Sunday, July 13, 2014

In Memoriam

I realized this week that I put the cart before the horse when I started providing brief capsules that summarize chapters in "The Leather Man." I forgot the dedication page, possibly because it's not identified as such. It conveys an obscure reference to three young men whose lives touched mine. It reads simply:
To Dana, Morgan and Rayce. Their fire died too soon.
Believe it or not, it took me a long time to find the right combination of those few words, because my feelings run deep about the trio. Although they never met, they are forever linked in my memory because they shared certain things in common: Each was fearless, athletic, ran afoul of the law and died young. The passing of each one influenced the way I looked at life for years.
  • Dana Richardson was a few months older than I was, but he seemed to know so much more about life. He was handsome, quick with a quip and street-tough. In the melting pot of Marsh Valley (Idaho) High School, formed before the 1955-56 school year by consolidating three rural high schools, he represented the factory kids. Inkom had industrialization because of the Ash Grove Cement plant, basically the only non-agricultural industry in Marsh Valley, and that set the kids from Inkom apart. But Dana got along with everyone who didn't cross him. He played fullback on a remarkable Class 3A high school team which _ in the fall of 1957 _ nearly upset Pocatello High School, a nationally ranked 5A institution that had 10 times as many students as Marsh Valley's 305. The Indians scored late to win 7-6, but the mismatch was so unusual it was written up in newspapers as far away as Salt Lake City. That season was a high-water mark for Dana: The day before graduation, some other seniors and I went to visit him at the Bannock County Jail. Speaking through the metal door, we wished him the best. A few years later, despondent over the breakup of his marriage, he took his own life.
  • Morgan Judd lived to be 41, quite a bit longer than the other two. He died in 2003 after an extended bout with Reiter syndrome, a nasty type of arthritis which reacts to bacterial infection in the body. Some believe his arthritis worsened during his years in prison on an armed-robbery conviction; others attribute it to having to spend time in meat lockers because of his work as a meat-cutter. Much as in Dana's case, a woman proved to be Morgan's undoing. He entered a Circle K in Tucson, Ariz., with a butcher knife to get the money his estranged wife demanded in payment for the chance to hold their baby. In happier times Morgan was a standout third baseman and designated hitter for St. David High School, where he also starred as a football lineman.
  • I never met Rayce Rindfleisch, but after his funeral I felt I knew him as well as the other two. A user and dealer of methamphetamines, he was shot to death on Feb. 27, 2008, by a Bonneville (Idaho) County deputy while trying to escape from a home where he commandeered a couple's vehicle. Those facts paint a grim picture, but there was another side to Rayce. He was an exceptional athlete _ an Idaho state wrestling champion at Blackfoot High School, an all-state football player, a promising cage fighter _ and a friend to lesser beings. One of the speakers at his funeral was a former teammate who had the misfortune to wrestle in the same weight division, essentially condemned to be a sparring partner for a more talented athlete who was always going to represent the varsity in meets. The second-stringer was halfway through his eulogy when he acknowledged as much and added, "One thing about Rayce: He never hurt my feelings." I was so impressed I used part of the phrase in my book. Rayce Rindfleisch was 31 when he passed away.

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