FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: The moment time stopped – a tribute to Roy Deering
For the next few weeks we will pause from our 1973 novel/memoir to pay tribute to, and walk together down a trail with, our good friend Roy Deering.
The surprising phone call from the amazin’ blonde came to me Wednesday afternoon, July 7, 2021. I say ‘surprising’ because I would not have expected her to encourage our participation in what was about to happen, which was an impromptu sixty-five-mile hike in the wilderness of Yellowstone. Yet she called to tell me that my old friend Roy Deering from Ada, Oklahoma still needed another hiker to join him and two others on that Yellowstone hike. Her phone call got the ball to rolling, and soon our lives were changed, never to be the same.
Within four days, four men – Roy, our friends Randy Butler from Oklahoma City and Todd Perrin from Houston, and I – embarked on a journey in one of the most remote areas of the Continental United States. Six days we would hike, but only one day with us all together because Roy and Randy had to go back after the first night’s hike due to Roy's turned ankle. Four of the next five days that ensued, Todd and I were lost, searching for a way out of the wilderness but drifting further and further into it.
That story, with almost step-by-step detail, we shared right here or a good portion of 2021 and into 2022.
The adventures, with both the good and bad, changed lives, without a doubt, and I owe Roy Deering for that. It is his story we have come today to tell. Roy and I have been very much alike for most of our lives. We both dabble in writing, preaching, and teaching English. Truth is, we did a great deal more than dabble in all of those things.
I would tell Roy, though: “You, sir, are a better writer, preacher, and teacher than I, I know, but I’m a better coach,” to which he would reply, “I can’t argue with the latter, because I have two left feet.”
With those likenesses, along with two outgoing personalities, it takes no stretch of your mind to understand the camaraderie that exists between the two. Neither of us have met a stranger, to our knowledge.
Our friendship is a case where Texans and Oklahomans sit on the same side of the field, not even the slightest division between the pride of the crimson-and-white and the glory of the burnt orange. He was an avid Texas Ranger fan, too, but my loyalties in baseball trend far to the south to the Houston Astros. Such small differences.
Minor differences did nothing to deter us from walking together side-by-side for many, many miles. We two embraced traveling both the miles of life and the miles down some of those long trails in the Yellowstone wilderness. Every mile was a special adventure. Gentlemen do not tend to build close-knit relationships the way Roy and I did, but when they are built they are something to behold.
As writers, we would both spend a good bit of our lives involved in newspaper work. He worked as the editor for the Ada News for many years, so he had a true journalist degree and real job with newspapers. My newspaper work consists of a quarter of a century writing columns, such as the one we share here together in this space.
Roy and I also both published books, my two coming quite a few years before his two, but he went on to become a famous Oklahoma author for his young adult novels, “Finders Keepers” and “The Day Old Faithful Stopped.”
It is his love for national parks and for nature that inspired many of his writings, and it was that love, and a love for the Lord, that brought this Texan and the Oklahoman together. It was on many different levels that the twain would meet, as a poet might say.
I should tell you from the beginning that Tuesday morning, Jan. 23, I received a text message from our hiking partner Todd Perrin that Roy had collapsed at school. We began prayer then, because we knew that Roy had battled heart issues for a long time, and it was that condition that prevented him from making the second of our three Yellowstone trips over the last three years.
And I have to tell you that we are heartbroken to say that not long after the first text that I received the second: Roy had passed away. Those were the exact words. There is no good way to break that news, and it would have been a dagger any way that Todd had written it. He might have said, “Coach, one of your best friends in the world just left us,” or, “The friend who may be more like you than any man on the planet has gone on,” and the impact would have been the same. You understand, I know.
Roy just celebrated his 60th birthday, and he was far, far too young; and he left us far too soon for any of this to make any sense to us, his wife Beverly, or his three children and brand- new granddaughter named Josie.
Four days before his heart’s giving out on him in class that weary Tuesday morning, Roy wrote me to set up the date for our hike up in the Rockies this summer. Ah, Roy and I had so many great hiking adventures planned for every year for the rest of our lives. I suppose we did go on those adventures for the rest of our lives, it’s just that we did not know that only included three consecutive summers, beginning in 2021; and we did not know the summer of 2023’s trip to the Absaroka Wilderness would be our last.
We thank God for many things when we talk about friendships, and while I lament that our hiking journeys came to an end too soon, I am thankful that the Lord gave Roy those three years and gave us those memories, for allowing us to continue to look out over the beauties of God's glory and to soak it all in, every ounce of it, for hours and hours beneath those bright Wyoming stars and in cold damp tents at night in the middle of a vast wilderness, a wilderness we both love.
Of all the miles – and all the moments we shared, friend with friend, two with a common love for nature and the writing of it – there was one moment that, above all others, stands out.
It was just a moment in the summer of ’23, but it was a moment that will be sealed, as Jim Croce would sing, and saved forever like precious time in a bottle.
It was the moment time stopped.
Part 2 next week
Coach Steven Bowen, a long-time Red Oak teacher and coach, now enjoys his time as a writer and preacher of the gospel. And, after a ten-year hiatus, he’s also returned to work with students at Ferris High School as well.
In addition to his evangelistic travels, he works and writes for the Church of Christ of Red Oak at Uhl Road and Ovilla. Their worship times are 10 a.m. Sundays and 7:30 pm. Wednesdays. Email email@example.com or call or text (972) 824-5197.