Have you ever had one of those perfect summer nights? One of those nights you wouldn’t trade for anything in the world?
Well I consider myself lucky to have had more than my fair share of them.
A cold beer, the warmth of the fire pit, and a setting sun in the distance always made the porch on my parents’ house my favorite place on earth.
And let me tell you why:
It wasn’t the setting sun, the fire pit, or the cold beer that seemed so well deserved after a long day that made that porch so special.
The reason the porch at my parents’ house means so much to me is because that’s where stories were swapped, laughs were had, and time just seemed to slow down. That porch is where memories were made.
Memories I will hold onto forever.
Memories of my friend Jay.
And oh, how I wish, I could go back in time to relive some of those memories.
Jay Baumberger touched my life and my family’s life. He was more than a friend to the Ryans. He was family.
Whether it was watching Montana Grizzly games on cold October Saturday afternoons, coming over in the morning to have a cup of coffee and talk politics and sports, or making his way across the street to sit back and laugh the night away with my family on our porch, Jay Baumberger became a big part of our lives.
He was a constant. And now he’s gone.
There won’t be any more cups of coffee, no more bottles of beer, and no more time spent with a guy we all loved.
And by God I’m going to miss him.
The other night after hearing of Jay’s passing, I went and had dinner with my older brother. Bill and I sat at the bar for hours and shared stories about Jay. Each one better than the last.
Boy could that guy make you laugh.
There was the story of when Jay was refereeing the District 10C Tournament in Great Falls last February and I was broadcasting the games on the radio.
Early that next morning, Jay made his way over to my parent’s house for an early cup of coffee and handed me five dollars.
He said, “My mom called me last night when the games were over to tell me she heard you bragging me up on the radio. She said I must have had a great game because every time the whistle blew you would say on the radio, ‘And there’s another great call by official Jay Baumberger’”.
Jay was beaming ear-to-ear when he recited what his mom had told him about listening to the games and how proud she was.
I couldn’t resist joking, “Well Jay, it’ll be another 10 dollars if you want me to do it again today.”
Looking back on it, I should’ve done it for free.
I played a lot of golf with Jay over the years. Summers weren’t complete without playing a scramble with Jay on your team.
I still remember the first tournament we played in together something like 10 years ago.
It was the Classic 50’s Scramble and the team was my Dad, my great uncle Sam Atkins, Jay, and myself.
It was just one of those lucky days and we ended up winning the tournament shooting 18-under par. But the player of the day was Jay.
He found something in his compact swing that day and wound up winning three of the closest to the pin prizes. He beat out some great golfers on the par 3’s that day and claimed his winnings.
I’m not sure he was ever as happy as he was when he kept getting his name called over the microphone and was handed an envelope of money each time.
That redhead walked out of the bar with so much money you would’ve thought he robbed the place.
When I got home from that tournament and Jay was still out celebrating, I went down to the workbench in our basement and took an old wooden paint mixer and stapled some cardstock onto it. I wrote on the sign and ran across the street to stick it in his yard. It read:
Closest to the Everything
July 10, 2008
Like an Olympian with his medal, Jay prominently displayed that sign in his mancave for years.
In hindsight, closest to everything is a pretty good way to describe Jay.
He was close with everyone he knew, and he knew a hell of a lot of people.
He was close to my Dad, as they became best of friends and would sneak off to play golf and more often than not end up trimming trees and branches at Eagle Falls Golf Course.
Jay once joked as he was sawing a branch off an old evergreen that, “this was better for his golf game than any amount of time on the driving range”.
He was close to me because I couldn’t have asked for a better supporter in the world. Jay always believed in me, and that made me believe in myself.
So, I say thank you, Jay.
Thanks for being such a great friend to my Dad and I.
And thanks for being so close to my heart.
So now, when I sit on my porch, with a magnificent red setting sun in the sky, a cold beer in my hand, and a warm fire near my feet.
I’m going to look across the street.
And my heart is going to hurt.
And I’m going to wish I could see my friend Jay, making his way over to share another perfect summer night with my family.
With his family.
Rest easy Jay.
Lord knows I’ll miss ya.