September 10, 2013
From thirty-some thousand feet above the Pacific, with the tinkle of mojito-submerged ice cubes punctuating the generic drone of jet travel, I found myself alone with thoughts being held in place by the reality of loss.
My brother-in-law Billy Terheggen’s end game at home on Kauai had not been pretty and the need to wrap my sister and the rest of his family in my arms overwhelmed all else.
Dealing with the recent losses of two Park City friends, JD Christensen and David Chaplin, also occupied subspace orbiting the periphery of consciousness as the plane closed in, ever so methodically, on the oldest island of the main Hawaiian chain. I wasn’t having an easy go of it. Mortality being what it is, all of it and none of it made sense.
With brother McGee both meeting the plane and catching the brunt of my emotional arrival, the decompression process began in earnest. Prescribing the healing view from Ahukini, a location used in the filming of "Donovan’s Reef," one of our favorite John Ford-directed John Wayne films, he quickly negotiated the short dead-end spur.
Totally breathtaking! Literally! I began taking in lungs-full of air, long, slow, and deep. As Everett Ruess learned in the canyon country of Utah, too much beauty all at once can bring on a vertigo, of sorts. You can actually "O.D." on the stuff!
Memories of recreating with Billy, both in Utah and Kauai, had not been far from the surface since word came that, at last, his hard-fought battle had ended. His family couldn’t get over how peaceful his actual moment of passing had been. And now, people were streaming in from all over to be part of memorials to and celebrations of his life.
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Throughout the island, couch space, floor space, and spare-bedroom space began filling up. Many of Billy’s pals from many disparate points of the compass did whatever it took for them to be part of this most auspicious gathering of the tribe. Everyone had stories and love they believed needed sharing. It was one hug-rich environment!
Virtual jungles-worth of exotic Hawaiian flora began suddenly appearing at homes of family members triggering botanical artworks saluting Billy’s passions for waterskiing, fishing, and his work (calling? mission?) of restoring historical and iconic island buildings utilizing native woods and traditional carpentry techniques.
Billy, you see, was an artist of woodworking and gardening. With paintings, he worked mostly in acrylics. His family shared his artistic temperament. So, when flower arrangements began appearing featuring his famed tool belt, an early-generation fiberglass water ski ("Mack the Knife"), and a loooong fishing rod he had built to catch the ever-illusive Giant Ulua, there was much awe but little surprise.
Then there were the wreaths dedicated to his obsessions for L.A. sports teams like the Dodgers, Lakers and USC Trojans. Those of us with similar maladies feel his pain. No doubt Billy went straight to heaven following his passing. We’re all fairly sure that time spent as an L.A. sports fan counts toward any penance that might have been accrued during one’s lifetime.
Before and after the church service and the graveside rites and all throughout the celebration-of-life at the large pavilion of the beachside Lydgate Park, tears and laughter took turns recalling how special a life Billy had lived.
Stories from his "quite naughty" early youth on the mainland to his quite "adventurous" days acclimatizing to life on Kauai, mostly involving horticulture, were told and retold, doing laps around the room. His "barefoot" water ski days with his brother Kenny of the sacred Wailua River, of course, became part and parcel to the extraordinary day.
Some of my stories involved the times he and his family would come to Utah in the winter. Word would immediately spread among the faithful and a "gang ski" would be organized. Our L.A. expatriate tribe would form the nucleus but the family had made many friends among Park City locals throughout the years and they too would show up to make turns and frolic in the snow.
Or when Billy and I would "toss bugs" on that prime section of the lower Provo River back before it became wall-to-wall. Or wander in to some of the more accessible lakes in the Uinta Range. There were subtle complaints about the temperature differential between Kauai and Park City, of course, but it never seemed to keep them indoors for long.
As with most tales of misspent youth and well-spent adulthood, Billy Terheggen lived life to the fullest and those of us lucky enough to have spent time in his inner circle are forever blessed. Billy, or "Billy-guy" in the Pidgin vernacular of the Islands, had a great run. He was "da kine!"
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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