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Steve, the mischief-maker

January 18, 2017

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By Jeff Armbruster (youngest brother)

January 21, 2017

Here's a little story about Steve as a teenager.


I'm the youngest of four boys. Steve was 'the second oldest brother'. He was always very cool and I idolized him in a lot of ways. In those days Steve took up surfing, of all things, in Washington State. The waters are frigid and the waves are usually blown out. I remember one time when Steve and a friend--Mark?-- decided to head out and surf on the Peninsula. He was a teenager and doubtless had no interest in having his 12 year old brother come along on this adventure. But he also knew that my older brother Rod and I would love to tag along, so sure enough he brought us. I remember that on the drive out he and his buddy were trying out smoking cigarettes. At one point Steve took a drag and breathed out into a tissue paper. The paper was smeared with tar. Steve said something like, "this crap is going into my lungs!!??!" and he put out the cigarette. I was watching the whole thing.


We got to the beach and there was a dead whale on shore. It stank. Neither my brother Rod nor I had ever been on a surfboard, but we paddled out a bit and rode the shore break back in. Steve and his friend paddled out beyond the breakers and parked there. It was cold and grey as usual and we had a fire going on the beach. I was hungry and tossed an unopened can of beans into the fire to heat it up. As luck would have it Rod and I were a bit away from the fire when it exploded. Another lesson learned.


The dead whale was huge and when Steve and his friend came back from the water we went over to investigate. The stench was awful. At one point Steve picked me up and threw me onto the whale. (I'm not prettying things up here!) Everyone but me laughed. The thing is, this whole trip has stayed with me all of my life--including the sensation of that whale underfoot. Probably Steve was expressing a teenager's resentment about having his kid brother around on a great trip out into the world. But he took me along--that's the important thing. 


When I entered high school I met up with the two other students who were surfers, both older than me. Now I started surfing with them out on the peninsula during the weekends. Extraordinary adventures for a kid with no car. These were the happiest moments of my high school life. They wouldn't have happened without Steve.


When I graduated high school I was adrift. I had no sense of what to do with my life. I was depressed and in a bit of despair. Steve was working during the summer with a collective out of Bellingham called Happy Trails, that contracted to do trail work with the National Park Service in the Cascades. He hooked me up with this group and sent me out into the wilderness to work with college men and women. I was in awe. I took to that life like a duck to water. More importantly, I could see a way forward. At a time when my life could have gone seriously sideways, or crashed, Steve was there to see that this didn't happen. Rod, Steve and I worked with Happy Trails during several more summers. Out of this I formed a deep love for wilderness and mountains that has stayed my whole life.


Two nights before Steve died I dreamed that we were together. In the dream there was some unspecified anger and conflict. Towards the end, we both sat down and meditated together (oh yes Steve showed me meditation when I was a teenager too.) We shared a deep meditation--I could sense him with me in the meditation; we were both in the same meditative state. I don't know that I've ever meditated in a dream before. It was beautiful. It was beautiful that we were together sharing that peace.


There's so much more. I miss Steve already. I can only thank everyone who shared Steve's life in Halifax and made it so rich and full. I know that you miss him too.


-Jeff Armbruster (Steve's youngest brother)



That's some of how he was. When I was in high school, Steve would have me up to visit him at college in Bellingham. And when I went off to the same college with no idea how to manage anything, he showed me around and kept tabs on me

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