Dad died this morning in Boise, Idaho, after struggling for a few years with Alzheimer’s disease. He had been in hospice for only a few days at the end of a full life.
I clearly recall three stories Dad often told others, and me. Each involved his family. The first story is about taking responsibility, the second about familial relocation, and the third story is about death. Dad’s father died before I was born, and his mother died when I was about 11 years old.
The first home my Dad occupied was in Elk City, Idaho. It was a relatively primitive town, sitting on the edge of civilization, hardly deserving the second word in its name. Even when I visited during my college days, there was no grid-tied electricity. Among Dad’s first memories was his mother putting him on a horse and sending him to the grocery store. Upon arrival, Dad would holler until the grocer came outside to take the list, hand-written on a piece of paper pinned to my Dad’s shirt. Three years old at the time, Dad would wait on the horse until the groceries were placed in the saddle bags. The horse knew the way home. Dad was responsible for bringing home the family groceries at a young age.
A few years later, my paternal grandmother announced she was not going to spend one more day in their house, which lacked running water and electricity. She asked who was going with her to a town with better infrastructure. On very short notice, Dad’s parents moved their family, including six children, to the burgeoning metropolis of Kooskia, Idaho. Holding the family together meant appeasing the family matriarch, a small price to pay.
Many years later, I was visiting a regional museum with my folks. Across the room, I saw Dad looking intently into a display case filled with equipment for horses. I walked over to ask why he was so interested. He recognized the family tack, of course, and said they had left the bridles and other pieces behind in their haste to depart Elk City.
The third story was passed along from my paternal grandfather through my Dad. Dad’s Dad was walking down a dusty road in Elk City when he came across a neighbor constructing a pine box for his recently deceased wife. My grandpa saw that the new widower was using nails to hold the box together. Thinking his neighbor might prefer something a bit more stylish than nails, granddad offered to provide some screws to hold the pine boards together.
The widower’s response: “I think these’ll hold her.”
Death has always been part of life. It seems most people took this message with more humor and grace back in the 1930s than we do today.
My parents were my first teachers, coaches, and mentors. They shaped who I am, in part by spending countless hours coaching me and cheering the events that seemed important to me in middle school and high school. These included student government, band, baseball, football, basketball, and track & field, among others I have doubtless forgotten. They attended every game I played through high school, and even a few games when I played Division I basketball at Idaho State University, a 12-hour drive from their home to the hardwood court at ISU. In addition to being my first teachers, coaches, and mentors, they were my first and biggest cheerleaders.
My parents were lifelong educators who parented three lifelong educators, two professors and a public-school counselor. They lived virtually their entire lives in the state of Idaho, in the northern half of the Northern Hemisphere.
Most of you don’t know my Dad beyond his profound impact on me. Please know that his honesty, strong will, and adherence to principle continue to serve as models for me, and therefore continue to define who I am.
The Lewiston Morning Tribune ran a bizarre obituary on Sunday, 26 July 2020. It can be read here.