Today is my Dad’s birthday. Though he hasn’t been with us for 8 years I still love to celebrate with a Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza, a German chocolate cake, and tin roof sundae ice cream. Kelly and I were able to scatter the rest of his ashes near our family cabin in Alaska when we were up there for our first trip. We sang songs and shared good memories of learning to hit softballs with Dad. Having him run alonsgside our bikes with the training wheels off for the first time; his hands on his hips and a look of pride and triumph on his face, while we held on for our lives… thinking they would be very short ones! We used to play foursquare after dinner while we were in gradeschool. It worked perfect, Mom, Dad, Kelly and I. We didn’t have to wait turns like at school, we could just play in that seemingly endless Alaskan sunshine.
I remember him being sure that we could all learn to cross-country ski. This was after we had enlarged our family and it was a riot trying to get all my tiny siblings dressed for arctic weather and then strap skiis on them. We tried, we really did but in the end only the older few got the hang of it. That’s something I loved about Dad; something I think I may have come by honestly, his wild whims that swept the whole familyup into fun and sometimes crisis. He loved the wind in his hair, going new places and trying new things. Why not? We were not always prepared for what we met but oh the memories we made.
There was one time he took me fishing on the Russian River for salmon. The run was is and there were fishermen elbow to elbow all along the shores. I tried to use all of my 12 year old focus on fishing instead of boys but it was long and tedious. I soon passed hours looking for pretty rocks. Dad was very patient about getting my line all ready for me and he really did let me do all the fishing I could stand before he went into hunting mode. I was thankful for the time we had together and for Mom who had a houseful of toddlers and still sent her husband away for the weekend.
Dad only packed this tiny little bag for our overnight trip. Now, I do like to bring all the just in cases with me but I desperately wanted Dad’s approval so I packed like he did, I thought. Fishing elbow to elbow has its challenges, one of which I got to experience first hand. When a fish bites your hook on a river you yell “Fish on!” and people downstream are supposed to reel in so you don’t get all tangled up. Someone upstream had caught a beautiful salmon and hollered the magic words. People started reeling in frantically, pushing and shoving ensued and I lost my balance. I fell in. I fell in the Russian River in front of who knows how many people. I was certain in my pre-adolescence that everyone on earth was looking at me and laughing their heads off.
Dad helped me up, my rubber boots filled with icy water. I struggled out of the River and back up to the truck. Dad handed me my little bag and said,”Well, at least you can change.” I laughed nervously. “Change? I thought we were roughing it.” “We are but I always bring a change of clothes, didn’t you?” Nope. I had underestimated my father’s packing ability. After years of travel for business he had learned to roll his clothes in this tiny little ho-ho thing and tie it with a belt so it took up almost no space at all.
I got to enjoy his little ho-ho thing….I got to wear it. Belt and all. We gave up on fishing and went to a diner for lunch. I waddled into this little remote eatery in my father’s very big britches, his plaid shirt tucked WAY into his large pants and his size 9 sneakers barely visible from the rolls of denim hanging off my legs. Well, at least I wouldn’t know anyone here, I thought. I must have thought it too loudly, or God wanted to work on my pride, because just two tables over were some kids from my bus route. I tried to be mature, I smiled and sheepishly said hello, hoping they wouldn’t remember me like this always. But as I put my hand in Dad’s as we walked out of the diner – me in my clownish attire – I felt just a little proud. I knew my Daddy loved me no matter what. He loved me if I looked like a clown, if I cut our fishing trip short, if I started a domino of fishermen falling into the Russian River….he still loved me.
So I let them laugh and I didn’t really worry about those kids on the bus snickering at me. I had bigger fish to catch! Thanks Dad!