Hitchhiking Across the Galaxy: Memories of Steve Nelson

In the beginning, Steve was just a boy at the bus stop, befriending me during my first week at a new school district, but after only a short time, his companionship wove its way into the fabric of my life, a colorful thread binding us together. My adventures with Steve grew into an integral part of my youth, vital memories that I carry everywhere, and without them, I think a part of my childhood would unravel altogether, vanishing forever.

He approached me, almost forty years ago, while I was sitting at the curb, waiting for the school bus. A total book nerd, I hid behind a paperback copy of Gone with the Wind, and hoped, yet also dreaded, that someone might talk to me and pull me out of my shyness.

Steve had no such reservations. He launched into a discussion of the movie with opinions about Clark Gable or Vivien Leigh or a combination of both. I quickly learned that Steve had lots of opinions. Some I agreed with–some simply annoyed me–but I always appreciated our conversations. And now, looking back after all these years, I wish I could remember the particulars of our rambling talks, lost forever in the shadows of my memory.

But I do remember an immediate recognition, a feeling that Steve and I shared something beyond our ages and hometown. Perhaps it was an appreciation for the whimsical or an expansive imagination or maybe even a mutual fragility.

Regardless, our friendship transformed from bus-stop conversations to after-school visits to long days spent together during summer vacations. And it’s those latter memories that come to me the most, the specifics somewhat lost to time, but as much a part of me as the feeling of Idaho’s sun baking my arms or grass pricking at my bare feet.

The schedule was simple: swim team for me followed by mornings with Steve, playing Monopoly or “Cheat” Sorry, our own version of the game in which players were allowed to move their game-piece extra spaces if their opponent didn’t notice.

When we tired of board games, we explored the cliffs overlooking the Boise River behind my house or played croquet, adding an occasional “Cheat Sorry” move by nudging the ball along with our feet. We even went through a short, disastrous phase of learning how to bake soufflés and a much more disastrous attempt at brewing our own herbal teas, all efforts equally dreadful.

And with every day, every new activity, Steve brought his own unique brand of enthusiasm and curiosity, firmly cemented in kindness and patience.

HitchhikersGuideNever more so than we initiated a book club of sorts, just the two of us, reading science fiction like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. We consumed the novel; or rather it consumed us, until all we could talk about was our desire to hitchhike across the universe with Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent. Our imaginings became so vivid, so real, that I could actually see us exploring galaxies with our two fictional heroes.

But my galaxy-traveling friend, the boy from the bus stop, is gone now, murdered almost a week ago. Even as I write these words, my own fingers tapping on the keys, I can’t believe it’s possible. It has to be a macabre fiction, created by a cruel mind, but the evil was real.

I won’t go into the specifics of his death—the details have been covered on various Boise-area media outlets—but I will say that the men responsible must be punished to the full extent of the law.

At the end, my dear friend exhibited a courageous clarity, in evidence even when we were young, by identifying his assailants, which led the police to several arrests and hopefully saved countless others from brutality.

They might have taken away my childhood companion, a man whose huge heart and kindness reached many, but his presence will always reside within me through endless memories. In my mind, I see him befriending a lonely 11-year-old at the bus stop and making that girl laugh with his original comments. But most of all I see him with his thumb out, hitchhiking his way around the galaxy, buzzing past stars, and conquering new planets, fully immersed in the joy of exploration.

25 thoughts on “Hitchhiking Across the Galaxy: Memories of Steve Nelson

  1. Lou Baxter Russell May 5, 2016 / 9:38 am

    Erin, you took me back to the sun baked days of my own childhood with this beautiful tribute to Steve Nelson. Your writing definitely takes me on a journey and I love it. Keep it coming!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin May 5, 2016 / 10:12 am

      Thank you, Lou–I wanted to capture what he had meant to me, which I’m sure is a reflection of the love he generated throughout his life.


  2. Janet Larsen May 5, 2016 / 10:14 am

    Beautiful Erin! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brenda Karn Cordery May 5, 2016 / 11:09 am

    What a great tribute to Steve and so well written. Thank you for sharing your memories of him with us. I can’t wrap my head around what happened either and actually, I don’t want to. Because doing so would make horrible acts like that part of life — a part I don’t want to accept. I don’t want to make room for evil in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin May 6, 2016 / 9:41 pm

      Thank you, Brenda! And I’m with you: let’s keep pushing the evil out of everyone’s lives!


  4. Roy May 5, 2016 / 11:48 am

    It’s wonderful to read this tribute and know two more fans of the number 42… Thanks for the note. Memorial at BSU this weekend, FYI.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin May 6, 2016 / 9:19 am

      Number 42, indeed! I knew there were many things I liked about you! And, unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the memorial–I’m currently in Michigan–but I’ll be sending healing prayers to Steve’s family during this incredibly challenging time.


  5. Helen Strine May 5, 2016 / 12:01 pm

    What a wonderful tribute, Erin. I didn’t know Steve, but I wish I had–I knew that even before I read this. A terrible waste, a tragic loss. Thanks for sharing your special memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Alexis Brokaw May 5, 2016 / 2:56 pm

    Erin, how blessed were the two of you to join souls. My heart aches for the loss of a valued and loving friend. Your beautiful tribute is written eloquently and the respect and love you shared shines through. You’ll meet again, after all he’s swinging on a star near you.
    BTW, I am Kelly’s friend in Yuma. I’m sorry we have never met because your sister is extraordinarily wonderful and I know you are too. Take gentle care of yourself and hug Kelly for me.


    • Erin May 6, 2016 / 9:17 am

      Thank you, Alexis! I am also sorry that we never got a chance to meet, and you’re so right: my sister is pretty wonderful!


  7. Terry Hinkle May 5, 2016 / 5:03 pm

    You are quickly replacing John Steinbeck as my favorite author.


    • Erin May 6, 2016 / 9:15 am

      Ahhh, you’re too kind (and prone to exaggeration!). But thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read my tribute to Steve!


    • Erin May 6, 2016 / 9:13 am

      Thank you! Such a difficult time for everyone who knew him.


  8. Eric Nelson May 8, 2016 / 1:19 pm

    Erin – this is Eric Nelson. Just wanted to let you know that our family greatly appreciates your tribute and memory of Steven. My parents knew how close he was to you and your family growing up, but the posting of memories like this of our kid brother (there are many many more) are helping us to understand his kind, loyal and playful spirit in much more detail.

    We are going to display a hard copy of your tribute next to the collection of Hitchhiker’s Guide novels at his memorial, and invite folks to read those books to get a sense of Steven’s sense of humor and love for science fiction. Thanks so much.


    • Erin May 9, 2016 / 7:36 am

      I’m so glad, Eric, that my essay has resonated with you and your family and that you’ll be sharing it at the memorial. The copies of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series” will be a lovely touch! I wish I could be there–I’ll be thinking of you all and sending healing prayers to you and your family.


  9. cleemckenzie May 9, 2016 / 11:16 am

    You’ve written a lovely tribute to someone very special to you and passed along his uniqueness to others who never had the joy of his company and friendship.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin May 9, 2016 / 3:02 pm

      Thank you! I’ve been so glad to see the essay reach a large audience, sharing a part of Steve with people who never knew him–a reflection of the love he generated throughout his life.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ellen Morris Prewitt May 16, 2016 / 10:29 am

    It is the gift of the writer to take the sorrowful and make it beautiful, which you have done so well here. Thank you for sharing this with your followers.


    • Erin May 17, 2016 / 8:20 am

      Thank you, Ellen–I just hope I can give people who never met Steve a sense of who he was and how much he was loved and will be missed.


  11. Cathy May 24, 2016 / 5:10 pm

    At first, I thought it was part of a fictional story that I was reading. I am so sorry for this terrible tragedy. It sounds like he was much loved. While reading your story, I felt like I could have been playing with the two of you during those summers. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erin May 24, 2016 / 6:07 pm

      Thanks, Cathy, for stopping by and taking the time to read my essay about Steve. I’m so glad that you got a sense of who he was and how much he was loved. As always, best of luck with all your projects–I hope our paths cross again!


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