This summer, our first without Hans, has been like no other. In addition to Hans being gone, the rest of the family have been away from home for much of the summer work season.
And it is very quiet.
One of the first things that struck me after Hans went to be with Jesus, was how still our house became. Of course, when death comes to a home, a subdued atmosphere is to be expected.
But this is a different kind of quiet.
It is like walking deep inside a busy factory, with the clamor of activity all around, when, suddenly, the power is cut and an abrupt and shocking silence jerks me by the collar and throws me to the floor.
Or like standing near a jetliner, the engines winding to a shriek, as the pilot prepares for takeoff. Then, as the jet disappears into the distance, the quiet swirls in and envelopes me. When my ears stop ringing, I hear birds singing in the distance and insects rustling in the brush at my feet, the sounds of life going on around me, without me, and those small noises just make the world seem even quieter – close, but far away, like Hans. The low shimmering sound of summer heat is delightful, intoxicating, heartbreaking. I can almost smell it.
Our home now, with half of us gone most of the time, is like a movie with the sound turned off, or a photo album filled with pictures in which there are no people. I go outside and look around the yard; where are the people? Where is my family? There were six of us here just a minute ago.
It is hunting season. I listen for shots in the distance that mean someone has got a moose for the freezer. I remember when Hans got a moose, his first moose, on the first day of the season. It seems so long ago.
There are no shots this year – very unusual. Shots in the woods – whether they be from Hans’ big hunting rifle, his .22, or whatever – that is one of the sounds I miss most. The sound of a boy in the woods.
Soon winter will be upon us; we will start burning wood to heat the house and to cook. Hans’ chainsaw is sitting in the freezer shed right next to his brother’s saw, right where he left it that Saturday before the crash. Manfred and the boys had been cutting trees into firewood and stacking it to haul later. Our other two boys will haul it without their brother. We will have one less saw running this winter. A chainsaw in the woods – another sound I am missing on this Fall day.
And then there is the noise that was Hans himself; the shouting, the laughing, the outrageous sounds he could make; running across the lawn issuing orders, tying a fox pelt or an empty plastic sled behind a goat and enjoying the ensuing chaos; the minor explosives he constructed and the belly laugh he erupted into after a successful detonation. Hans didn’t just enter the house. He crashed it and then filled it. When he was younger I had to remind him that the house was small and that he mustn’t use up more than his share of the available air space.
So now, I sometimes sit and listen to the quiet and remember the sounds of the past. I listen carefully for a noise that might be Hans. I hear only the chickadees and the squirrels and my own heart which, incredibly, keeps beating.