Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
Night-time volunteers Suni Davis, right, and Colby Richards, greet walkers at 1:40 a.m. during Relay For Life.
By KIRBY NEUMANN-REA
July 23, 2005
“Stay awake, Marker Boy.”
Suni Davis jostles Colby Richardson alongside the track at Hood River Valley High School track.
Colby marks off N-24 from the master chart used in Lap Bingo, playfully elbows Suni — “Numbers Girl,” and wraps his down parka tighter.
Nicknames sink in fast in the middle of the night. It is July 18, 1:05 a.m.
Suni, Colby, and their friend Anna Hidle (“Just call me ‘Sleepy’,”) sit by lantern light on a table strewn with the candies that are rewards for walkers in the American Cancer Society Relay For Life.
“This helps keep ’em going,” says Anna. “Keeps ’em moving around the track.”
Every few minutes, “Number Girl” draws a ball from a miniature Bingo hopper and “Marker Boy” records it. Walkers complete their lap and check in. Whether or not they have the number, they still get a piece of candy.
“Okay, give us the next number,” walker Tony White says as he approaches the bingo table. No new score on his three-by-three card. He selects a Jolly Rancher.
“I know how many laps I’ve done by the number of candy wrappers in my pocket,” says White, a Hood River insurance agent.
White walks for Granny’s Gang and Kevin, Too, a close-knit team that participates every year in the 24-hour fund-raiser. Kevin refers to his son, Kevin, who died of cancer in 1991. Tony himself is a kidney cancer survivor. The 1 a.m. shift is one of two Tony takes during the relay. He likes the quiet of the wee hours walk.
What stands out at night, besides the chattering of nearby sprinklers and the hushed conversations from within the tents and shelters on the field, are the lights.
There are the pale-blue squares from cell phones walkers hold up to make a call, check Instant Messages, or perhaps the latest Major League baseball scores.
There are the luminescent necklaces worn by people such as Pauline Smith of the team from Dr. Kyle House’s dentistry office.
But mostly, there are the luminaria.
These candle-lit paper bags line the inside of the track, as symbols of what the walk is all about. Each bears the name of someone who has died of cancer, someone who has survived, or someone recently diagnosed. “Papa Jack,” reads one. Another bears a peace sign, another a flower. “We miss you,” read many.
They are lit in a ceremony shortly after dark, and create a guiding path for anyone up and around at Relay For Life.
Most years, by 1 a.m. the luminaria are a patchwork of bright lights, flickering ones, or darkened candles. Not that any luminary loses its emotional power if the candle goes out, but to see them all lit is a sobering and uplifting thing.
This year, at 1:30 a.m., all but a few of the 400 or so luminaria remain bright beacons.
Another light source is turned off this year; the Relay For Life committee opted not to turn on the scoreboard. In the past, the bright running clock flooded the south end of the field. The clock created a certain comfort, but it was bright for those trying to sleep at that end.
In 2005, the stamina of the luminaria made up for it.
“Those luminaries really make you think,” Tony White says on the ninth lap of the hour, at about 1:50 a.m. He walks the last half of the lap in silence. Then Marker Boy, Numbers Girl and Sleepy come into view, with their bright lantern.
“Okay, I know I’ve got a winner this lap,” Tony says, pulling out his card.
“Want to hear the next number?” Suni says.
“We’re due for a winner. Tell us it’s I-46,” Tony jokes.
“Nope — there’s about six of you waiting for that one.”
Tony smiles and says, “I guess I’ll just have to take a treat,” and selects another piece of candy before setting off along the cordon of luminaria.
Hope is as simple as a Tootsie Roll and as long as a string of lights.