“Hey Dad! What’s made you happiest in life?”
“Not having to answer all your damned questions!” my father said knowing we’d laugh ’til our eyes teared. His quick retort packed a punch; a “family thing”. After forty plus years, Dad was still the one who best tickled the deepest pocket of my soul. Phrases packed with meaning were as natural coming from him as the calls from the Canada Geese forming their “Vs” and loudly announcing the dawn of a new season.
Conversations with our farm-raised, nature-loving, road-building father were a direct contrast to ones with our city-raised, erudite, intellectually-wise mother. Dad’s earthy wisdom, often delivered in concepts original enough to be the envy of a creative writer, unrolled truth in manageable doses. His messages stuck better than any lecture.
As I write, I can hear him saying, “Well…they only stuck when the trap door was kept closed long enough to keep the noise from slipping out,” Eighteen years post-death and he stills gets the last word.
As a kid, my life meant enduring long periods of waiting for Dad to be home again. Hearing his truck turn into the driveway transformed life into heaven. When I was eleven Mom suggested I was too big to crash down the steps to fling myself into Dad’s arms. She may as well have asked me to contain a house fire in a wood stove.
My siblings would each have different responses, but for me, Dad’s presence assured completeness. The love, the fun, the seriousness and simple togetherness wrought a sense of the world being perfect. Even through potentially fragile times – usually a good argument over some issue – there was safety and security. No…that’s not quite true. Dad’s attempt to hide left-over liver in the beef stew came close to eliminating peace and quiet from his life forever.
“Peace and quiet,” was Dad’s response whenever I asked him what he wanted for a present. In fact, it was his response to my question about his happiness.
“Come on, Dad. Tell me what made you really happy.”
Dad, the eldest in his family, had been brought to Canada from Eagle Ridge, Iowa as a baby. His father and mother farmed and Dad ended up having many younger siblings. Grandpa had the blacksmith shop in town which meant that Dad had even more responsibility than most young men his age.
He said, “I decided I needed to get away. I wanted to see a bit more of the country. So, in the late 1920s, I hopped on a train and headed out to the West Coast. I ended up working in a lumber camp on Vancouver Island.”
“And that made you happy?!”
“It was good seeing the country, eating different food, and seeing people do things differently. Compared to trees on the prairies, I couldn’t believe the size of those Cedars and Douglas Fir. A guy could make a career out of just bringing down one of those giants. Ya couldn’t believe how many yards of lumber one tree could hold.”
“If it made you happy, why didn’t you stay on the Coast?”
“The trouble with that kind of happiness is that it wears thin pretty fast. Home starts to look good. After I saved some money, I came back to Alberta, met your mom and after we were married, started lumbering in Alberta.”
“And cat-skinning”, I added.
“Yep. Come to think of it, after 56 years of marriage and raising you kids, I’m wondering if I shoulda stuck with one of those wet, mossy ol’ Cedars.” Only a man who knew the love of his family could safely make such a claim.
Out of the blue, this past weekend, another man who lives in my heart and touches the inner corners of my soul invited me for a wander through Cathedral Grove - the mystical home for the largest old growth trees in this part of Canada. Although I’ve lived on the Coast for 35 years, I had only driven by the Park – on my way to the wild waters of the true West Coast.
On Sunday, at the end of a short ferry ride, Sefo picked me up and we headed north. Being from Rotuma, a tiny Polynesian island 500 miles north of Fiji, Sefo loves to visit this Park. As we drove the windy road that followed a lake mirroring its frame of nature, I remembered Dad telling me about his adventures as a West Coast lumberman. Then it dawned on me. His deathiversary is Wednesday – March 6th.
Suddenly, this trip was a date with my father’s happiness.
So, Dad, for once I’m having the last word. If you had asked about my happiest times , I’d have said, “Any minute with you.”
Like the minutes of this past Sunday, Dad. We shared the majesty of old trees, hanging moss, mists rising from rich soil, sun streaks, quietness, smells of nature and your happiness. I hope I stepped in one of your footprints.