stern rose and fell; I looked around at my wife. I didn't think her legs would hold her, and I raised my voice so she could hear those words of sometimes comfort. I pried off the cover I had loosened ten minutes before and stretching out my arms, I slowly tipped the urn. The breeze took the ashes and they spattered the water several feet to our left.

As they slowly fell they swirled around and the green sea turned golden. Not merely the reflection of the sudden beam of light, not the surprising shaft of sun that split one fold of the lowering cloud bank, a full forty feet wide spilling over our boat, our lives. The water became golden of itself, even the once white crest of each chopping wave. All was beaten gold for three feet, then six feet around, spreading, then slowly giving way to the green of the watery slopes. I rushed to my wife, helped her to her feet so that she would see this before it faded away, only then realizing the boat was no longer pitching and rolling, but stable as our kitchen floor, almost as though we had run aground.

We tried to compose ourselves, my sister-in-law consoling my wife, my son's theater friends, two young men and two young women, all clasped together in their loss.

I hastened to the captain, told him we had finished our task, then hesitating somewhat - asked if he had noticed the boat become so calm and stable those few minutes before.

"…Usually miss it, but hit it bang on this time. There is a long sandbar here, comes up close to the surface, we just about clear it, and the chop levels out over it. I thought you might have noticed it," he replied.

We turned and pounded our way back to Port Jefferson, heading for the ladder we would climb to reach the dock and our cars. Now it was even chillier, no longer was there a patch of sun over Stony Brook harbor, no further shafts lighting the sea offshore. The lighting director, somewhere offstage, had turned off the lighting console, having handled his cues perfectly.

Months later I though of speaking to a chemist to ask about the reaction of sea water mixed with the ashes of one of us, then thought no, I don't want to know. David's mother and I, in the first two years of his blond infancy, had always called him "our golden boy." I would leave it at that.

For some months before David died, I had been writing my first play. It would later become a novel, but first it must be a play, a play of my World War II experiences, so I would have a reason to spend time with my son in Baltimore, where he had delightedly promised me a stage reading of my work in his theater. After his death, I continued the play and finished it that year. A local friend, herself the Artistic Director of an outstanding regional theater, kindly offered to direct a staged reading in a college here, no small undertaking.

The college theater was almost fully booked for the next twelve months, so they could offer her the facility for one night only. It was David's birthday. Throughout the reading I could not forget that, and felt him near.

Three years after David's death, his brother Bruce was stricken by a rare form of cancer. It was, and remains, incurable. After seen months of pain and suffering he died, leaving a wife, a seven year old son and a daughter of three. He was also thirty. Only his courage and his wife Peggy's love and support carried us through.

Nearly a year later, we received an invitation to attend a memorial service for all the patients who had died during the year in that hospital. It was a thoughtful gesture and we went. It too was a cold and nasty day with an inch or two of snow on the ground. Still, we were surprised to be turned away by an embarrassed staff and told they felt the weather too severe. It would be postponed, and we would be notified.

We were notified, and my wife was stunned to realize it had been moved to Bruce's birthday. Kind friends, clearly thinking these three events were mere coincidences, were embarrassed by our eager elation. Bereaved parents clutch at straws they knew.

Oh! What straws they are to us, more like telephone poles!

Torn between the everyday world of reality and the world unknown beyond this one, we prefer to think they wee indeed whispers on the wings of comfort, that the link is not completely torn asunder, somewhere on the other side they had pleaded their case successfully to send a sign, that they had arrived where we will all arrive, and all will be well. Bruce; you got through, we know.

And, David, I stll carry your business card that says, "David R. Stubenrauch - Lighting Director - Repertory Theater of Baltimore." David, we understood and were dazzled by your last show, and yes, He sees every sparrow who falls.

About the Author

Bob Stubenrauch has joined his sons. But, his loving memory stays alive through his writing. The novel he refers to in this story is Cat Thirteen which is now available through WordShack Publishing. Having read this story we suggest you also read his other works on our website. They are a testament to the way writers chronicle their lives in their work. …because words are everything.

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