Looking for Flags

I parked my Sequoia at the first aid station of the Moab Red Hot a little before noon and set out on my journey. From the aid station, the 55kers, who were 5.5 miles into their 34-mile trail race, started the next portion of the course, an 11.5-mile loop that would circle back to the same aid station. My mission was to sweep this section, i.e., to run/hike it after all the runners had passed through and pick up flagging and, I jokingly thought, any dead bodies I might encounter.

It rained all morning and I felt bad for the runners who had been out there in the wet for four hours already. I noticed though as Kate Avery and I drove up the Gemini Bridges Road to the aid station that the runners we saw were smiling and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Kate was also sweeping; her job was to cover the 15 or so remaining miles of the 33k course. She was a bit worried about getting finished before dark, not because she couldn’t cover that many miles in that amount of time but because we both knew how time consuming it would be to stop and remove ribbons. We discussed how we couldn’t go faster than or pass the last runner and if there was a runner in distress it would be our responsibility to make sure the runner made it back safely.

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Looking back on the Gemini Bridges Road we drove to the first aid station.

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Parting ways with Kate. She’s sweeping a different section of the course.

I grabbed my backpack and my waterproof hat with a brim and set out into the high Utah desert. I mountain biked in this area a couple years ago and was familiar with the terrain. Right away I noticed the bright greens of spring new-growth, dazzling with raindrops in the bit of sun that was peeking through the mostly socked-in sky.

I wasn’t expecting to see any runners out there – their cut-off time for being back to the aid station was noon, the same time I started – so I was a little surprised to see a woman, with a bib, approaching me when I was about three miles in. I was taking the loop counterclockwise, the same direction the runners were, and was perplexed as to why she’d be coming from the opposite direction.

“Did you decide to turn around?” I called out to her once she noticed me. She responded with a question of her own, “Do you know where the aid station is?” There was the aid station from which I started but along this loop there was another aid station as well. “Which one?” I asked. “Any,” she said. “I’ve been out here for 17 miles and I haven’t seen a single aid station.”

Red flag.

I spent a few minutes talking to the woman, the whole time assessing her mental state. “There is an aid station about three miles from here, but I just removed all the flagging that would lead you to it, so I’m not sure you’ll find it. You can come with me, if you’d like, and we’ll circle back to the aid station in about eight miles. I have my car there and I can give you a ride wherever you need to go.” I knew that if she continued in the same direction, I would turn around and follow her. I did not want her to be out there by herself. Luckily, she turned around and came with me.

She seemed quite disoriented for the first hour that we hiked together. She trailed behind me and kept checking her watch and her phone and shaking her head. She couldn’t believe she had gotten lost, couldn’t believe she hadn’t made the cut-off time. I inquired about where she’d been, trying to figure out how she could have possibly missed the first aid station, let alone the second, and why she was going the wrong direction on the loop. She couldn’t answer any of my questions and kept saying that nothing looked familiar. I kept her engaged in conversation. She was from San Francisco and worked for Hewlett Packard, she was out here with her running friend who was doing the 33k, she had done this 55k race a few years back, her husband was going to be upset with her for getting lost. I helped her concoct a story for him about how, just upon the time she realized she wasn’t going to make the cutoff and wouldn’t be allowed to continue, she came across me and felt bad that I was out here on my own and decided to keep me company so she could get more miles in. She liked it and said she’d use it.

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With Maura from San Francisco

We were on the Metal Masher trail, which, at its high point, is 800 feet above the Gemini Bridges Road parking lot (the race start point) off Hwy 191 north of Moab. As we hiked through a dense cloud, I sensed that we were on the edge of a high cliff. The cloud broke then, and we could see the parking lot 800 feet below us as we stood just five feet from the cliff’s edge.

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I parked at this sign near aid station one and started my sweeping duties here.

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When the cloud moved on, we could see the parking lot/race start 800 feet below.

I asked my new friend several times if she was warm enough, if she had water, if she needed anything to eat. Her answers morphed over time as she slowly accepted the fact that she was no longer in the race. Scary though was her thinking that since she was no longer racing she didn’t need to concern herself with any of these things. “Yeah, I’m cold, but it’s just that usual post-race freezing numb feeling that you always get.” “I don’t feel like eating. I should have eaten some protein a half hour after I stopped running, but I already missed that.” “I’m not thirsty.” More red flags.

As we went along, she tried to help me gather flagging, but her cold fingers were useless with the knots. She was wearing shorts (as were most of the runners) and a light rain jacket. No hat. No extra layers, I doubted, in her tiny waist pack.

I’ve had mild hypothermia before. I know that you usually don’t understand the state you’re in and that it’s always good to have someone else there to take charge. Thus, I started to get more firm with her. I pulled food from my pack and offered her some. I pulled out and offered my dry, heavier raincoat. As we went along, I told her the story of my first Olympic-length triathlon. It was raining during that event and after I finished the swim and was 15 miles into the bike ride, a truck came along and said the race was cancelled due to lightning in the area. Of course, we all had to finish the 30-mile ride to get back to the staging area. The truck kept coming by and asking if we were okay or if we wanted a ride, and we all kept saying no, no, we’re fine. But, in truth, we were all freezing and crying and could barely move our hands to operate the gears and brakes on our bikes. I had to come right out and tell her the point of the story – when you’re hypothermic, you do not think straight. You need to listen to others who are trying to help you. Finally, she ate.

After a couple of hours of hiking with her, we came upon a vehicle. Two men hopped out. “Man, are we happy to see you two!” I’m sure by that time the race officials had figured out that this woman hadn’t checked into any aid stations. One of the men started tending to her. I told the other guy what had been going on and that it’d be best if they could take her and make sure she was thinking straight before dropping her off anywhere. Before hopping in the vehicle, she gave me a big, tight hug and said, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much for finding me and taking care of me. I hope you don’t mind if I get in with them.”

They asked if I wanted a ride, too, or if I wanted to continue on with my hike. I looked around at the incredible scenery and the clearing skies and said, “I think I’ll just continue on.”

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Much of the scenery was obscured today, but when the clouds broke, the usual beauty presented itself.

As I finished those last three to four miles, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I wasn’t just out here looking for pink flags. I’d had to watch for red flags, too. I got the opportunity to support a fellow runner in a time of need. It’s what we do, all of us runners– we support others in the running community, in so many ways, shapes, and forms. I was glad for the opportunity to give back on this day.

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So grateful to be out wandering around looking for flags.

The Fun 50 Year

Before I toss out my 2016 calendar, I want to document my “fun 50” year. I turned 50 shortly after New Years and decided to book out my year with lots of fun events and weekends. Having just turned 51, it’s time to reflect on this past amazing year.

January:

Hawaii 5-0 birthday party on the Grand Mesa (skiing, snow shoeing, 10,000 feet elevation, fires, food, drink, decorations, all with 35 friends)

Feed lunch to everyone at work

Bangs Canyon 30k (19 miles of snowy trails)

3rd annual Glenwood Springs Night tri (run in the canyon, swim laps at the hot springs pool, eat at the Village Inn)

Camp on the Mesa with Jim

Cross country skiing and snow shoeing in Ridgway with Butch and Rochelle

February:

Camp in Ouray with Amy for her 18th birthday

Camp at Rabbit Valley with Jim

Camp and mountain bike at Klondike Bluffs north with Jim

March:

Camp at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico with Jim

Climb Mt. Garfield

Trip to Riverton to visit family

Camp in Moab with Amy for her senior year trip

Rappel Morning Glory Arch

April:

Widowmaker 9-mile trail race

Highline Lake night time mountain biking

Three-day canyoneering class

May:

Camp at Highline Lake with Jim and teammates

18 Hours of Fruita mountain bike race

Camp in Montrose with Rochelle

Black Canyon Ascent

Garfield Grumble

Canyoneer the Black Hole of the White Canyon in Utah

June:

Ragnar team trail race through the night at Snowmass

Camp at Highline Lake with Jim

Camp at Bryce Canyon with Mary Jo

Bryce Canyon trail half marathon

Ride horses through Bryce Canyon with Mary Jo

Camp on the Mesa with Rochelle

Camp at Turkey Flats with Rochelle and other friends

Turkey Flats 9-mile trail race

July:

Camp in Gunnison with Jim

4th of July 8-mile race Gothic to Crested Butte

Climb Mt. Crested Butte

Mountain bike in Crested Butte

Crag Crest 10-mile trail race

Trip to New York City with Amy

Central Park night bike tour

Empire State Building

Brooklyn Bridge bike tour

Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island

911 Memorial

Book of Mormon show

Rockefeller Center

Radio City Spectacular show

Camp at Ridgway

Mountain bike the RAT trails with Julie

August:

Camp in Ouray with Jim and friends

Mt. Sneffles half marathon

Camp in Lake City with friends

Climb Wetterhorn Peak

Climb Handies Peak

Climb Mt. Garfield

September:

Camp in Jackson, Wyoming with Amy and family

The Hole Half Marathon in Jackson

Desert Edge team triathlon with Elizabeth

Desert Edge individual triathlon

Camp on the Mesa with Jim

Camp at Crawford Reservoir

October:

North Rim 20k at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Visit Addy in Denver

Trip to Wyoming

Hike to search for wood sprites (wood carvings) with Terrie and Sandy

Run to Whitewater (18-mile trail run)

Camp at Rabbit Valley with Jim

Camp at Dewey Bridge (Moab) with Rochelle

The Other Half half marathon

Camp and mountain bike at Klondike Bluffs north with Jim

November:

Camp in Moab with Rochelle

Maob trail half marathon

Groovy 10k with friends

Climb Mt. Garfield

Start 40 days of exercise (I only did 35; stuff happens)

December:

Winter Sun Party Bus to Moab

Winter Sun 10k in Moab

Cross country ski – lots

Snowmobiling on the Grand Mesa with Amy, Adam, and Jim

Run in downtown Christmas lights with friends

Christmas Eve morning Serpents Trail run

Group snow shoe on West Bench

Trip to Wyoming

January:

New Years/51st birthday party on the Mesa (skiing, snow shoeing, rock hunting, fires, food, drink, friends)

What a year!

Yes, I do have a job. I’m a teacher. I did all of this around my teaching days.

I’m assuming my year of being 51 will be just as exciting and look quite similar.

Life is fun. Live it!

I Was Your Kid

I finish the last chapter, the last page, and close the book. Tears pool in my eyes, cling to the bottom lids until those behind them push them over and out. The contact lens in my right eye swims, fighting against the current, trying to maintain its position.
It’s a dog book. And we all know how dog stories end.
I gaze toward the lake, looking for Jim. He thinks I’m crazy to read books like this. But I like a good cry. I like how you start crying about one thing and end up crying about something else. You never know what will surface. Memories. Fears. It’s always a good cleanse. The lake is calm, though there is a stiff breeze, according to the flags at the state park entrance not too far away. My kayak, nearby, beckons.
I slip my paddling vest on and pull my boat down the grassy knoll to the lake’s edge. I can hear the cries of my dog, tethered to the shade shelter of the campsite. Of course, he wants to go with me. But he can’t. He will not stay in the kayak. He’ll jump out, wanting to swim. And the park rangers would eventually make their way to me.
At the lake’s edge, I look back now to our campsite. There is my dog – perfectly framed beneath the shade shelter, front paws prancing, ears perked to maximum, willing me to take him with. Another surge of tears squeeze from my eyes, the words about the love between a dog and its owner so fresh in my mind.
“Stay,” I say. I can easily relate to the dog owner in the story, for he, too, had to make tough decisions about when it was best to leave his dog behind, even if the dog did not understand.
Next to the shelter is the truck and camper. My camper. I purchased it with a portion of the money my dad left me upon his death.
I step from the bank to my boat, happy, for some reason, to not have to put a foot in the lake, happy to maintain my balance and sit down, totally dry, ready to paddle.
Pull, pull, pull, pull. Right, left, right, left. The image of my dog, pleading with me to go, stays in my mind. I pray that he will stay put, that he won’t find a way to weasel out of his collar, to break free and run along the shoreline of the lake until he catches up with me.
The tears stream. I hate to leave him, especially upon reading that last chapter, knowing how much he loves me and wants to be with me. Knowing that, as always, with every being we love, today could be the last day, the last opportunity to experience something like this together.
Here I am paddling across a lake. Lakes. I love them. It is no surprise that I jumped in my kayak after getting all emotional after finishing the dog book. Going to the lake was a big part of my childhood. It was our family’s thing. My dad bought the boat, cared for the boat, got it ready each weekend, and made sure we had a most excellent, and safe, time every time that we went out.
Jim’s orange kayak gleams in the sunlight, a ways ahead and on the opposite shore. Jim. I need to get to him. I paddle. Hard. Tears pour from my eyes. Was it the dog in the story? His owner? My dog and what he means to me? The fact that I left him behind, without even giving him a chance to stay in my kayak? Was it the lake? The image of my camper and the memory of my father? Could it be the upcoming trip to Kauai for the memorial service?
I paddle fast, as fast as the tears that now roll off my cheeks, down my neck, and into my paddle vest, across the middle of the lake to the man I love. Jim. Lake. Dog. Water. Childhood. My dad. This is a big mountain lake and it’s early June. The water is cold. If I have a mishap, I probably won’t survive before I get to land.
I smile at my naughtiness and think of a conversation I had with my dad a couple years back. I told him I was going camping for an entire week in Utah and that I’d be staying in my tent.
“God damnit, Bubbie,” he’d said. “You can’t stay in a tent by yourself. For a week? Whose kid are you, anyway?”
“Now, as I paddle across the lake, I think, “I’m your kid, God damnit.” My silent tears turn to outright sobbing, my breaths short and loud.
No one hears. Just me.
I’m your kid. That was the answer. I’m not just some tent-camping, lake-paddling crazy hippie. I’m a teacher, 25 years at it. And a mother. A damn good one. An author, a consultant. A lover of the outdoors, of books and photography. Someone who’s taught 700 kids to read. I’m brave and independent and smart and loving and pragmatic. I’m your kid.
And so are my siblings. They’re your kids, too. My sister, Roxy, amazes us all with her beauty, composure, and acumen. The children she has raised, Andy, Christie, and Brady—your grandkids—are adults of whom to admire and be proud. And then there are your great grandkids, Dad. I know you’d be proud of them and love them, just as you loved us.
And Ryan—my brother, your son—what a man he is. He’s intelligent, hard-working, funny as hell (remind you of anyone, dad?), and loving. Loving, dad, just like you were.
Yes, we’re your kids.
And let’s not forget your four young adult grandchildren—Eli, Erik, Addy, and Amy. They are all busy figuring out who they are, where they came from and where they want to go in life. What it is they’re meant to do. And now that I think about it, there have been days when we’ve looked at them and thought, “Whose kid are you, anyway?” They’re ours. But they’re individuals. And we love them for that.
Dad, everyone here today knows you weren’t the conventional father. But one thing you were, for sure, was loving.
My sister, Roxy; my brother, Ryan; me. We’ve all turned out pretty good. We work hard, make a good living, and support our families. We’re good parents. We’re making a difference in this world. We’re loving people. We’re your kids, dad.
I keep paddling. I’m halfway to Jim. Memories of my childhood flood my mind.
I remember when we lived in California and I was, maybe, four, and wanted to leave home. Perhaps it had something to do with you always saying, “Go play on the freeway.” Either way, I was ready to go. You helped me pack my suitcase. You sent me down the street. And, not surprisingly, you stood behind the tree and watched me and were there waiting for me when I got scared, a few houses down the block, and turned around and ran home, crying.
I was your kid.
I remember you singing me to sleep at night. Irene, Good Night, Irene. I don’t know if this is the only song you ever sung to me or if it’s the only one I have memories of, but the words and your voice are clear, poignant. Irene, good night, Irene. Irene, good night. Good night, Irene, good night, Irene, I’ll see you in my dreams. Then a long pause, and the anticipation for what was coming next. Your big, deep baritone. Stop your rambling, stop your gambling, stop staying out late at night…
I had no idea what the song was about. In fact, I remember thinking that “Irene” must be a fancy way of saying, “I dream.” It didn’t matter. What mattered was that you’d tuck me in and sing to me and get pleasure from it.
I was your kid.
Some of my fondest memories are the times we had boating at Boysen Lake in Wyoming. Despite what must have been a hard week of work as the police chief and the hours you put into our farm and remodeling that old farm house into a suitable home for a family of five, you were always ready for a weekend day of boating. I remember you and mom throwing us kids overboard, saying you will swim, you will waterski, no matter what the water temperature was. I remember you circling the boat countless times, bringing the rope by again and again, teaching your kids—and your kids’ friends—how to waterski. You were so patient. I remember double skiing with you, one day in particular. Your back hurt, and you yelled to me that you had to let go. I sensed it was the last time we’d ever do that together. I imprinted the image of you, there, alongside me, on the other side of the wake, your golden hair blowing, the blond fuzzy hair on your tan arms sparkling in the late afternoon sunshine. I was probably 14, you 44.
I was your kid. And you were my dad.
I recall a time when you and Ryan and I went crappie fishing. This was before we had a boat. I guess you must have heard that the crappie were really biting off the Boysen cliffs because this was not something that we did on a regular basis. In fact, I don’t think we’d done it before and I’m not sure we ever did it again. We pulled up to the cliffs in our white, four-door truck and the three of us went to the tailgate. You fixed my pole and Ryan’s—for we were too young and inexperienced to do it ourselves—and then we were off, running to the cliff’s edge and dropping our lines over. Almost immediately, as soon as our lines hit the water, we got bites. Not really knowing what we were doing, we reeled in and up came a crappie on the end of each of our lines. We were back to the tailgate in a matter of minutes. You were incredulous, you with your pole in hand, your pole that wasn’t yet rigged up and ready to use. You set it aside, took the fish off our lines, and prepared our poles for the next go-around. We were off, again, and back, again, before you had a chance to get your own pole ready. “God damnit,” we heard you mutter under your breath as, once more, you set your pole aside to work on ours. The evening of fishing continued in this way until Ryan and I had caught 30 crappies, you never made it to the cliffs with your pole, and darkness swallowed us up.
We were your kids.
I finally reach Jim. He is tucked into his kayak, tucked into the shore, tinkering with his fishing line. My sobbing has subsided, my cheeks tight with dried tears.
“Oh my gosh, I finished the book, had an emotional breakdown, and had a great urge to paddle across the lake.”
“I told you not to read those dog books,” he responded.
“Oh, no, it’s a good thing. It got me thinking about my dad. I’ve come up with all sorts of good memories. I sobbed and sobbed while I paddled. I don’t think I’ve cried really hard for him yet. I must have needed to.”
Jim wasn’t sure what to do with me. “Well, have fun fishing. I’m going to keep going around the lake.”
I didn’t cry anymore, but memories kept surfacing. And I knew that, as I paddled, I was writing my dad’s eulogy. His memorial service was in a month.
I recalled summer days, when I was out of school, and you’d come home from work, dad, for lunch. You in your police uniform, muscular and strong, completely sober and somber this time of day. I remember being most proud of you then. My feelings the least conflicted. You always listened to Paul Harvey while you ate. And I sat there at the table with you. Just listening. And watching you. No talking at all. Maybe a few words were said during the commercials. After The Rest of the Story, you were gone, back to work.
Those were special moments to me. I could feel it then and I can feel it now as I talk about it. I was your kid.
Another “God damnit” story comes to mind. Mom put you to the task of loading up our 4-H pigs in the horse trailer and getting them down to the fairgrounds for the county fair. The pig pen was at the top of the pasture, the muddy mess of a field stretching out down a hill beneath the pen. You had to drive the truck and trailer downhill, into the mud, in order to then back the trailer up to the pigpen gate. As you wrestled the truck through that mess, we three kids bumped around in the back seat, eyed each other, broke into grins, and, as if on cue, whined, “Daaaddddy, do we have to go four-wheeling?”
“God damnit, shut up, I’ll do the driving around here,” you grumbled.
We laughed and laughed, bounced off the seat and almost out the windows, grabbing our stomachs. You were so confused. Why were we all laughing? Why hadn’t your gruff voice silenced us?
We then explained to you that the line—Daaaddddy, do we have to go four-wheeling?—and the whiny voices were straight out of some commercial that we three were familiar with. A little embarrassed, you were quick to laugh and forgive us. You always were.
I’m sure the three of us drove you crazy most of the time. But you always laughed and enjoyed us, too. We were your kids.
Funny memories. Dinner was always a good time, with lots of laughing. You were always funny. One time we were all saying our graduating class mottos. Mine was, “84 is out the door.” When we asked you yours, it was obvious you couldn’t remember, but you made one up right there on the spot: “Hell with the ticket takers; knock ‘em on their ass. We get in free ‘cause we’re the class of ’53.”
Me being 16 and pulling into my parking space at the farm in the green Ford truck. You came over and said, “You ever change the oil in that thing, Bubbie?”
“What oil?” I asked.
“God damnit, Bubbie.” You hadn’t taught me a thing about the engine. You did that day though.
You also taught us how to shoot guns. I remember shooting a shotgun at age seven and the kick knocking me on my butt.
One time Grandpa Fron was at our ranch with us. We kids turned over a hay bale and found pockets and pockets of baby mice, still pink and hairless and translucent. We begged and begged to take some home. After we were back in town, I overheard Grandpa Fron talking to mom, saying, “He could hardly say no to those kids. If I hadn’t have been there, you’d have a house full of baby mice right now.”
You let us have all kinds of animals, Dad—horses, cows, sheep, pigs, cats, dogs, rabbits, mice (domestic, adult, in a cage), geese, a peacock, a mule, goats… You let us try a raccoon in the house, but that only lasted for a couple days. And we got to keep a baby pig in our basement laundry room one cold Wyoming winter. I remember the summer I had 47 pets. I was pretty lucky to be your kid.
I’m back from paddling now, under the shade shelter, laptop on lap. I need to write. It’s either the byproduct or the catalyst of such a good cry. Often both.
But, here in the outdoors, I can’t see my screen. Can’t see what I type. All I can see is my reflection. My thin hair. No gray yet. Maybe never. It’s your hair. My eyes – you’re there. Those barely visible lines from the corners of my mouth to the bottom of my jaw, the ones that define the shape of my chin. They’re yours.
I’m your kid.
Jim’s back. He sets his things down, takes his vest off. “Okay,” he says. “Now, tell me more about that emotional breakdown. Or whatever it was.”
“I already told you. I was bawling. It was the book. Then I saw my camper. Then I started thinking about my dad.”
“Tell me more.”
“I can’t. The moment’s gone. I sure do wish I could write about it. But I can’t see my laptop screen. I already tried.”
Jim goes into the camper, comes back with a pad of paper and a ball point pen. I can’t write like that—the old-fashioned way—but I appreciate how he understands my need to write.
“How about I take a nap and you sit in the camper and type?” he suggests.
The words pour out of me, as readily and cleansing as my tears did just a bit ago. Jim snores lightly on the camper bed, a few feet away. At one point he stirs and asks, “Are you sobbing over there?”
“Yes,” I reply.
A while later and he is awake for good. I decide that I’m at a good stopping point. I thank him for the idea, the support. Somehow, he always knows.
“I got a lot written,” I tell him. It feels good to maybe have a start on this eulogy. Something I can continue with.
“It’s not too long, is it?” he asks. “You know, people won’t want to hear you go on and on.”
I consider that. “It might be too long,” I confess. “But, so be it. You only die once. My dad was a storyteller and I’m sure he won’t mind at all if I take the time to tell a few stories about him.”
It’s my place, my responsibility, I think. I am, after all, his kid.

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Spa Chief

Spa Chief Sticker

I grew up in the town of Riverton, Wyoming in the 1970s and 1980s. Though not technically on reservation land, the town was surrounded by the Wind River Indian Reservation. My father – Dennis Francis Horyza – was the police chief of this town. And being that it was encompassed by reservation land, he had many dealings with the Arapahoes and Shoshones (the two tribes that share these lands) and their governmental agencies. He was generally well-liked and respected and it wasn’t long before the tribes were referring to him as Chief Yellow Hair. My dad had wispy fine blonde hair at the time and actually never went gray before his death on August 30, 2014 at age 78.

My dad worked hard throughout his life and was always a good provider for our family. Despite a divorce and starting over at age 54, he was able to amass quite a savings before he passed away. It was with some of the money he left me that I was able to justify buying a small camping trailer. Because of this, I thought I might name my camper Chief Yellow Hair.

I remember a few years back when I told my dad I was going tent camping for five days in the Utah desert by myself over my spring break from school. “Jesus Christ, Bubbie,” he growled over the phone, “whose kid are you? You can’t stay in a tent by yourself in the middle of nowhere!” When I told him that that was exactly what I was going to do, that there was a lot of country I needed to see and explore, he said, “You damn well better have a gun and you damn well better know how to use it.” I’d like to think that my dad is happy that I can now lock the door of my camping trailer and keep myself safe.

For its first official outing, Jim and I hustled out of town on a Friday night and drove only about 20 miles to Highline State Park at Highline Lake. It was early March and we were the only ones at the campground. While having a dinner of chips, guacamole, and margaritas and listening to peace and quiet music, I said something to Jim about how relaxing it was here in the “spa chief.” Now, another name my dad had, in addition to Chief Yellow Hair, was Pa Chief. This was his grandpa name that everyone used, starting in 1985 when his first grandchild was born. He never wanted to be called Grandpa and definitely not Grandpa Dennis, so family called him Pa Chief and towns-people called him Chief Yellow Hair or just Chiefy. I always called him dad. Anyway, when “spa chief” came out of my mouth, Jim and I both knew that this would be the official name of the camping trailer. It’s just perfect, and we know there will be much relaxing and healing going on whenever we use it.

Thank you, dad, now and forever. I’m glad you’ll be along in spirit for all of the Spa Chief adventures.

Spa Chief

Time to Write

bird against cloud

I feel the ache in my bones

The need to get home

Seconds before

Becoming fully aware

Of what my world

Is telling me

Like the eerieness

Before the tornado siren

Sounds

Certain details shout to me

Not everything

Just some things

The lone bird in the sky

Too big, too black

Against the too muted

Too bright clouds

Its song amplified

Notice me, it trills

While cars

Move beneath it

Muffled, too quiet

Inexplicable

In comparison

With half an eye on the bird

Half an ear, too

I squash the urge

To go home, now

And enter the library

Spooked, knowing

Clutching a memoir

Just finished

Someone’s story

Another one imploring me

To write my own

I keep finding them

Or they find me

Reading them

As they read me

Recognizing that longing

To get it out

Preserve it

A wax man stares

As if expecting me

Already making eye contact

Before I’m even there

Holding it

Without moving

As I go by

And drop that memoir

That someone else’s story

Down the slot

He’s frozen

I know

Just so I will take in

All the details of him

That urge to write

Intensified

The library, ahead

In slow motion

As I move quickly through it

To the holds

To a book I look forward to

On the shelf, in my slot

Where I’m expecting it

But still a surprise

I take it

Bewildered

As to how it got there

Another memoir

Another somebody’s story

Another person

Calling to know mine

The beep of my library card

Too loud, to me

But no one else hears it

No one notices

Just the one who needs to write

About what

The world is proclaiming today

Making me ache

To commemorate

The details

Take note, it screams

Make note, it pleads

I feel it

It’s time to write my story

But I’ve picked up this book

This book on hold

Now in my hold

Another

Someone else’s story

And so I must decide

Write or read

Read or write

One makes me crave the other

The other has me coveting the first

A poem, I decide

Just for now

Satisfying, but fast and short

To the point

Its end in sight

So I can pick up that book

Get started

Knowing I’ll be moved

To write

My story

Perhaps

Next time.

Because People Like Her Don’t Just Happen

“Mom, mom, I need a picture with GB before we leave.” We were on the porch, saying our goodbyes after a Thanksgiving weekend at my mother’s house in Wyoming. My mom, however, was executing her delay tactics, rattling on about why she named her large, wooden bear St. Hubert, protector of hunters.

“Oh, heavens, I’m still in my pajamas,” she said, as Addy squeezed in close to her and I prepared to take the picture.

with Ads

I noticed the bag of fresh-baked mincemeat cookies in Addy’s hand that GB had baked for us for our road trip back home. How apropos that it was in the photo.

GB. The replacement name was given her some 25 years ago when the oldest of her seven grandchildren, little then, were confused as to why some of us called her mom and some of us–them, the little ones–called her Grandma Bev. Since then, that is what we’ve all called her, though I do believe I’ve heard the newest generation of great-grandchildren calling her GGB.

giant GB letters

In addition to Grandma and Bev, I like to think the G and B stand for generous and beautiful. For that is what she is, to all of us. Not only generous in the typical sense, but generous with her time and energy and love. As a grandma, she has always focused on the grandchild or two that, at any given time, seemed to need a little extra attention or love. These past few months, she’s been in close contact with Addy during her freshman year of college, and also with my other daughter, Amy, who is spending her junior year of high school abroad, in France.

And though physically beautiful, for sure, GB is, more importantly, beautiful in every other sense of the word.

with Ads aprons

The day after Thanksgiving, my sister and I sifted through three large boxes of papers, personal files, and photos of my recently passed Dad. I had Addy participate in this, wanting her to understand that someday she’ll have to do this for her parents (I made a mental note to start now with the process of ridding my file cabinets of a lot of unnecessary junk) as well as to learn more–in the process of looking at photos and listening to my sister and me–about her grandparents and me and herself.

Though my parents divorced nearly 25 years ago, there were a few photos of my mother in the old albums, some that I had never seen and almost all of them new to Addy.

July 1962

Cali family

Mom CaliAs we loaded up and got ready to go, with GB still standing there, waving and blowing kisses, Addy said, “Mom, you know, I’ve always just known GB as who she’s been during my lifetime. You know, since I was born, or since I can remember her. I never really thought about her life before that, about who she was and what she did all those years. Seeing those old photos really got me thinking. She’s probably been through so much.”

I didn’t want to interrupt her thoughts or what she was sharing, but I was about to pull away. “Keep talking, Ads, but turn and wave to GB.”

I lowered her window and she hollered, “I love you, Geebs.” Geebs. Recently, that’s what Addy had been calling her. I took the fresh moniker as an indication of their special connection.

“Yep,” Addy said, as she buckled up, “I think she’s probably seen a lot in her life.” She looked back out the window, back toward her grandma standing on the porch. And I heard her say, almost to herself,  “Because… people like her don’t just happen.”

A Thank You Letter for Thanksgiving

Giving thanks at Thanksgiving is customary; giving gifts is not. But a gift is exactly what I got from my daughter.

Addy wrote me a thank you letter and, really, what better gift could anyone ever ask for?

Dear Mom,

Thank you for giving me the gift of life and exposing me to the most beautiful parts of it. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for accepting me. Thanks for my perfect little sister. Thank you for the most beautiful, magical childhood I could have ever asked for.

Thank you for being so strong for us when I know it was hard for you. Thank you for showing me how to not only survive excruciating pain, but thrive through it. Thank you for being such a good example.

Thank you for teaching me that nirvana is a twenty-dollar campsite and some breakfast burritos in a beautiful place. Thank you for teaching me how to read and write English and music. Thank you for teaching me how to teach. Thank you for teaching me how to love. Thank you for teaching me how to truly live.

Thanks for singing to me. Thanks for taking me to the beach. Thanks for dinners at your house even though I’m in college. Thanks for the hikes. Thanks for the ukulele. Thanks for finding Jim. Thanks for all the Christmases. Thanks for taking pictures. Thanks for having dogs.

Thanks for being you.

Love you,

Addy

Addy's Thank You Letter

Cooking with Addy

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