Joe and I walked into our local pub. From behind I heard, Suzy? Hey Suzy…! I turned around….Woj!? It was him, a friend and teacher from my life, 40 years earlier. We picked up where we left off, in good company and stories of adventures.
Jim W. (“Woj”) and I go back to 1975 when I met him at an American Youth Hostel meeting. I was looking for something to do in the great outdoors. At the meeting, he showed slides (yes, real slides) about rock climbing. I never heard of it. I signed up. I was 16. I guessed he was 23.
When he picked me up at my parent’s house the first time, my Mom said to him, “Bring her back in one piece”. To this he replied, “I will, even if it’s in a body bag.” God bless my mother for letting me go.
For a couple summers Jim, myself and a couple of guys would pile into a van and go off to Seneca, Coopers or White Rocks, and the ‘Gunks–pretty much the climbing circuit from West Virginia to the Hudson Valley in New York. Our bonds were rooted in climbing and comradery, not infrequently expressed as jokes on an exposed rock face 70′ above a narrow ledge (second belay), with another 120’ below that to mother earth.
Woj was long on storytelling, quick with a joke, and dead serious on safety (without being tedious). He exuded that ‘good all around guy’ quality. He was to me, a rare bird and a natural teacher. He now brought a new sport to my attention….
Days after the pub, we set off to his gun club to shoot handguns, carbines and rifles. Handguns and carbine: fun. Rifle: interesting. Three weeks after that, we participated in the club’s duck pin & steel plate shooting competition. He assured me that it was a friendly, laid back affair. I sum it up in one word: Woohoooo!
Jim likes .22s. We’d practiced regularly with his Browning Buck Mark pistol. But that day, we were shooting his AR-22. When I first saw it, I was put off by its ungainly plastic-ness. Before my name was called, he talked me through it and showed me how to handle it (unloaded, of course). Like a big brother, he accompanied me to the shooting stand for instructional support, as needed. (And to help load the alternating magazines, two with 6 shots each). Not many men exhibit their knowledge and experience with low-ego grace. After many visits, I often outshoot him in handguns, and tie him in steel plates. His reaction? Untarnished and good natured. (With WW2 rifles at 100 to 300 yards, Woj is steadfast, true, and on target ).
Retired from Heinz for 15 years, Jim actively enjoys life. He’s a medic on Seven Springs ski patrol; he fixes the injured at Pittsburgh’s Great Race; and, is a certified 10th Airborne mountaineer rescuer. He’s a competitive rifleman; a WW2 re-enactor; still climbs gritty rocks; even practices yoga daily.
Woj teaches without teaching, by seamlessly weaving how tos, organization, and safety into every task. I still watch attentively, follow cues, and learn from his self-effacing humor and calm directives. “Breathe slowly and squeeze the trigger on the bottom of your out breath”. I love doing dangerous things with safe people. He’s one of them.
Thank you, Teacher.