It was a hot, hot summer day. A group of us “white hats” had been through the paper mill where I used to work in a rented Schwan’s truck loaded down with ice cream sandwiches, handing them out to our thousand or so employees to encourage them to stay cool and safe. We had finished the “day shift” and I had returned to my office and was enjoying one myself. Okay, maybe two. Here comes Neal DeForest, one of the most talented instrument electricians I’ve ever known, from his job down on the woodyard.
“So that’s what you do all day. Sit in your office and eat ice cream sandwiches”, he said with a wry grin that let you know he’s got you. It was even more effective than the parting “okay, Pod” (short for podnuh) you’d get when one of you had the upper edge in the verbal jousting.
That was some 15-16 years ago. It never failed that, no matter where I saw him, he always brought up the topic of ice cream sandwiches. If he ever talked about me or somebody asked about me, he’d ask if I had an ice cream sandwich when they saw me. I had a comeback. I always asked, “well, Neal, what were you doing away from your work area up in my air conditioned office during the work day anyway?” I know. It didn’t work with him, either.
The legend of the ice cream sandwich grew larger than the Schwan’s truck itself and never failed to bring a laugh. It wasn’t but a couple of months ago when we had a big get-together at my house to celebrate Little George getting married. We had finished the party and some of us sat down at the kitchen table.
“I’m surprised we didn’t have ice cream sandwiches“, Neal said. Ah HA!!! I was ready for him. I jumped up, opened the freezer door and handed everybody one. We had one of the biggest laughs ever, and even though almost everybody had already heard the story, yep… Neal told it again. And we laughed some more.
I wish I would have written this a week earlier. That way Neal Allen DeForest, Sr., could have read it and known for sure how I, and so many more, felt. He was a guy you couldn’t help but like. Unfortunately, Neal passed away suddenly this week. It was a shock. It was very sad. But his life and his beliefs will stand firm as a comfort for those who knew and loved him, especially his family.
But I’m not writing this today to talk about ice cream sandwiches, or even the days several decades ago when Neal and I both donned bright yellow one-piece jumpsuits (what you’d call today “styling”…) with Bussey Bass Club embroidered in red on the back and more patches up and down the sleeves than we had fish.
I reserve this space on Sunday for Bible verses and short stories to go with them.That’s why I’m writing about Neal today. He was a man who lived what he believed. Not just on Sunday. Not when it was convenient. Not when it was easy. All the time.
Neal was, indeed, a living Bible verse. If you didn’t know that before, it became apparent when, after an hour long tribute to him at his funeral was over, it took two hours for all the friends, and former co-workers, neighbors and church members to hug family members, convey their condolences and share the love of Christ that Neal spread during this life one more time in his honor .
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. — Matthew 5:16
One more thing. Neal and his wife, Becky, were daily readers of lakedarbonnelife.com. I’m going to miss knowing he was reading each day. He encouraged me often, in person or by text message or email, just as he did so many others in their endeavors. Today I’m going on the back porch, take a good long look at the lake and eat an ice cream sandwich. And thank God for Neal DeForest and his work on this earth.