The Star of Palmer Lake is the claim to fame of this small town in Colorado by the same name. Built on the side of Sundance Mountain in 1934 and rebuilt in 1976, this 500-foot star shines above the city in December and on special occasions every year. I got to see this local wonder in the year 2003.
Robert had a gentle spirit as a kid. He talked less than his older brother and sister yet they often knew what he was thinking based upon the look on his face. A stern look that made his face turn as red as a stuffed sausage meant that this little kiddo needed to get to the bathroom right quick!
Perhaps Rob was more sensitive than they realized: the kind of kid who took in the good and the bad without saying much while growing up in a single-parent home. Rob looked like his dad which may have given him some slight favor . . . or at least that is what his older brother, Mike and their mom would say. But Rob was too young to really get to know his dad before he divorced his mom then eventually became estranged from the family altogether. How did Robert Matthew Lech get to be so mechanically inclined anyways? Decades later it became very clear that the instruction manual for the Motor City Gear Head that Rob became was in his DNA as well as from those years as a young child when his dad was still around tinkering with this and that in the basement workshop. Just like his Dad, Rob could fix just about anything!
There’s one thing, however, that he could not fix. Rob could not change the fact that his dad left without a trace until many years later. All of the kids would be grown up by the time they learned that “Ted” was living in Florida. The older sister had moved to Chicagoland and the older brother had returned from the Navy. Rob had completed an aviation mechanic certification course with his buddy Karl, then never took the test to actually become certified. Rob drifted a bit then became the Grease Monkey who could answer most any question when you dropped by to see him at the local NAPA auto parts store near Palmer Lake. He would often help his customers fix their cars as well, no charge. Rob had many friends for sure. Many of them joined him at the bar of the bowling alley in the evening, much like the camaraderie of the 1980’s television show, Cheers.
Rob reached out to his Dad some time after receiving his Dad’s address from his mom. It might have been when the family received notice of his Dad’s brother’s passing that they all saw Ted’s address in Uncle Fred’s legal paperwork. Someone had found Ted! Ted’s sister, Lori, went to visit and Ted reportedly shunned her. But for some reason Rob needed to try to reach out to him anyways. Something inside of him still needed to know his father, the one he had come to be like. These things would be revealed many years later, of course. No one got to know Ted just then. Ted responded to the letter that Rob finally sent to his Dad, telling Rob not to contact him again. Ted said that he had a mental illness and he had found a way to live with it which included estrangement from his family and everything in his past. Ted slipped away into anonymity once again. So very sad, really.
Rob was devastated. Rob had another close friend, Dewey, who had passed away which was doubly devastating for this tender-hearted young man. Rob never seemed to overcome the loss of these two important men in his life. His drinking increased and his life crumbled. Before he died he had started to ask questions about God and may have even attended a local church to find some peace. Cans of food from a local food bank were found in his disheveled mobile home along with the slot cars from racing with his dad and brother at local tracks as a boy. Ted Lech, aka “Mr. Motor” was a champion slot car racer and design engineer behind Dyna-Rewind: the fastest motors in the cars on the tracks in the 1960’s. Mike and Rob’s best times were shagging cars during competitions, especially those where their dad smoked all the other race cars every Thursday night!
I found the letter from our Dad in Rob’s wallet when my mom, Mike and I got into town after Rob had died. I was devastated. I, too, carried big hurts from our Dad leaving us as children and so did Michael. We needed our Dad and he could not be there. I grieved the pain that my little brother must have carried to his grave. I loved Robbie so much! Then I found a picture in his wallet, the only one he carried with him every day. It was a picture of me. Oh dear. My brother loved me too! Sigh.
I am not quite sure why this memory is so tender for me right now. I am not quite sure why it still hurts so very much. I am not quite sure my little brother Rob knew how much I really loved him. Oh Rob, how I wish you were still here! I wish you could meet my really cool husband Steve and talk with him about cars and motors and carburetors and hemi engines and more! I sure miss you Raaaaaabeeee!
It is quite possible that Steve and I will do some travelling West this Fall. Lord willing, one of our destinations will be New Mexico and potential places north of there for us to live where the climate is dryer. We just may have to visit Palmer Lake, Colorado too.
Rob’s ashes were dispersed at the base of one of the stars on the side of the Palmer Lake Star on Sundance Mountain in the late summer of 2003. Mike and I climbed up the steep slope, hanging onto brambles, posts, and the cables that comprise the outline of the star while our mom waited and watched from the road below. Two of Rob’s friends from the bowling alley lead the way for us while we huffed and puffed fighting altitude sickness to complete our mission to place Rob at rest. His remains are part of the mountain that he called home: the second light fixture from the upper right point of the 5-pointed star. It’s also right next to the resting place of his friend and neighbor, Dewey. Kind of poetic in a way . . .
I do hope that somehow Rob made peace with his past through the tender love of our Heavenly Father before he passed away. I hope that I will see my little brother and his lanky frame, cute smile, and soft brown eyes when I reach the presence of the Lord someday. Hey Robbie, you will always be a shining star in my memories, my heart.
And thanks again for fixing up that 1974 Nova for me too! JJ