By Terri Mudd
Harry Pyle died recently, and the community said goodbye to him. There were tears at the funeral service, but they were all inside me. I remember Harry from many years ago, maybe 30, maybe more. We were all young then, and we laughed a lot.
My position in life was as leader and provider of fun and education for a group of variously enabled young adults. I worked with young people who attended the United Cerebral Palsy Association as children, to determine what they wanted and needed now, in adulthood. Briefly, they made it clear that they wanted to be treated as adults! So, along with friends, we tried to provide a recreational environment for adults.
Come spring, the group developed itchy feet. These young adults wanted to do something entirely different, something none of them had ever experienced. We settled on a camping trip. Now, this could not be an ordinary camping trip. My gang needed wheelchairs, oxygen, special diets, special needs in feeding, total care, bed time. And this is to say nothing of transportation to and from wherever.
Of course we could go camping! Why not? I approached my friends, among them, Harry and his wife, Mary. They were a young couple, with four children under 12, but they always seemed game for adventure.
Some circumstances were in our favor. There is a campground nearby, on Lake Ontario. And we had friends like Harry and Mary, who supported us. After I approached the Pyle family, and almost before I had reservations at the campground, Harry borrowed tents from his friends. Then he persuaded the same friends to assist in erecting them. He was on site before any of our campers, setting up shop for our first meal. Harry took charge, rounding up picnic tables, organizing food and condiments to season the meal, then preparing a place to gather for a songfest and play games, adapted to the special needs of the people we were serving.
After 20 campers were billeted in tents, they were shown the surroundings, including outhouses, where many of the campers needed assistance. Games were played, dinner was served and cleaned up after and the songfest proceeded.
Bed time called for more trips to the bathroom, and a lot of settling in. Harry was a wonder. Dishes were cleared, bedding was rolled out and campers were taken to the bathroom for teeth brushing. Our campers needed assistance with every chore, and Harry was on duty until the last giggle from the last tent was silenced.
Early the next morning, Harry was on duty, starting the fire for breakfast. The day’s activities called for physical, mental and emotional assistance that pushed all of the providers to limits. And Harry was part of it, chasing strays, playing adaptive catch and exploring.
Late Sunday afternoon, our exhausted campers were loaded into cars and returned to their quarters filled with happy memories. And a few of us were left to clean up. Harry was, again, on duty. The same vigor he demonstrated raising our tents, he exerted in tearing them down, sorting parts and returning loaned equipment all over the county, often to his friends, whom he conscripted to raise and tear down our housing, do the cooking and give campers the personal attention they needed.
At last, with the campsite returned to its normal state, the loaned equipment returned and the broken pieces mended, a tired but happy Harry and his family closed up the site. And we could all agree, “It was good. Very good!”
Harry lives on in these memories. If I could, I would make this event a big part of his biography.