Honoring a friend, Derrikk Crawford
This week I have spent much of my time thinking about Derrikk Crawford who died in a car accident last Thursday, Aug. 16 near Oskaloosa.
He had turned 23 years old in June.
Derrikk began dating my best friend Rebecca eight months ago. She had moved back home to Fairfield from California in January, and met Derrikk within a week. They hit it off immediately, discovering they both had a twin, and were both the youngest of the pair.
He was a football player for the Bridge City Knights in Pella, and had the shoulders to show for it. He towered over Rebecca’s petite frame, but watching him interact with her, I had a pretty clear notion his large stature masked something much softer.
It’s hard losing someone you love, but Derrikk’s optimistic attitude and eagerness to embrace his future make it especially difficult for his friends and family. Rebecca and Derrikk were planning to go to a Cubs game in Chicago this weekend. He was so excited for them to go on their first trip together, “the first of many,” he had said.
Just two days before the accident, I had seen him plant an apple tree at a barbecue at King Edward’s Orchard by Jefferson County Park. My husband’s friend, Clint Stephenson, who owns the land, had invited us there to celebrate his 34th birthday.
It was a temperate August evening, unrecognizable after months of 100-degree weather. Rows of young apple, peach, pear and plum trees stood watch on the hillside as we cracked open beers on ice, barbecued, and played bocce ball and a Frisbee game called “hippie horseshoes.”
Rebecca and I sat at a picnic table Clint built from pieces of an old Army truck while Derrikk worked the grill nearby.
I was in my second week on the job as a Ledger staff writer, and caught Rebecca up on the stories I was working on about city council (my new beat!)
After dinner, Clint passed out pieces of paper for the few dozen present to write our names on. He wanted to raffle off three apple saplings he’d just bought. Whoever won would plant their tree at the orchard and would be invited to pick its fruit for free every year following.
Derrikk won the third and biggest tree.
The light was starting to fade as Derrikk planted his tree. He was wearing white athletic pants and a white T-shirt, making his large silhouette glow against the evening as he lowered the tree into the ground and covered it with soil and mulch.
We teased him when we saw how much his tree looked like him — it stood a foot taller than the rest of the bunch even though it was the youngest.
I had a new sense of appreciation for the land that night, perhaps because I had learned its back-story the last time I visited.
For years my husband Tyler Cleveland had been bringing our dog there to run, to ride ATVs with Clint or to barbecue and we had even planted our own peach “wedding tree” there in May. Still, I had never thought to ask Clint why he planted trees until I interviewed him for an article on the you-pick business he plans on opening to the public this fall.
Clint watered his thirsty trees after a scorching July day while I sat in the grass firing questions at him. I learned Clint was in fifth grade the first time he came to the land. He had just transferred from public to private school to escape bullying, only to find the same problems awaiting him there. He did however, find a friend in classmate Aaron Parsons, and when his dad Ed Parsons saw Clint sat outside without lunch during break, he treated Clint to meals every day for the next two years.
Ed was a realtor in Fairfield and owned the eight-acre plot where the orchard now stands. He took Clint and his son there to swim in the pond, and they planted a pear tree there when Ed picked them up from school one day with a sapling in the back of his car.
Since then, the land has changed ownership several times. But a decade ago, Aaron and Clint bought the land back so Ed could retire on it. But they were forced to switch gears when Ed died unexpectedly of a stroke in 2010.
A week before he died, he shared a vision with Clint of having more fruit trees surrounding the original pear. Two weeks after Ed’s memorial, Clint began planting. When he and Aaron decided to make it a business they named it King Edward’s Orchard, because they said Ed “always thought of himself as a king out here at the land.”
After Derrikk’s accident, Rebecca remembered how Derrikk had planted his own tree and had to smile. She held a gathering to honor Derrikk at the orchard on Sunday. His family and friends lit candles and took turns coming forward to speak about him by his tree’s branches.
When Clint spoke he said he’d place a plaque by Derrikk’s tree to commemorate him.
Derrikk’s death was a sharp reminder to me of the transience of life and the importance of appreciating it. And I believe Derrikk lived that way. I left thinking about how the orchard began because of one man’s legacy, but now evokes memories of two.
Donna Schill Cleveland is a staff writer at the Fairfield Ledger.