By Dan Hust
CALLICOON September 7, 2001 Under virtually cloudless, blue skies and on a field of gently flowing green grass, Gary Kays of Callicoon was laid to rest on Sunday in a tearful but impressive ceremony marking his dedicated service to the area.
Beloved by his large family and an even larger surrounding community, Kays, 30, died tragically and unexpectedly on Tuesday, August 28, at his home in the Beechwoods section of Callicoon barely a mile from where he was buried and in the midst of the rural countryside he was raised on.
Why are we here today, rhetorically questioned the Reverend Ignatius Smith, O.F.M., during Kays funeral at the Hortonville Firehouse, which brought out more than 300 people. We are here to mourn someone we call a beloved son, a beloved brother, a beloved nephew.
Were also here to support people who truly loved him, Father Ignatius added as soft cries filled the still air, and to let him know that hes not forgotten.
Firefighters from at least 15 different companies turned out in full dress for Kays funeral, as Kays had been captain of the Hortonville Volunteer Fire Department at the time of his death. In fact, many of them had been enjoying his company exactly a week ago at that same spot during the fire departments annual Field Day.
This time, the firefighters were joined by Kays family, friends and an extensive list of acquaintances and milk trucking coworkers who had found Kays to be of glad help in any situation always friendly, always hard-working, and always talking.
He loved life, and he liked to talk, said Father Ignatius to chuckles from the knowing crowd that spilled out from the firehouses three bays into Hortonvilles Main Street. Gary even talked when nobody was there!
Somberly decorated fire trucks and gigantic milk truck rigs served notice of Kays dedication to being a firefighter and a trucker in his father Bobs milk trucking business based out of Bob and Linda Kays dairy farm in Callicoon.
In a heartwrenching irony, they became his pallbearers when they escorted Kays casket from Hortonville to his grave on a field owned by Kays father in the Beechwoods.
The trucks parked along both sides of Reum Road on a hill overlooking the rolling countryside of western Sullivan County, outlined in starkly beautiful colors by the bright sun on Sunday afternoon.
Then, slowly, dozens upon dozens of uniformed firefighters stoically marched down Reum, though some could not restrain the tears in their eyes. Behind them, Hortonville fire truck #127 bore Kays casket, watched over by family and fellow firefighters.
The truck backed down a dirt road leading to the gravesite, part of a new family plot that sits next to an ancient stone wall and an accompanying row of leafy trees. At the mouth of the driveway, a wreath donated by the Mitterwager family marked the entrance to the recently mowed farm fields.
To the mournful sound of Kenoza Lakes siren (at two miles, the closest one to the site), Kays body was carried past row upon row of firefighters to a family that was not ready to give him up.
People who had hugged and cried with the Kayses after the funeral did the same with each other, and a bagpiper added the strains of Amazing Grace to the scene.
And as a butterfly flitted its way past the mourners, the words of Father Ignatius were seemingly blown in by the gentle breeze:
Dont waste today. Life is too short. Life is too precious. Gary loved life. He was right in the middle of it.
Even on Sunday.