Saturday, June 14, 2008

September Beginnings: Chapter 2 Part 3

Continued from Chapter 2, Part 2
In his later years, and especially after Mother was gone, Dad became my counselor.  He patiently listened to me, as he did to all six of his children, without being judgmental, or without jumping in and saying, "Well, here's what you ought to do."  One time, I was in Fort Collins, Colorado by myself where I was teaching  at Colorado State University for a semester while on leave from Brigham Young University.  Dad and Elna, my stepmother, thought I needed company so they came from Washington to see me.  Dad and I went across the street from my apartment house to sit at an open-air picnic table that we came to call our "office" in the plaza of the little shopping center there.  We frequently went over to our office  during the week of his visit and sat and worked through the trials and tribulations of life.  In turn, when I went to Olympia to visit, Dad and I often escaped down to the shop he had manufactured from an old log cabin by pouring a cement floor and fixing up the roof and walls.  There, amid the woodworking tools and sawdust and familiar and much-loved smells of wood and wood finishes we convened to discuss life and how we were coping with it.  As Dad got older, he became increasingly frank about his own life and the problems he had faced.  His revelations, hardly startling, made me feel much more at ease about my own life, realizing that each new generation has few, if any, original experiences.

The last time I saw Dad, I drove up to Cody in northwest Wyoming on a beautiful August day in 1992.  Dad and Elna had moved back to Cody from Olympia the previous year.  I drove over South Pass in southwest Wyoming, down the awesome eastern face of the mountain, through Lander and Riverton and Shoshoni and the Wind River Canyon, then through Meeteetse and into Cody.  We held our usual discussions and literary reviews, talking about Dickens and the Brontes and Louis L'Amour's superiority (in our minds) to Max Brand and other Western authors.  We pored over back issues of the Powell Tribune, our hometown newspaper, so we could provide needed commentary on weddings and other local happenings.  We talked about family and life and what it was like to be back in Cody.  I took along a bushel of Gala summer apples which Dad enjoyed immensely.  I began the journey back to Utah with a light heart and the sure knowledge I would be back next summer for a longer stay.

Then, in the early darkness of a cold March morning of the following year, my phone rang at 4:00 a.m.  I knew what had happened before I picked up the phone.  I didn't want to pick it up because I didn't want to hear the inevitable and painful news. Reluctantly, I lifted the receiver and raised it to my ear because I knew I had to.  It was my brother Steve.  "It's Dad, isn't it?" I said.  "Yes," he replied.  "How did it happen?", I asked.  Steve replied that Dad had gotten up to go to the bathroom in the Cody hospital where he was recuperating from pneumonia, suffered a heart attack, and fell to the floor.  Dad did not want to go to the hospital with his pneumonia, and we originally thought he had no more than a bad cold.  Unlike the time of Mother's las illness, no one entertained a thought that Dad would die.

Now there was nothing to do but make a numb and empty journey back to Cody without Gala apples, without hours of book and family discussions and without the recounting of slightly ribald old stories told countless times over many years.  Now I was without a Dad to listen to me tell him how I was doing and about what I wanted to do and reassure me that I would make it.  Now, my plans thwarted for a longer visit later that summer, all I could do was stand numbly by the open casket in the mortuary and place my hand on his cold hand one last time and run my fingers through the thin strands of white hair on his lifeless forehead while those around me watched in anguish.

Mother's illness allowed her more time to recycle her life in her mind than did the circumstances surrounding Dad's death.  But as he became more reflective in his las years when he wrote his life story and kept a sporadic journal, some of the following memories of his life may have filtered through his mind.

Russell's Story

I've worked long enough today.  Time to go home for supper.  Hey Min, what's for supper.  Anything good?  Guess I'll have to go to town in the morning and get a new part for the tractor.  Couldn't fix it by kicking it.  I'll take the cream to the creamery and see if I can get enough to pay for the tractor part.  Where is life going?  What good is it all?  Shoveling dirt, hoeing weeds, coaxing irrigation water that wants to run in the wrong direction, pitching hay, hauling manure, cleaning up the Jones place, cleaning up the Shumway place.  I'd rather be in the shop making inlaid pictures.  I need a new Stetson hat, but Minnie will howl about that.  Well, we should get the sugar beet check before long.  It looks big when it comes, but after we pay the bank and the Farm Security and the fertilizer and tractor fuel and gas bills and pay rent on the land to Grandpa Wasden I'll be lucky if there's enough left to take the kids to the movies.

To be continued . . .


Elizabeth said...

One of my memories of Daddy is how much he loved new cars. There were years when there wasn't a car that was reliable. However, as things eased up a bit, the old car would be traded in and the new one, full of new car smells, brought home - with trepidation. To my memory, the story is told of one time when Mother and Dad lived in Washington, when Dad went in to buy new tires and came home with a new car. I believe there was frost around the house for about a month.

Ann said...

Thank you Dwight, for putting this on the blog. I believe your writing tells it best of all - how we loved Dad. Sweet memories, well told.