This is how I will remember him, up there in the tractor seat waiting to drive for another hayride.
I became aware of who Warren Bannister was at the Covenant Presbyterian Church fall festival eight years ago. Our family was new to the church, and this was our first venture to the Marsh Farm where the annual event was held.
I slung our seventh child, three months old at the time, while my husband chased the toddler girl and preschool-aged boy. These were our littles. The bigs were 14, 12, 11, and 8. They were pretty independent, mostly.
Our family was new to the church but not the community. We were all trying to find our way and our fit.
The evening was stressful. There was no way around it back then, when our hands were full to overflowing and our parenting skills were lacking. Things are still stressful, but we have grown.
Hopping onto the hayride, my husband and I settled onto a hay bale with the littles. For a moment in time, we were all contained in one location, and other than keeping an eye out for a little boy throwing hay at people, we could relax, sort of.
The views were exquisite, the company on the haywagon encouraging, and the driver energetic as he strove to give the best, most fun, yet safest ride possible. His bearded, bespectacled face broke into joyful smiles as he circled the wagon around just once more to the delight of the riders. He seemed to be having more fun driving than those he was pulling along in tow.
Years rolled by, and we settled into the church, found our fit, and began to grow. The 8:30 first service was more conducive to our family with littles and nap schedules, and we often found ourselves seated in their section.
We’re the Bannisters.
He, Warren, with his infectious smile and sparkling eyes. She, Linda, with her petite figure, her signature long braids wound around her head like a crown of glory, and her smiling face that invited you in. Kindness, acceptance, love, and understanding exuded from them both.
Week after week, welcoming, worshiping, encouraging, we began to know each other little by little.
They, too, had two families in a similar, yet different, way. Grown up girls. Younger boys. Different stages of parenting all at the same time. Things they knew now that they didn’t know then that they shared openly reminding us that we were not alone in that hard place.
They shared hospitality with us, inviting us to swim in their pool, eat around their table, and explore their farm. I remember Warren at the grill. Cooking. Talking. Enjoying our enjoyment of the afternoon. A quiet presence caring for friends. Steady. Gracious. Kind.
More recently, as we were planning the wedding of our daughter, he offered his own perspective, having married off a daughter years before. His knowing smile and words of encouragement shared with us as we walked the aisle side-by-side after church.
And so life goes. Week in and week out we cross paths with people and exchange pleasantries and take them being in the pew behind or across from us for granted.
Until they are not.
Last weekend my sister was visiting from out of town. Fall festival was attended by husband and four littles, giving me extra time and space with her. Preschool boy, now 11, toddler girl, 9, sling baby, 8, and twinkle in Daddy’s eye, 6, all enjoyed their time out-of-doors.
I asked specifically about the hayride.
Warren drove the tractor for them. Everything was as it should be. Then Monday morning dawned.
I cannot imagine the pain. I cannot imagine saying goodnight to the one you love, when all is well and as it should be, and waking to find him gone.
There’s a lot we can say.
He is in a better place.
God called him home.
He is with the saints who have gone before us.
We will join him in eternity one day.
All true statements for our heads.
But for now, if my heart hurts, I cannot imagine the excruciating pain that those who loved and were loved by and lived with and shared life with and then had part of their heart ripped away are feeling today. Yes, Warren is in a better place, but WE are still here. Left behind to carry on day after day. Adjusting to a new normal without him, whatever our relationship with him was.
Warren meant something to people, because he cared about people. You can’t fake caring. He was the real deal and will be sorely missed.
That’s not Mr. Bannister’s arm pointing off in the distance in the picture above. When I realized this, it was kind of amusing, and I wondered if just maybe he was getting a preview of where his mansion was going to be. . . just over the hilltop.
Goodbye, Mr. Bannister. Thank you for your example of a life well-lived.