Shauna Gamble has been one of my dearest friends since 7th grade. We haven't seen each other in years. We don't call each other much. Time and geography have a way of creating such distances. But in our case, the distance disintegrates as soon as we get on the phone together.
On May 30, Shauna messaged me on Facebook that her father, Martin Wimbs Sr., had just died. I called her right away. Among the many endearing, inspiring, heart-tugging stories she told me about her father, one in particular sticks with me. It involves Cheerwine.
For the uninitiated, Cheerwine is a cherry-flavored soft drink made in North Carolina (where Shauna and her family live and where I'm from). Its distribution is mostly in N.C. and a few neighboring states--though I'm happy to report that BevMo in San Francisco sells it.
Shauna's sister Pam is a Cheerwine devotee. She nearly always carries a can of it, Shauna tells me. On the last afternoon of her father's life, Pam goes to visit him in his hospice room, Cheerwine in hand. Her father notices the red soft drink can. Though he'd never tried the drink before in his 86 years, he was curious about it. He asks Pam for a taste. She obliges.
"That's pretty good," he says afterwards. And other than perhaps a sip or two of water, that swig of Cheerwine was his last drink.
It was a small moment. But not to me.
Shauna's father's was a successful business executive for many years at Blue Bell in Greensboro, which made Wrangler jeans. He was a devoted husband, married for 65 years to Shauna's mother, Nelle. He was a beloved father, grandfather, great-grandfather.
But Martin Wimbs Sr. was also an adventurer. After high school, he became a Merchant Marine; he loved the sea and sailing. In his business career, he worked in and traveled to over 54 countries, including Egypt, Morocco, India, Thailand, Argentina, and countries I can't even pronounce. He flew private planes.
With his Cheerwine request, Shauna's father was still exploring. Think about it: How many people do you know who, facing imminent death, would want to try something new?
Most of us say we love adventure. I suspect the truth is, in our stressful world, we prefer comfort-- especially as we grow older, and even more so when we become seriously ill. But comfort, whichever stage of life we're in, can be a cage. Adventure is what sets us free, helps us grow. Martin Wimbs, Sr., right up to his last few minutes, never lost sight of this. He was what I aspire to always be: free.