Pier One has been running a series of commercials featuring various women walking past quirky items that inexplicably start talking to them. After pausing to listen to the items, the women decide they must have them. The tag line is, “Pier One. Find something that speaks to you.”
My buddy, Jim Cooper, passed away a few years ago from pancreatic cancer. He was a good friend and an amazing man who endeared himself to all who knew him. He had many passions, one of which was cycling. Recently, the Greenbrier Valley Bicycle Club from Lewisburg, WV, his most recent home, wanted to honor his memory by installing a special bike rack in the city. To raise money for the bike rack project, Mark Blumenstein, a local artist, donated one of his sculptures for a raffle.
I saw a photograph of the sculpture on Facebook. It was made of black iron and featured a wild creature with an extremely long snout, long, curly tendrils of hair snaking out of its head and back, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, popping a wheelie on a bicycle. One hand was waving magnanimously while one of its legs stuck straight out from the bike, ready to flatten anyone who got in his way.
“WOOHOO!” it said. “WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!”
I had to have it.
I have to admit that at first, I wanted it because of the hair– it so resembled my own (except for the back hair). But the more I looked at the sculpture, the more I saw Jim. Jim had an aura of joy. He was kindhearted and caring, and was passionate about trying to make the world a better place for everyone. But he was crazy fun! A group of us would take trips with Jim and his wife, Carolyn, and he would keep us in stitches the whole time. He had such an unassuming sense of humor. He would pick his moment, quietly deliver a statement, and suddenly everyone would be peeing their pants from laughing so hard.
In the summer of 2009, a group of us, including Jim and Carolyn, went backpacking in the Wind River Range. Jim decided that he wanted to summit one of the smaller peaks in the range. He read his guidebook, picked out a peak called Mt. Hooker, a 12,000-footer that was supposed to be an easy scramble, and set out for the challenge. The rest of us were less motivated, so we lounged on some rocks and watched his progress. Soon all we could see was a tiny patch of the red shirt he wore, stark against the gray rocks of the mountainside. The scramble looked harder than the guidebook description, and sure enough, Jim had to turn back before summiting. As we headed back to camp, we passed a couple of hikers who were very familiar with that part of the Wind River Range. We mentioned Jim’s failed attempt to summit Mt. Hooker, and pointed towards the peak. When we looked back at them, they were pointing at a different peak. Seems that Jim had spent all day trying to summit the wrong peak! We teased Jim mercilessly about his mistake, but ultimately agreed that we would return another time just so that Jim could summit the real Mt. Hooker.
We never had the chance. Jim was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and passed away in January, 2012. He was a special man.
So when I heard about the bike rack project in Lewisburg, I knew that I wanted to support the effort. The fact that I had completely fallen in love with the sculpture made the raffle that much more intriguing. I bought my tickets and waited impatiently for Carolyn to call and tell me that my name had been drawn as the winner.
Of course, I never win anything, so I wasn’t surprised when she told me that someone else had won. In fact, John Francis, one of the people who had worked the hardest to organize the raffle, had won it. I was glad, because I knew that someone who loved Jim would own the sculpture that so reminded me of Jim’s spirit.
A few days later, I received a mysterious package in the mail. I opened it—and there was that gorgeous, quirky, crazy, wheelie-popping, lunatic-on-a-bicycle sculpture! It was perfect.
I called Carolyn to find out the story. Seems that after John won the raffle, he had decided to auction the sculpture, and since Carolyn knew how much I loved it, told John that she wanted to bid on it for her “friend from Kentucky.”
I had actually met John a few years back at Jim’s birthday/retirement party. Attendees were encouraged to write a poem in honor of Jim’s retirement, and during the party we would all compete in a Poetry Slam with Jim as the judge. I wrote a poem that mentioned Jim’s failed attempt to summit Mt. Hooker, and decided to dress in a costume that best represented the peak in question (you can view the performance here).
Carolyn explained who I was, and for some reason, John remembered me, my poem, and my *ahem* outfit. His reaction? “The girl who recited the poem wants it?? Here Carolyn, just take the sculpture and give it to her.” Payment for entertainment value from that party? No, just a thoughtful gesture. Still, I love the story behind how it came to be mine.
I am now the proud owner of my very first sculpture. I’ve named it “Cooperpelli” in honor of Jim, and when I look at it, the spirit of joy and wild abandon emanating from it shouts “WOOHOO!” as it careens through my memories. So thank you, John Francis, for parting with your treasure. And as for you, Jim Cooper: maybe we’ll make it back to the Wind River Range one day to summit the REAL Mt. Hooker—in your honor.