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.


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

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's Thank You Letter

Cooking with Addy

I Finally Get Veterans Day

I don’t remember anything about Veterans Day from my childhood. I don’t recall talking about it at school. Don’t remember knowing what a veteran was. Don’t come from a family of many vets. Can’t think of anytime before adulthood when I saw Veterans Day on the calendar or thought twice about it when I did.

And, to be honest, for most of my adulthood I didn’t pay it much attention. I’m sure I had to get beyond early adulthood, beyond those years of finishing college and starting my career, getting married and raising a family, to have the time and energy to focus on what was going on around the world. To weigh what life must be like in other countries compared to what it is like here. And to really appreciate that.

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I talk to my students about how fortunate they are to live in America. We talk about our freedoms and our quality of life. We read about people who came to America looking for jobs and other opportunities. And, especially, we talk about the free education available to every child in America. I want my students to realize that not all children around the world get to go to school and that the reasons many of them cannot is because their families cannot afford it. Or that not every child has equal opportunity. I want them to treasure and embrace the free education that is available to them and to never, ever take it for granted.

But I don’t talk too much about the price that was paid for our freedom, for our way of life, for our country which much of the world envies. It’s complicated. It’s confusing. It can be too much for seven- and eight-year-olds.

But this year we had an event at our school that provided the opportunity to teach my second grade students about Veterans Day – what it means and why we celebrate it.

A teacher at our school – who is also a mother of a veteran just returned safely from Afghanistan – organized a veterans celebration on our campus. Students and staff invited relatives who currently are, or did, serve in the United States armed services. Students brought in photos of their vets and these were displayed on a big red, white, and blue Wall of Fame. The staff at our school cooked up an impressive breakfast for the 40 veterans who attended that day. Then, the veterans, easily distinguished by their uniforms, the staff, parents, and the entire student body gathered at the flag pole shortly after school started.

We all watched, solemn and serious, as two men in uniform raised the flag against the early morning light. The silence was broken with the singing of the national anthem. I couldn’t see the person who was performing, so I watched my students instead. As they double checked to make sure they had the correct hand across their chest. As they focused on keeping their eyes on the flag, just as we do each morning during the pledge. As they refrained from talking or wiggling or joining in on the singing. As my throat thickened and my left hand moved to cover, in that crucial motion, the emotion building on my countenance. Upon that final note, I let out a loud whoop, as I would at a baseball game or most other gatherings where the national anthem is sang, realizing a second too late my faux pas. Several of my students turned and looked at me, standing behind them, utter shock and disappointment on their faces. How disrespectful, Ms. Bergen.

A few days beforehand the students had carefully penned a Dear Veteran letter and I had them role play going up to a total stranger veteran, with their hand out, ready for shaking, and say, “Thank you for your service to our country.” This opportunity – to shake a veteran’s hand and present the letter they wrote – was what they all were really looking forward to.

As the flagpole ceremony ended, I brought my class around to where the veterans were lined up. They walked down the line, so obedient, so respectful, so in awe. And I watched each and every one of them approach a vet, hand out, letter ready.

And I knew then how important Veterans Day was to me.

As we walked back to our classroom, I heard one student say to her friend, “Man, that made me get tears in my eyes.” Back in class, we had a quick discussion about the emotion we felt during the ceremony. Most students concurred; they had almost teared up.

And I knew then how important Veterans Day was to them, too.

Veteran Letter 3

Veteran Letter 2

Veteran Letter 1

That Last Photo

I suppose I knew at the time that my dad would never go home. In order to do so, he had to learn to walk again after having his toes amputated due to infection. He didn’t have the strength or balance to sit up, couldn’t hold the phone or even twist his upper body to answer it, and needed help eating. He hadn’t made much progress at the physical rehab place. Yes, I’m sure I knew he wouldn’t be going home.

Still, when my daughters and I visited him in Bullhead City, Arizona – where he had chosen to move many years earlier, distancing himself some 600 miles from any family – I encouraged him to keep trying. He had been back and forth between the hospital and rehab several times. He had endured three back-to-back surgeries, the doctors trying to save his toes, his feet, his legs from a staph infection. “Work on your upper body strength so you can get yourself in and out of a wheelchair. Then you’ll graduate to a walker and you’ll be able to go home.” I knew this would take months. I was pretty sure he didn’t have months.

During all this time in the hospital, my dad went through major alcohol withdrawal. He was an alcoholic for nearly 60 years. My entire life.

All those years of drinking, the surgeries, the alcohol withdrawal, the various medications – dementia was setting in and he was suddenly looking very old. His face was ashen compared to the usual state of robust red I’d always known him to have, his always broad and muscular shoulders so narrow now beneath the clean navy t-shirt he wore, his legs shrunken with atrophy from being in bed for three months. His left leg was in a brace, his right foot heavily bandaged, the amputation beneath not healing well.

It was his hair though that kept getting my attention. At age 78, it was still blonde, as were his whiskers and the hair on his chest and arms. He hadn’t had a haircut in a while and, at about an inch and a half, the freshly shampooed, fine strands were longer than I had ever seen them. Except for the occasional bed head – and it was a short bed head – my dad’s hair had always been neatly parted on the left side and combed down while wet. I chuckled that day at his longer, slightly unruly hair.

The day we visited, my dad was mostly coherent, mostly making sense. We asked about his care, caught him up on our trip to Arizona, commented repeatedly about his hair,  joked around. That’s what he was good at, joking around. He was in a good mood. I asked if I could take some pictures of him and he said, “Oh, yes,” and perked up even more. I took a few shots and then the girls asked if I wanted a picture of him and me together. Of course, I did.

He smiled for that picture. Something he hasn’t done in years.


Yes, I suppose I knew that my dad wasn’t going home. And that this was probably the last time I would see him. Though he was slightly confused and a little paranoid and, I’m sure, albeit being discreet, sad and scared, I was enjoying him in a way I never had before. He was, for the first time in my life, completely sober.

He wanted us to rub his legs. I got on one side, Addy on another, and we massaged his withered thighs. I knew Addy was a little uncomfortable with this. Admittedly, I was, too. I thought back to my girlhood, when my dad was always looking for one of us kids to give him a back rub. I would intentionally do a poor job, hoping he would choose my brother or sister the next time. But this time I gladly did it. And I regretted having not touched this man enough times in my life. In his life.

Amy, my youngest, sneaked away to a chair in the corner of the room. When I looked at her, she gave me a barely noticeable yet loud and clear shake of her head. No. Do not ask me to take a turn rubbing his legs.

I understood. And I didn’t ask her.

As my dad got sleepy and we three began to feel the emotional strain of the day, I started mentioning that we would have to go soon. After a while, the girls said goodbye to their grandpa, a man they hardly knew, and left the room.

Then it was just him and me. And yes, I’m sure I knew that he would not learn to walk again. That he would not be going home. That this would probably be my last trip to Arizona.

“Well, dad, I’ve got to go…,” I said. I wasn’t at all sure how to leave the room.

He immediately started in with some story. I smiled, shaking my head, thinking of all the times over the years when I’d rolled my eyes at this same scenario. It was usually when I was on the phone with him. I’d have to get going and I’d say so and he’d ignore me and just keep talking, not wanting the phone call to end.

I took one backward step toward the door. Then another. I had to get out of there. Why, I’m not sure. Why couldn’t I stay longer? Why didn’t I stay until he fell asleep? Why didn’t I rub his legs some more, his hair? I could have rubbed his hair and put him to sleep, like I had so many times with my children.

Tears pooled. I had to go before he saw them. Had to go while I was thinking positively about his sobriety, his hair, the notion that he might get stronger and go home and I could come back to Arizona and visit him again.

“I love you, Dad,” I said and quickly turned and walked out the door.

“Come back!” he yelled, with more vigor than I expected him to have. Then, a few seconds later, and sounding more resigned, “In here.”

Blurry eyed, I went as fast as I could down the hall, pass the nurses’ station, through the lobby, to my girls.

They looked at me, crying and running to get out of there, and I could see the concern, nearly horror, on their faces.

“Oh, mom,” Addy said, and they each took one of my arms and hustled me outside.

My dad’s health steadily declined and I did not return to Arizona before he passed away. When he was close to going, when he could no longer speak but the nurses were sure he could still hear and understand, I called and said what I needed to say and what I thought he needed to hear.

I’ve looked at the picture of him and me together, several times a day since then, and though it was taken at a sad time during his most unhealthy days, it makes me laugh and feel good. In this photo, he is alive and sober and smiling and I’m clearly enjoying those last minutes with my dad.

Triple Play Day

Hey, do you want to do anything fun this evening? Bike riding? Pickleball? There are only so many summer evenings.

Jim texted back. What say you pedal down to Sherwood Park and we’ll toss the frisbee around for a while? That’ll give you one of those triathlon days you like.

That sounded fun. And Jim was right; that would be two more exercise opportunities for the day on top of the hiking I had done early in the morning.

The triathlon idea started with day trips to Glenwood Springs, where I would choose a hike or a run, ride my bike down the canyon, and then swim laps and relax at the world-famous Glenwood Hot Springs. This was an individual event, made up entirely by me, and done at my happy pace, which included having lunch between legs and reclining in a chaise lounge with a good book between laps. The whole point was not to go my fastest and get the event over as quickly as possible, but to fully embrace and enjoy each aspect of it, making it last all day and taking pictures along the way.


So I met Jim at the park that evening and we tossed the frisbee back and forth in the low, late evening sunshine. To add some oomph to the workout, we did what we always do with a frisbee or a ball, we counted how many times we could get it back and forth to each other without dropping it. This extra challenge of throwing more accurately and running to catch throws that were slightly off got our heart rates up. At first, we did 18 in a row. Then 19. Then 26. And our record for the evening was 56. Fifty-six tosses back and forth with the frisbee never hitting the ground.

After, we sat in the cool grass. “Good idea, Jim! I forget how fun it is to throw a frisbee.”

“Good exercise, too,” he said. “I’m going to feel this tomorrow. All the bending over and reaching and sudden bursts of running.”

“You know how in your text you called this a triathlon day? I was thinking we should come up with a different name. Triathlon implies swimming and biking and running. But, really, any exercise counts. Even the work you do all day long at your job.”

“But the three different things is what’s important,” he said. “I think it’s a good goal to shoot for every day. It doesn’t have to be three big things, like your all-day Glenwood Springs triathlons. It could be walking down to the farmers’ market, paddling around the lake. Anything.

I pondered my locale and exercise tastes and all the options, especially in the summer months. “Yeah, Jim, there are so many fun things to do around here–hiking, trail running, walking, mountain biking, road biking, pickleball, racquetball, swimming laps, open water swimming, kayaking…”

“Frisbee,” Jim added.

“Yes, frisbee. And this would remind us to play more often. Plus, things like strength training, push ups, stretching.”

“Yeah, just stretching at some point in the day. It wouldn’t be that hard to get three things in.”

“And most of this stuff is fun. I’m thinking triple play, make it sound fun, like a triple play day.”

“Triple Play Day.” Jim tested out the sound of it. “I like it. Because most exercise is fun. Or it should be. People should try to find exercising options they enjoy, that make it seem like they’re playing.”

“It’d be really good for me,” I thought out loud, “to try to do triple play days as often as possible, especially when winter rolls around. I always slip into this horrible thinking that I need to be home and safe and locked in my house once it’s dark. And in the winter, that means 4:30. And that’s not good. It’d be great if I had a reason to go and do one more type of exercising. Go to the gym. Walk around the block on a snowy evening. Whatever. It would just help me change my mindset.”

“Yeah, we should keep it in mind. Think about it every day. See what happens.”

“There’s also housework and yard work. They’re not exactly fun…”

“For some people, they are,” Jim interrupted.

“Agree. And, even if they’re not fun, they’re rewarding, once you’re done, and that makes them fun in a different sort of way. So they’d be included. Included in this idea of ‘playing.'”

“What about long runs or climbing a 14er or something like that?” Jim asked. “Would that count as three things?”

“It should.”

Jim thought for a minute. “I’m thinking it shouldn’t. I mean, the whole point is to get in the habit of doing three things each day. To ask your body to do three different types of activity. And even if you do a biggie, you can still come home and stretch or vacuum or pull a few weeds in your yard.”

“I agree. Plus, it’d be too easy to start counting more intense exercise as two or three things for the day and then the whole triple play concept would be lost.”

I went on a week-long road trip right after I had this conversation with Jim. It was a good opportunity to test whether back-to-back, ongoing triple play days were a possibility. Some days were easy, like the day I went for a short run around the lake where we camped and then later that day played hard in the ocean and then took a long walk down the beach. Triple Play. Other days, the ones with seven hours of driving, were more difficult. But I could always get in some walking, some stretching, some isometric exercises while sitting in the driver’s seat. It was on my mind, a new challenge, so I made sure I did it. And I liked it.

Triple Play Day.

Triple Play Day copy


Just Wondering

Early in the summer, I was camping in the southern Utah town of Cedar City. After a day of hiking and then napping by the pool at the campground, I ventured out for a short run about town.

Heading south down the main street, from the northern end of town, I came upon a picturesque cemetery. The tall trees, in an otherwise high desert setting, cast shade about the thick, neatly trimmed grass, made a brilliant green by the slant of the evening sun, and upon the roads leading into the cemetery, vacant on this late Sunday afternoon, inviting me in.

At first I focused on my running, feeling fortunate for the quiet roads and cooler venue. Out of respect, I ran as lightly as I could, placing each step without sound upon the pavement. Is this irreverent? I wondered. I’ve run alongside my hometown cemetery, but never through it.

But soon my attention was on the headstones.

There was something perplexing about them. Each marker seemed recently placed – clean and gleaming like new countertops, all with what appeared to be freshly incised lettering. A newer section of the cemetery, I thought, but, with the inscriptions so sharp and mysteriously not timeworn, I could see, easily, that they were diversely aged, many having been situated there more than 50 years.


How has time not permanently dusted and dulled these markers? Why are the loving inscriptions and vital statistics not worn down, lost to those looking upon them now for the first time? My wondering continued as I ran.

And the decorations! The sites, nearly every one, were adorned with bright bouquets, crisp and new, like the headstones themselves. Deep reds, not one bit faded from the hot western sun, and yellows vibrant as if they had just popped that morning. I saw balloons, aloft of the markers, not drooping in the least, seemingly placed just moments before I arrived. Hats, flags, garden decor. All tidy. Colorful. Nothing out of place. Every grave looking as if it had been attended to that day.

How is this possible? I wondered, looking around, searching for someone, anyone, to inquire if they were noticing what I was noticing, to ask if they knew the secret of this place. It would make sense if it was just past Memorial Day, but the holiday formerly known as Decoration Day was two weeks gone. No one else. No one there to wonder with.

I thought of my running friend, how we’d discuss this if she was here. And my hiking partner; he’d enjoy contemplating these things with me. But mostly I thought of my mom. I remember visiting with her live-in partner one day, remember him saying something about how my mom never says, “I don’t know.” He said that when he asks her a question and she doesn’t know the answer she won’t say, “I don’t know.” She’ll muse about it, toss out some ideas, ask him what he thinks. He didn’t seem to understand why she would do that, why she wouldn’t just say, “I don’t know.”

“Is that bad?” I asked him. “Because I do that, too!” I visualized doing this with my mom; yes, we definitely had thought, together, about things we weren’t sure about, exchanged ideas, furthered our thinking, and often come up with answers or explanations that we wouldn’t have, had we not gone through the process of wondering, together.

I needed my mom, a friend, information about this cemetery, Google, anyone.

After running crisscross up and down all the paved roads in the cemetery, I came upon a newer section toward the back. Here, the roads were gravel. Here, there were no trees, none casting shade anyway. But the markers themselves looked the same–new, recently etched, smartly adorned. An American flag, not faded in the least, flapped in the wind, wind not previously perceived in the more protected confines of the cemetery.


I ran on.

Now I came upon a small dirt area, red dirt, typical of the southwest. Short sticks and rocks marked the burial sites, presumably those of pets. Twenty graves perhaps. Why just 20? Just 20 beloved pets lost over all these years? Perhaps the pet cemetery concept hadn’t taken off or the idea ruled against. A few weeds grew here. Why are there weeds here and nowhere else? Why haven’t they been pulled?


Oh, to mull these thoughts over with someone.

Not far from the pet cemetery, I came upon an information board and a map explaining the layout of the cemetery. A bit of information to shape my pondering.


What? Not a pet cemetery, but an Indian burial area. More questions. Why just 20 or so Indians? Maybe shortly after Indians were permitted (or chose) to be buried here, they were included in the regular sections, treated equally, with grass instead of weeds, proper markers rather than sticks and stones.

I went back to the little dirt area. Took a closer look. Noticed an etching on one of the sandstone rocks placed there. Tom somebody. This rudimentary carving was not sharp, not legible, not even up close, not even later when I zoomed in on the photo. October 1947? 1941? Space for just one date. Was this the year of birth or death? Probably death. Tom. Lost. Lost to most.


I continued on through the cemetery, taking each road one more time. Wondering about this place. Wondering about wondering. I could stop by the office the next morning. Ask some questions. Inquire. I could, upon arriving home, do some research on the Internet. Was there another cemetery in Cedar City? An older, more historic, more typical one? Where were most Indians buried, back then and now, too?

No, forget it. I wasn’t going to. To leave here just wondering, that’s what I decided to do.

I recall mentioning to my aunt the conversation I had had about my mother and her wondering, her thinking aloud, her expecting others to build upon her thoughts, her using this approach to try to come to some understanding, some conclusions. I recall my aunt saying, “I didn’t have a mother who wondered. I had a mother who said, ‘I don’t know.’ It was the more appropriate thing to do in her time.” And then, “I missed out on a lot of conversations.”

So here’s to the power of wondering, to thinking aloud. And here’s to my mother for engaging in this behavior, drawing me in, teaching me to wonder, to just wonder.

Assignment: Today (7/14/14)

I realized later that I hadn’t seen the whole post, the entire paragraph. There was a quote, then a line space, and at the bottom…

Assignment:  Today

I love the assignment part I commented on the post, thinking the assignment was one word, to focus on today, to make the most of it.

The person commented back that I could download the app and it would give me a new assignment every day. I took a closer look and saw that the word today was only the first word in a multi-sentence assignment. I wasn’t interested in the entire description of the assignment (hardly read it) or the app, particularly. I had already decided that my assignment was today. Just today.

Today. An optimistic word full of promise. Today. A fleeting notion. Today. Something that definitely needs to be grabbed onto and made the most of.

This wasn’t a new revelation for me, this embracing of the gift of a day. It just reiterated for me how I shouldn’t waste precious time, moments, or–the worst–an entire day.

Earlier that morning, I went hiking with a friend and she told she was thinking about doing a sprint triathlon coming up in September. “I just need to commit. Commit to the training,” she bemoaned.

“I’ll do it with you,” I said. I spit it out, before I could think about it, before I could tell myself no. “I’ll train with you.”

“Really? You will?” she asked, stopping in the trail, ahead of me, and turning back to look at me.

“Yes.” It wouldn’t be my first tri. I’ve done several since I started running about six years ago. Most triathletes have to conquer the swimming portion of a triathlon, already being capable enough of the running and the biking. For me, the swimming is the easiest part and the pedaling isn’t so hard either; it’s the running that kills me. I am a slow runner. And I’m especially slow after swimming, riding my bike, and then attempting to run.

I’d pretty much written off any more triathlons and any serious running training as well, for that matter. In fact, I had just recently decided that I was only going to run, ever again, if I felt like it. I wasn’t going to push myself. I love exercise and I do all sorts of it and I figured it was no big deal if I ever ran again. I wasn’t that good at it anyway, even back a few years ago when I was running a lot.

But, there is this secret inner part of me that still wants to be a runner, that wants to be stronger, that wants to lose the 15 pounds I’ve gained since I quit running on a regular basis. And that secret inner longing was probably what made me spew the words “I’ll do it with you” before my brain could really think about it and override the pact I was about to make.

My friend and I hiked to the high point on the trail–Eagle Wing–where we finalized the commitment to train together and took our official commitment selfie.

Mary Jo and Me

On the way down, we made a training schedule. We decided which mornings we would swim, when we would run trails, and that we’d have to squeeze biking into evenings and weekends.

From now on, starting today, I am in training. I will write a weekly training plan and try to stick with it, taking it one day at a time, focusing on today, doing my best, and then moving on to the next day.

I must admit I’m excited. I didn’t want to be done being a runner (slow as I am, a runner who runs on a fairly regular basis, runs a few races here and there, and enjoys the benefits of a leaner and stronger body) but I was definitely in a slump and developing a negative mindset, thinking I was too old to run and that I was never meant to run anyway.

But today is a new day. And I’ve got a new challenge and a new focus.

Assignment:  Today.


Manikin Panickin’

“Mom, I got VATted today,” Amy said as she came through the front door. Neither success or defeat was conveyed.

“Oh yeah, how’d it go?” She had told me about some of the other lifeguards getting VATted so I knew what she was talking about.

“I failed. Big time. It was so embarrassing.”

She had been through a weekend of rigorous lifeguard training two months prior and was required to get a certain number of inservice hours each month to ensure her training remained fresh and up-to-date. In addition, she, and the other guards, would occasionally be VATted. This, her first time to experience it, was during her second full week of guarding.

“I was guarding the deep end and there were only three people using it. I knew where they all were and none of them were in the water. One was standing on the edge, one was talking to her friend by the hot tub, and the other was walking to the diving board.” Having been to this pool several times, I pictured the scene in my mind. “So, I’m just standing there, keeping an eye on these people, and this little boy comes up behind me and taps on me. Tap, tap, tap. I look down. He’s about six. He says, ‘That man over there threw a baby doll in the water. Aren’t you supposed to get it?’

“OMG,” I said, knowing how she must have felt. To have a little kid see the baby doll go in, to have him know that she’s getting tested, to have him come and tell her she might just want to rescue it.

“Yeah. So, I only have 20 seconds to get the manikin to the surface. It’d probably been down there for over a minute already. Maybe two. So I jump in and go down for it. And I didn’t have enough air. I couldn’t get it. I had to resurface and try again. And that little kid watched me the whole time. Probably the whole place did.”

“I’m sorry, honey.” I thought back to her training stories. She had brought up real live grown men who were hanging out on the bottom of the pool, waiting to be “rescued.” So I knew she could bring the baby up, that she had the skills to do it.

“So what happens if you fail a VAT?” I asked. I invested nearly $400 for her to become a lifeguard, from the training course to the red lifeguard suits and shorts and guard t-shirts and then the expensive Chaco sandals that would provide enough support for standing all day and wouldn’t fall off when she jumped in for a rescue. I hoped she wouldn’t be fired. More important, though, I didn’t want her to fail, to think she wasn’t competent enough. This was her first real job. It demanded a lot of responsibility for a 15-year-old, but I knew she could do it.

I thought back to my lifeguarding days. I remember taking a course that was several weeks long, but after passing that and getting hired by the city where I grew up, I had no further training. And I lifeguarded for three summers.

“Since I didn’t pass, I’ll get VATted a lot over the next two weeks. And if I continue to fail, I’ll get fired.”

“Oh, I think you’ll do okay the next time it happens. You’ll be ready.”

“Me, too.” Now she sounded confident. “I learned a lot today. I’m kind of glad it happened the way it did because I realize I wasn’t scanning the bottom. We were trained to scan the bottom, kind of like scanning your mirrors in driver’s ed. We’re supposed to do it on a schedule. And I wasn’t doing that. I didn’t think it was necessary since I knew where my three people were. But now I know. I have to do it all the time.”

I loved what I was hearing–not only that she realized the VAT was a good learning experience, but she already knew what to take away from it.

Several weeks later, I had my own experience with the VAT manikin. I was swimming laps at the outdoor pool. The big, busy outdoor pool. The lap lanes are in the center of the pool, a calm, quiet oasis between the crowded shallow part of the pool and the hectic deep end with the diving boards. No one who isn’t swimming laps is supposed to be in the lap lanes and no one’s supposed to cut across them to get from one end of the pool to the next.

I was in the far lane, the one next to the deep end. Whenever I front crawled in this lane, I could see how the bottom of the pool dropped off, right under the rope, sloping from about five feet deep beneath me to twelve under the diving boards. At the end of the lane was a lifeguard stand. When I’d stop swimming to take a breather, I’d nonchalantly check out the guard there, to see how engaged he or she was, to see if I could notice elements of the training that my daughter had told me about.

Sometimes the guards used the stand, sometimes they didn’t and instead stood on the edge, or paced back and forth, moving, watching, scanning.

As I approached the wall, doing breast stroke, on the day I think of as my VAT day, I could see the red of a lifeguard standing near the edge of the pool, a watery figure through my goggles as I lifted my head to breathe. Two quick reports of the whistle, the leaping figure, and the giant splash not five feet from me seemed to happen simultaneously, the wake pushing me sideways, even with the rope there to squelch it, and I knew instantaneously what all of this was about.

The lifeguard had jumped in to save someone!

I took one more stroke and was at the wall, turning my body back and toward the deep end. What was going on? I shoved my goggles up on my cap to get a clearer picture.

But I could see no commotion. No victim. All I saw was the guard, a girl, holding her sunglasses in one hand, the rescue tube in the other. She was treading water, looking at nothing in particular, not for a person in distress or at the bottom of the pool. And she was smiling.


Something was wrong with her. She wasn’t thinking straight. She wasn’t rescuing the victim. She had given up and she was just treading water and… smiling.

Some sort of instinct kicked in in me. My old lifeguarding instinct. My mommy instinct. My teacher instinct. My adult instinct. So much experience, so many instincts, all raring to go. I knew I could help. Plus, I had my goggles! I’d be able to see the entire bottom of the pool!

I pulled the goggles back down over my eyes. And then… then I hesitated.

Maybe I shouldn’t interfere. I didn’t work here. My training was decades old. I could, possibly, make the situation worse.

And then it hit me, why the guard wasn’t trying, and why she was smiling. Why she thought this whole thing was funny.

Her twenty seconds were up.

She had failed. She knew it. And there was nothing to do now but smile and handle it graciously while the crowd looked on.

When I figured it out, I smiled, too. Smiled that I was all raring to save someone.

It was almost a year later, just a few days ago actually, that I went to swim laps at the indoor pool. My daughter was working. Guarding. I watched her for a few minutes. Pacing the edge, scanning, guarding. Really guarding. She was no longer a rookie. She looked good. Impressive. Serious. Professional.

On my way out, in the lobby, I saw this sign explaining about the VAT (Vigilance Awareness Training) manikin. Oh, so that’s what VAT stands for, I thought. The sign was large and it explained why the VAT doll was used, but it was in a corner where, I think, most patrons probably don’t see it.

To me, people need to be told as they enter the pool, need to be made aware, somehow, that the baby doll manikin might be in use. To see someone toss a baby into the deep end or to watch as a guard either does or does not bring the tiny victim up, could result in a brief episode–as it did me–of manikin panickin’!



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