Butterflies and a Red Cap
Remember those old movies where the guy is at his desk, deep in thought, scribbling down a few words on a piece of paper, only to wad it up and toss it aside? The camera pans to the trash can and the floor is littered with balls of paper that shows he hasn’t a clue of how to make the words come out right… that’s me. Of all the events to take place this year, my thoughts are consumed with the significance of a red ball cap. Allow me to share and make a change to the usual format this year.
Our first indication of anything wrong came in a phone call about 6:40pm, on June 11th, from Cole’s Scout Master. “A tornado just hit Little Sioux, there are boys injured…” A tornado had roared through the North Valley of the 1800 acre Little Sioux Scout Ranch, located about an hour north of us, where Cole was participating as a Pahuk Pride staff member. That became the longest night of our lives. It would be 4 hours before we learned that Cole had been sighted and was OK and another 4 hours before we were reunited with him. A hug never felt so good… but at the same time, nothing was as heartbreaking as learning of the loss of Ben, Josh, Sam and Aaron.
A few days later I went with dozens of other families to gather what was salvaged of Cole’s things. The only item Cole hoped I could bring back was his dirty old red troop ball cap that he received his first day as a Boy Scout. It never left his head and the boys in his troop consider it his “soul”. I searched for nearly an hour through muddy, shredded camping gear, some labeled, some not. His red cap was not recovered. Cole had lost most everything but it didn’t matter. We had Cole. As I was leaving, an organizer asked me to sign for the scouts recovered items. When he saw Cole’s name on the list, he lead me to a private area where they had separated the items belonging to the four boys we lost so those parents could be alone to collect their boys’ things. Cole’s gear was among Aaron’s belongings as the two had shared Aaron’s tent the night before the storm.
I was left alone with Aaron’s belongings and it gave me a very real sense of just how short 14years is. I remember when each of our kids were born like it was yesterday. I began to talk to Aaron and asked him if he was ok. As I lifted a tote lid belonging to Aaron, attached to the underside of the lid was a picture of Carol Eilerts, Aaron’s mom, with a note that said. “I know you miss me”. My heart just sank. I couldn’t imagine what these families must be going through. I peered into Aaron’s tote and found a deck of cards belonging to Cole. As I reached in to retrieve the cards a flashlight began to blink at the bottom of the tote. Thinking I had bumped the switch, I turned it off… but it kept blinking. I picked it up and it went dark. As soon as I put it down, it began to blink again. I had a very real sensation come over me that Aaron was telling me he was ok. I left with out a red cap, but knowing the boys are still with us.
The scouts and their parents were given opportunities to visit the campsite to help with the healing process. During one of those visits, Pam and I were at the North Shelter, where the boys had died, when a butterfly landed on her arm. Seemingly out of nowhere, hundreds of tiny white butterflies began fluttering around the area and landing on us. It was an amazingly beautiful sight. They were nowhere else in the entire camp! It seemed clear to us that the boys were with us again. Pam talked to Aaron and asked if he were listening, could he please lead Cole to where his red cap was. We went home without it, but couldn’t stop talking about the butterflies.
A few months ago we met Bob and Carol Eilerts during a National Court of Honor where the boys from Little Sioux were recognized. They are truly remarkable people who inspire me with their dignity and grace. They talked with Cole and thanked him for the stories he had shared with them in a letter about him and Aaron sharing a tent and playing poker in the rain at camp that week. As we learned more about Aaron we found out how truly special he was. (http://aaroneilerts.blogspot.com) We promised to stay in touch.
As I began to gather my ideas for this letter, my thoughts were with the families of the four boys. This will no doubt be a difficult Christmas for them. While we had a great year with a new job, new home addition, marching band stories, kids excelling in school, and so on, I didn’t know how to sum up this year. Then, just a few days ago, Cole received an email from the Eilerts. I’d like to share that with you.
Sent: Monday, December 08, 2008 12:39 PM
Subject: Aaron's Parents
Bob and I were at the camp this weekend along with the Fennens, Petrizilkas, Thomsens, along with the memorial board making some decisions and just spending time at the camp. My husband Bob and Brian Petrizilka were walking up in the hill across from the staff camp and found your backpack, billfold, and other things wrapped up in your tent. We brought these things home with us in case you wanted any of the items back. There are still some things that are frozen in part of the tent, so I am not sure if there is anything salvageable in there. I have your billfold, red scout hat, a pair of scout pants and your pahuk bandana, and of course a whole lot of poker chips......All of these things were wrapped up in your tent. They were found west of the leaders camp up in the hill.
There is also a little more to the story. I asked Aaron to help us figure out where we should put something to honor the 4 boys. We wanted it to be something that would welcome scouts back into the north valley. After deciding on a spot at the entrance of the north valley, Bob and Ben's dad Bryan were up at that point doing some measuring to see how much room there would be and there is where they found Cole's items. I think that was a sign that we picked a good spot.
Bob and Carol Eilerts
Without Cole knowing of this, I asked him to come to the podium and read this to his troop last Thursday at their Court of Honor. The boys began to whisper, “I bet they found Cole’s hat”! You should have seen the smiles and high fives in the room.
Life is an amazing journey. The significance of a silly old cap found frozen in the woods became immeasurable in value and meaning to us. We take comfort in knowing there are angels disguised as butterflies at Little Sioux. Aaron, Ben, Sam and Josh, we miss you. God bless you and your families. And of course, God bless the troops… and the Scouts!
Doug, Pam, Cole, Elic, and Silas