I hung up the phone after talking to Dad and thought about how much I've overused, believed in, and lived by the word "busy." It's often preceded by the word "too." And I thought about him turning 96 this month and how I'd just said the words, "I'll try to get in to see you soon."
Don't assume the worst. I do see my Dad often, talk to him, on the phone, and help him out whenever he needs anything. I always make it clear that I love him. But in the hurry and scurry of my life I sometimes forget how little is going on in his. As I hung up the phone, I pictured him in his chair with the clock ticking on his apartment wall. As a daughter I do pretty well, but I could do better.
It seemed such a short time ago that I wrote a blog post about Dad called Raking in the Memories but it had actually been a whole year, another year gone by too quickly, one tick of the clock at a time. I remembered that last fall he hoped we could take a drive up to the mountains to see the vine maple turning red, and after saying "Sure!" and sincerely meaning it, things got "too busy," the leaves fell, and the long winter came. I looked outside at the perfect autumn day and picked up the phone to call him back.
"Hi Dad. It's me again. I just wondered if you have any plans for tomorrow," I said. "How about if we take a drive?"
I didn't need to ask him where he'd like to go, but I did anyway. Of course it was his favorite place, out Highway 410 and over Chinook Pass to have lunch at Whistlin' Jack Lodge on the banks of the Naches River. My husband and I left Tacoma at 8:45 am and headed north to Renton to pick him up. He was out the door with his walker before we stopped the car.
Some days go by in a blur. On others, if we're lucky, we live each hour with the awareness that it is being imprinted on our memories. Tuesday, October 6, 2009: saved forever. Like opening an album of photos, or one of those calendars of national parks, I will still see the images of that day even when I turn 96. Breathtaking vistas spread out for our pleasure around each bend of the road. Dark green forests, Mt. Rainier, sparkling water, alpine meadows, rocky road cuts, fir and cedar giving way to pine, all made me feel like I'd returned to an aboriginal home and a poignant reunion with nature. I remembered what silence is and pure air. The distant horizon of peaks layered itself in shaded purples and blues. Then we saw what we came for. In every open space exposed to sun the vine maple blazed orange, rust, and red.
The best sight of all was Dad gazing out the window, probably thinking of all the years of vacations and day trips, of trying to see as much of America as he could. I remembered being a kid and watching him from the backseat of his Buick Electra. As one of his seven children, the realization that I understood and shared his love of going to places we'd never been felt like a secret, special, and unspoken bond I hoped was just between us.
"I miss driving," he said. I knew he wanted to feel his hands on the steering wheel again, the engine's surge, and the thrill of the road stretching out before him with some new discovery around the next curve. He gazed out the window. Sometimes he talked. Sometimes he didn't. For a few moments now and then, he dozed. But most of all he just enjoyed, pointing to maples and saying "There's some color."
We ate lunch at a table next to the window, in Whistlin' Jack Lodge. Outside, the Naches River danced low over its rocky bed, still shallow before the autumn rains. Sunshine warmed the trunks of wind-tossed pines to a rich burnt umber color. Years ago Dad would have wanted to walk down beside the water. Those days are gone.
Never one to talk about the past, he surprised me with his answer to my question; did he remember his first trip to Mount Rainier? He did, in detail. As a young bachelor he had a Norwegian coworker and friend who wanted to see the mountain up close. So they packed up Dad's Star Touring car and spent a week camping at Longmire and Paradise. I'd never heard this story, and wondered how many more stories he had that I'd never hear.
When we took Dad home and said goodbye he repeated that we'd given him "a real treat." I hugged him and told him, with sincerity, that the pleasure was ours. We'd driven over Chinook Pass, then looped back to the west through White Pass, over 300 miles.We hadn't done this for him; we'd done it with him. As he walked away toward the elevator I though again about that four letter word "busy." Another one is "soon." I decided right then, I'm trading it in for "today."
Copyright 2009 Candace J. Brown
IMPORTANT NOTE: Just days after this blog post was written a landslide closed part of our route through the mountains. Here's a link to the Washington State Department of Transportation with information about this situation: www.wsdot.wa.gov/News/2009/10/LandslideclosesSR410Chinook+Pass.htm