Sad news from ZIP code 04074 today. Cousin Chris died. Cancer. Age 53. Damn.

Always confounds me that our society has not yet found a cure. Disease so prevalent. Good people working on it.

Damn.

Funeral was a bummer. Life has many accepted story lines. One is that a person is not supposed to die early.

Chris was not a superstar in life. Not a Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year type. Not a stud athlete.

Just a good, solid, happy, low-key, quiet, smiling, observant, loyal friend type of guy.

Farm boy. Milked cows. Baled hay. Early to bed, early to rise.

Think of Uncle Henry in the “Wizard of Oz,“ but with one-word answers to most questions and events. Always wearing a little half smile.

When people of this personality die, loved ones seem to work overtime to find unique things to say. I have seen loved ones try to magnify the departed in death beyond what they were in life. After attending more services than I wish 2003 to now, my feeling?

Don’t.

Chris, and others like him, teach us many lessons just by living their lives the way they do. Stoic. Plain spoken. Quick name me five people you know with these qualities. OK, three?

Know anything about the dairy farms the past 30 years? Ravaged. Operating costs up. Selling prices for milk or meat down. Value of land much greater for 150-lot “Happy Wonderland” housing subdivisions than for a farming operation. “Grapes of Wrath” is a hard life.

Here are some stories you will recognize about the Chris’s in your life. (I resisted the urge to speak at the service. Harry Foote, the late publisher of The Current’s sister newspaper, once said: “People do not usually leave these commemorations saying, ‘Boy, if we could JUST have had another couple speakers.’” )

Partners in crime

I was the youngest of four. Chris was one of four strong boys. He and I often got the short end of the stick as tykes. Losing early in Hide and Go Seek? Get to the plate of Grandma Stimson’s whoopie pies too late? Let’s go out to the barn!

There was a big shiny aluminum milk storage container in there. The cow milk went in. It was kept cold. A truck came to pick it up daily.

At age 7, I persuaded Chris that we should open it up and spit in it!

Luckily, Uncle Charlie walked by as we inched into the Milk Room. Caught! I told him what the plan was and humbly offered Chris up. Chris said nothing. Uncle Charlie said you boys run along.

It has only taken me 40-plus years to come clean. (The statute of limitations has run, right?)

Choose up sides

I am not sure how or why, but farm boys in the l960s-70s-80s liked baseball. We would choose teams, and play in one of several cow pastures.

The master strategist always, I once asked Chris what he was going to do next at bat. He said bunt down 3B line. I said what?! “It doesn’t roll,” he said. He pointed to rocks, and bumps.

To this day, if our school groundskeeper often applies too much water to the 3B line, I think of Chris’ plan. It helps bunters …

How high is high?

There was a mountain way off across the hay fields from the farm, Mt. Wachusett. I asked Chris once if we could just go and run away and climb it.

“Too tall,” he said. Multi-word declaration!

I reminded him of that conversation a few years ago. “And you wouldn’t go climb it. You said it was too tall!”

Still is, he said. Consistent.

How much for the land? Heart included?

We, cousins of Chris, had a family chunk of land in the l970s and 80s, about 200 acres near the Maine Mall, that was always sought after by the Big Box stores. After much haranguing, my father, at age 88, made a deal with the Scarborough Land Trust. Chris heard the news. Most extended-family commentators focused on the money, development rights, etc. Chris said only: “He will miss his land.” Only a farmer would think that way.

Is there more in there?

In college, I majored in journalism. The inquisitiveness that came with the degree made me wonder if there was more to Chris in conversations than smiling, monosyllabic responses. Was he just agreeing to agree? Summer 1979 test:

Me: Sox are having a good summer.

Chris: (Affirmative grunt)

Me: Torrez is a good pitcher.

Chris: (Affirmative grunt)

Me: But Jim Palmer of the Orioles is better.

Chris: (Affirmative grunt)

Me: In fact, the Orioles are better than the Sox.

Chris: (Affirmative grunt)

Me: The O’s are four games up.

Chris: Two.

(A one-word KO!!)

Bite your tongue!!!

In the l980s, his favorite player, Carl Yastrzemski, was going to be a free agent. Yaz talking about leaving the Sox after 20 years. Heaven forbid!

Me: Hear about Yaz?

Chris (Affirmative grunt)

Me: He might leave the Sox.

Chris: (Affirmative grunt)

Me: Can’t blame him for going after more money somewhere.

Chris (Pause…then affirmative grunt)

Me: He might go to the Yankees.

Chris: Never.

(He was listening to me after all!!)

Change my will

At the service for Chris, he one-upped me again. The organist ended the service with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

Brilliant!

Memo to file Change will. Add clause: “My Personal Representative shall be directed, in connection with any service or memorial event designed to recognize or other wise celebrate my life in any religious or spiritual ceremony or service that is held for this occasion, in compliance with any Last Will and Testament I prepare and execute and leave for interpretation to satisfy requirements under Maine law of my estate, to arrange with any person providing musical entertainment or accompaniment of any type to perform the song, with proper recognition and copyright compliance, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

I know. Chris could have said this simpler.

Some people teach vivid lessons just by living.

You did, Chris.

Dan Warren lives in Scarborough. He can be reached at [email protected]