Thursday, July 24, 2014

Life Is Grand

I owe much of who I am - good and otherwise - to my dad. He was a force to be reckoned with, whether you were discussing politics, playing Trivial Pursuit, fighting for a later curfew, or cooking in his restaurant. Everything about Dad was grand. His laugh, his mustache, his hard line when he was convinced he was right, his commitment to his kids, his sense of humor (he always thought he was hilarious), his love of food and books, and his personal demons. He could be a wonderful man when he set his mind to it. One of the things he did well was write a column for the local weekly newspaper. The column was entitled "Ain't Life Grand", and it was full of musings and observations from his corner of life. I present the following as evidence. This entry, "Huntin' Trouble" was published October 6, 1994.

'Once again it's that time of year - hunting season. There's a hint of winter in the air, Aspen leaves are golden, and any woman worthy of that name is finalizing negotiations for a new major appliance. "Of course I don't mind you using all your vacation time to go hunting, Honey. And that new Maytag will sure get your Carhartts clean."

Every year the boys, Fish Boy and Snake, and I do a little hunting. They scan the horizon for whitetail, elk, goose. I scan my brain for excuses: "It's too dark; it's too far away; how was I supposed to know that was a spike?" I love to hunt, I'm just not too keen on all the work after you yank the trigger. (Let me save you a stamp. To all who think hunting is a cruel, heartless, male ego thing, let me reply in my most heartfelt and humble manner - "Sez you.")

One particular hunt stands out in my mind. The boys and I were just about to call it a day. Then a lone deer came bouncing along the pasture below us. I was plumb out of lame excuses by this time, so I took a bead and down it went. Now we needed the truck.

The pick-up was at the house, not far away. We strolled on up. Fish Boy was complaining of cold hands and asked his sister GiGi if he could borrow some of her gloves. To my surprise, she graciously agreed on the condition that no innards be permitted to soil her property. I assured her that the gloves would return in pristine condition. They almost did. Who could have guessed?

I wheeled our 4-wheel drive 400 big block '79 Ford blue beast fence buster pick-up into position by the carcass. Leaping to the ground, I was handed the knife as neatly as any brain surgeon ever received a scalpel. We proceeded - Fish asking for parts indentificiation while I tried to avoid thinking about my lunch wending its way upwards. Done at last! Back into the beast, wheel into position for loading. As I jumped out this time, my olfactory lobes signalled my brain that something was amiss in the odor department. My right rear wheelwas smack dab in the middle of the gut pile.

With a maximum amount of grunting and groaning we hoisted the cadaver into the twelve foot high truck bed. I advised my accomplice, "Wait here a minute and I'll turn the truck around." I hopped in and gave 'er the gas. To my surprise the wheels began to spin furiously. Then I realized that pancreas and spleen make for poor traction. Oh well, no big deal. As Fish Boy climbed into the cab, the smell became more pungent. Apparently, he had been standing directly behind the truck during the acceleration process. Well, Goodyear Mongo Lug Black Beauty Churners effectively transform deer innards into airborne flotsam and gutsom. It's the first law of Cuisinart Dynamics.

The brain is a marvelous device. Fish Boy's brain saw this awful barrage flying toward him. This sent a signal to his hands, "Whoa, wake up down there. I don't want that stuff anywhere near me. Action, Jackson." The hands did their duty. They maneuvered the gloves into place, covering the face. As a result, the gloves acquired a new color, texture, and aroma. None of which the manufacturer would tout in a national ad campaign.

I knew the deer was not the only dead meat in the truck. I had assured GiGi that her gloves were safe. There are a few things which every man fears. Trashin' fashion is one of them. Being sensible, I immediately tried to think back to my college course, Creative Excuses 101. I was stumped. May as well face the music. As we stumbled into the house in our crimson stained hunting clothes, GiGi spied the now soiled gloves. Her eyebrows snapped to attention. She had us dead to rights. I began babbling apologies. Fish Boy even begged her forgiveness. She turned to me and said, "He loves hunting so much, and those are old gloves anyway, don't worry about it." Huh? Well, we'd been huntin' trouble and failed to bag our game once again.'

Some might argue that I chose this entry because it casts me in such a flattering light. You'd be right. I also chose it because it's a story near and dear to my heart. Dad had a gift for words, and each time I read this story I'm transported back to our warm kitchen, where Mom and I were working on dinner while The Boys did their hunting thing. It was a good day. We had a lot of good days.

As time went on, the good days started coming less frequently. By the time I was in high school, Dad had sunken into a deep depression. Life with Dad wasn't easy. I went off to college, while Mom and The Boys worked to make the best of life. Eventually, Dad came out of his depression, but it left a mark on us all. Good days started coming back, though not the way they were before. We all struggled, as most families do, but life went on.

When I became pregnant with WyoGirl, Dad sort of came to life again. He would refer to Fetus WyoGirl as Louis, after Louis DePalma, from Taxi, because they were roughly the same size. He decided that rather than being called Grandpa or some variation thereof, he wanted to be called Yuda. Short for Yudaman. And with Dad, it fit.

As WyoGirl grew, she and her Yuda became thick as thieves. They did everything together. Best Buds. Theirs was a bond I envied, having never had a relationship with any of my grandparents. But it did my heart good to see how happy they made each other. Good days were back.

But, life is transient, and good days couldn't last forever. As WyoGirl grew, Dad's war against his inner demons grew. Things changed - good days started to disappear again. Distances expanded, along with hurts. But somewhere in there, along with all the mess and hurt, was my dad. The man who had raised me with such love and devotion. With a hard line and high expectations. With an appreciation for wit and humor, cooking and the written word. Over time, however, it became harder to find him.

We lost Dad in November 2011. When I got the call from my brother, I crumbled. I had been expecting this day for a long time, but was nowhere near prepared to accept it. I screamed, and I cried, and I cursed God and Dad. I sat down on my kitchen floor and cried with sobs that wracked my entire body. And then, we all set to work figuring out how to say goodbye to a man who had been larger than life, in all our lives.

Dad never wanted a sad funeral. He wanted everyone in attendance to wear nose glasses. Oh, the family nose glasses pictures I could show you...We did the best we could, but loss and saying a final goodbye are difficult, painful things to do, and there's bound to be some sadness that gets through. One of the songs we chose for Dad's service was Vince Gill's Go Rest High on That Mountain. It seemed to fit Dad so well.

I know your life
On earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain
You weren't afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain

Go rest high on that mountain
Son, you work on earth is done
Go to heaven a shoutin'
Love for the Father and Son

Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve
I wish I could see the angels faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing

Saturday evening, driving home from Billings with J and WyoGirl, I heard this song on the radio. As soon as I heard they lyrics, I began to weep. It wasn't a deep, sobbing cry, rather a soft, quiet weep. Tears filled my eyes and streamed down my cheeks, while a lump settled in my throat. I looked out the window, and beheld an amazing sunset. Later that night, when I took The Hound out to do her thang, I was struck with the sense that life was humming, all around and inside me. The air was filled with evening flower fragrance. Beauty surrounded me. Just inside, two of the people I love most on this Earth sat, healthy, safe, and peaceful. The evening felt grand. Grand in scope, and grand with a realization of blessings, of struggles fought and won, of grace, love, and forgiveness. In that moment, I realized just how right Dad had been. Life ain't always good, but it sure as hell is grand.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful writing. I love this; it resonates with my soul.