(Eric Jensen: 1968 — 2019)

For me, it has always been hard to say goodbye. I don’t know why, really. I know, in my mind, anyway, that I will be back; or they will be back. I know that the separation is just temporary. I know that the collision of body and soul is always so sweet upon reunion. Done it enough to know that the “away time” is only a matter of time.

But, still, it is tough for me. Just seems like the words get caught in the throat like a bad clog in the sink drain. Makes you want to choke just a little, if not gag outright.

I hate it when my beautiful wife, Leigh Ann, leaves the lake house and heads home a day early. Seems like the tum-tum is playing ping-pong with my heart pumps.

I hate it when I hug the grand boys good bye, climb into the truck and head home. As I back out of the driveway, I can see those two grasshoppers jumping, and dancing, and waving like I’m Santa Claus. After all, I do kind of resemble the jolly old elf these days. The sight paints a mural on the brain that lasts forever. All the way home, I can still see those rascals. Makes me laugh, and tear-up at the same time.

I hate it when I leave my three Golden-hearted Retrievers, and head to the airport for a trip. Belle Belle, the 13-year-old beauty, wedged in-between the two boys — Haggard and Crosley. They add up to 300 pounds of pure love, who will be standing right in the same place whenever I return — as if they have never moved an inch. Just sitting. And, waiting. Kisses galore when I leave. Kisses abound when I return.

But Sunday morning, I got the news that really buckled the knees, and dropped my heart like a Muhammad Ali roundhouse punch to the chin. To be honest, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t see it coming. It blindsided me. My heart. And, my gut. Most of all, it sank my soul.

My great friend and colleague, Eric Bjorn Jensen, had passed away.

At the supple age of 51, and still just a baby lamb in life’s journey up and down the mountainside of life, Eric was now gone. A victim of frigging cancer — that disgusting, awful, terrorist that sneaks into the body during the middle of the night with a suicide jacket attached.

The jolly smile that the “big man” would flash subtly and adroitly, and with as much charm and meaning as any of the words that he would ever utter, was now gone. A victim of a relentless and terrible disease that takes no prisoners and leaves no mercy.

The clever, sarcastic text messages that he would send — just to see if you were paying attention; to break the monotony of a dry-rubbed meeting; or to simply test your humor meter — were gone. Not to be delivered, read and enjoyed. Ever again. A victim to this parasite that fights so unfairly without regard for anything or anyone.

Eric was now gone.

And, for the longest time, I sat right there just staring at the message. Nobody to talk to. No words to say, even if there was. Just sat. Didn’t move. Didn’t want to. Frozen. Stiff. Stuck. Hurt. Injured. Numb. Just sat.

I don’t know how long I sat there, truthfully. May have been a minute. May have been 30. Can’t tell you.

But I do remember the memories that fluttered through my brain like a photo album thrown in front of a Big Ass fan.

I could see Eric with a cold Miller Lite in one hand, and the other resting comfortably on my shoulder as he told a story or two about his wonderful wife, Jodi, and the exploits of his four beautiful children. He would relish in each tale about their their athletic exploits and the fun he had watching them grow.

I could see a very proud pop. Very proud, indeed.

I could see Eric jousting with our merry band of beer lobbyists at a “retreat” that we all would take a couple of times every year. Eric, who led an Association of beer distributors from the big-grain country of Wisconsin, would join with Colorado Steve, New York Steve, Indiana Marc, Tennessee Rich, Minnesota Mike, New Hampshire Clark, Washington D.C. Dave, Illinois Bob, Oklahoma Brett, and a few other stragglers to cast a wide net and test the best-brewed waters of each locale.

On one such investigative journey, we legged it into the wee hours of the a.m. and into a honky-tonk in Southern California. We were in the midst of a desperate search for a cold beverage, and, for some strange reason, a “pickled egg.” You know the kind. A hard-boiled orb, which may have been white at some time in the past, floating in a salty brine to semi-protect the health integrity of the tasty morsel.

For hours, we had bounced from one fine establishment to another in our scavenger hunt and our quest. Each stop, we managed to ask the servers at the retail establishment if they had a cold beverage and a “pickled egg.”  Oh, they had the beverages. A lot fewer when we managed to leave than before we arrived, mind you. But they had nary a “pickled egg.”

We journeyed on. And, on. And, on. Until we slummed are way into a rickety wooden structure that looked as if it may have been built during the early days of the California Gold Rush, and looked very much like us, I imagine. Both the building and our group were on our respective last legs.

Then, we spotted it. As if a single light beam from the “Big Man” himself was cutting through the roof and the night air and shined like a spotlight on the gigantic glass vessel atop the saloon-like bar. There it was. A 10-gallon glass jar with one “pickled egg” floating in the churning waters like a buoy on the ocean seas.

Eric, ever the giving type, grabbed the jar with gusto and proudly announced:

“We have “one pickled egg. One. Just one. We have a single pickled egg. Who wants to do the honors.”

I have to admit, my staunch advocacy for the search waned a bit when I cast an eye on the “greenish-hue” of the single egg. I did not volunteer.

I have to write that most of the group that was still standing and still committed to the mission, slowly backed away from the table, as well.

But then I saw our great friend Steve Finley step forward. Or was it that everyone was stepping back and Steve as just standing still?

It didn’t matter. It was too late.

Eric cast his gigantic fist into the jar in search of the slippery missile. He wrestled it around the neck and yanked it from the mossy waters and shoved the egg towards Steve’s surprising face — mouth just ajar enough to receive the forward pass.

To all of our amazement, Steve swallowed much of the “pickled egg.” 

Much more surprising, though, is that we didn’t see it again. As in immediately.

As a group, we all cheered and roared. Mission accomplished.

It was off to another establishment and a little shuffle board before the sun beat us home. All in the name of market research. It was a scientific field study. One that we all wrote off on our respective expense accounts. One that none of us ever forgot, or regretted.

As my memories continued to flash card in front of my eyes, I could see so many other times.

Our “field trip” in Atlanta when Mr. Harris got lost for hours.

Our “golf trip” in Vegas, when Mr. Finley got lost for hours.

Our little “excursion” to Tampa Bay Downs, when Mr. Robinson lost our winning ticket — forever.

When I finally “woke up” from my daydream, slash nightmare, I had a smile on my face, and tears dripping off my chin. A rush of emotions, that still to this day, I cannot explain or understand.

But, strangely enough, I found myself really wanting one thing. Just one thing. And, no, it was not a “pickled egg.”

All I wanted was a chance to say goodbye. The one thing that I have always hated in my life, I now wanted a chance to do. So badly. So damn badly.

For the longest time, Eric Jensen referred to me, affectionately, as “The Horseman.” That was my nickname from him. That’s what he always called me. Whether in person, or in text message, of on a voice message.

In return, I called Eric Jensen “The Norseman.” He was the epitome of a rugged, strong, good-looking Viking. Never knew his middle name was Bjorn. But it suits. Almost as much as “The Norseman.”

When I first found out that “The Norseman” was battling cancer, about a year ago, I texted him regularly. If not every day, nearly every week. I just wanted to check on him. And, as time inched on, “The Norseman” was undergoing some experimental treatments that were seemingly working miracles.

In fact, we found out last week that he planned to make our annual journey to Vegas this week for the Beer Convention. It was time to raise a glass of foamy suds in celebration. In honor of “The Norseman.”

Over the weekend, though, we found out that “The Norseman” was not going to be able to make it. The cancer had returned. Angry this time. And, on Sunday, we were told that “The Norseman” had journeyed on.

All I hope now is that “The Norseman” has found a glass to raise, in peace.

All I hope now is that “The Norseman” has found a “pickled egg” to enjoy, in honor.

All I hope now is that “The Norseman” can hear me say, “Goodbye, my great friend.” Because I really want him to know that I always considered him one of my “boys;” that I already miss him so much; and that I love him dearly.

Goodbye, “Norseman.” Until we meet again.