Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

RIP Uncle Chuck, and Thank You

January 23, 2020

There are so many great memories.  Low fives in the lobby at church.  Corn boils at the farm.  Batting cages in the basement.  Creating a whirlpool in the above-ground pool.  Getting special treatment at the First Free Day Camp (held at Chuck and Sara’s farm– we nieces and nephews were Day Camp *royalty*).  Pony rides.  Four-wheeler courses.  Per diem deliveries across the midwest.  The coolest collection of vintage trucks.  Ice cream (“you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM!!”)

And oh, that smile.  What a smile!  It was thrilling as a kid to make him laugh, and to see that thousand-watt smile.

When our infant son died, we were devastated.  Of course, without question, Chuck and Sara gassed up the car and drove to Washington, DC to be at the funeral.  Even more, as he walked up the driveway the morning of the funeral to say hello, he didn’t question the fact that I was anxiously washing our family car.  In fact, he wordlessly understood that washing the car was something I desperately needed to do that day, so he left me to it.  That kind of deep empathy and quiet solidarity is extremely rare in this old world, and Charles Salberg had it in abundance.

After he retired he traveled all over the world to build playgrounds in countless communities, and he wasn’t shy about saying that the most difficult and impoverished place he ever visited was a Native American Reservation in the middle of this country.  Again, empathy and solidarity.  He didn’t just read about it, he experienced it. And he shared it with others.

There was the particularly memorable Boone County Fair when the otherwise unassuming Chuck Salberg entered a car in the Demolition Derby.  His fearlessness and skillful driving put him on the medal stand– as the Grand Champion!  We cheered and cheered and cheered.  Then I watched in awe as he kindly declined the ceremonial kiss from the pretty lady who was the Official Boone County Fair Queen– he was a devoted husband even in that moment of glory.

But my most lasting memory was of his marathon success. It was a big deal, and he was really proud of it:  a bona fide finish in the great Chicago Marathon.  I remember playing in the pool at the farm in Caledonia, watching him lace up his shoes and head out for a training run on those windy country roads.  He was gone so long I forgot all about it– until he strode back up the gravel driveway, drenched in sweat, breathing hard and glowing in the accomplishment.  He seemed larger than life, and that level of determination and devotion affected me at a cellular level.

Years later, I was honored to preside at his daughter Jessica’s wedding in Rockford.  Though it was August, the weather was unseasonably cool and I was a little worried about my own marathon training run that weekend.  Uncle Chuck was of course very aware of my running pursuits, and my need to stay devoted to my training schedule.  Without me asking, he offered to share some running gear for me to keep warm.

I was elated!  Not only was I connecting with my mighty uncle, but I would end up with some cool vintage running gear– a nifty warmup from back in the day!

It came in a plastic shopping bag, and I could barely keep it closed until I got back to the car.

…it was a navy blue hoodless cotton sweatshirt.  Not at all what I expected, but of course EXACTLY the state-of-the-art clothing that hardcore runners wore back in the 80s.  I wore it with pride, even though it quickly soaked with sweat, leaving me chilled.

I loved that sweatshirt and that experience because I felt such a connection to someone I admired so much.  And when I finished my own Chicago Marathon, Sara was there to cheer for me.  Though Uncle Chuck needed to stay home, I crossed that finish line knowing that he had gone before me.  My great day was made even better by sharing it with him.

Now he’s crossed a much bigger finish line.  He’s gone on ahead of us, to his reward. He should be even more proud of this accomplishment!  A lifetime of devotion and dedication to the task.

So we say, ‘Well done, Charles Salberg.  You worked hard, and you persevered.  Well done husband, father, and grandfather.  Well done uncle, son, coach, and friend.  Well done boss, partner, and fellow church member.  We were privileged to know you, and to now carry on your memories.  Well done. And thank you.’

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