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Choosing to Remember

Last night, the call came from the officer. Your dad has been seeing people in his house and in his yard who aren't really there. He hasn't been using his oxygen or taking his medication. He was driving dangerously on the freeway and nearly caused two collisions near his house when he got home. He is being admitted to the hospital for his own protection until you can come.

And so, the wheel of life with its numerous cogs of drama graduates to the bigger model to accommodate this new spoke. It's not a tough choice to help your father when he gets old; he brought you through thick and thin when it mattered more than you thought. Now he needs you and doesn't know it. Doesn't want it, either. Since his memory is seriously challenged, I don't know how much longer he will be able to tell me the things I will always want to know.

My dad acts independent. He likes to be his own boss; he quit Darigold as a cheese-cutter (no shortage of fun explaining that to my 5th grade pals) at age 50, unlike most of his peers who worked in a factory until they broke something or turned 62. Dad started a home business trapping and trading furs. It was a bit of a shock when he came home one day with a large basket of Victor traps. It was more of a surprise when he boiled them for three days in tar under the deck. We didn't have neighbors like us. Well, except for the man next door who everyone called "Smoke." When Dad started trapping, Smoke really opened up. Smoke could out-smoke, out-fish, and out-cuss anyone in Fords Prarie. Dad said he was a little different.

Dad was not all that refined....if he wasn't whacking muskrat with a stick in a trap he was sorting deer toes or salting elk hides or trimming the fur off badger claws or maybe cutting rawhide to make a new style of Indian drum. Dad taught me how to survive a nuclear disaster by living off the land or the sea. He made me familiar with the Pacific Northwest and all it had to offer if you were willing to pick it. And we picked it; ferns, wild blackberries, salmon berries, huckleberries, sage, cedar, mushrooms (the non-hallucinigenic type), roots, cascara bark, bugs for fish bait, and a host of other treasures. Dad showed me how to use ferns to calm neddle stings. He told me about Indian Tobacco and the proper use of Skunk Cabbage. He introduced me to mountain men, coon-doggers, and Indians who refused to be called Native Americans. Dad took me "road hunting" for deer and grouse, which meant he drove the logging roads looking for things to take home for dinner which happened to wander into our path. When I turned 13, Dad made me drive those narrow gravel washboard roads and swore if there was only one pothole in the next 8 miles, I would surely hit it. I learned to drink coffee from his Thermos when I was 9 because it was too hot when I was 8. I learned to pour coffee from his Thermos when I was 8 while he drove. I never understood why Dad's coffee didn't spill much when he would drive with the open cup on the dash. It would just jiggle there and make the shape of a V on the windshield with the steam.

My Dad taught me how to fish for anything in a lake, but he preferred trolling for trout with gang gear. Dad showed me the value of letting your son reel it in, especially after he set the hook. He also showed me the value of losing a fish and how to handle disappointment. The first time I truly impressed my dad was when I caught a string of Dolly Varden trout at Joe Creek near Ocean Shores. I was eleven years old. I thought Dad called the fish "Dolly Partons," which made me look repeatedly for anything protruding underneath the pink part of the fish. Dad told that story a hundred times. Smoke liked it best.

He was good at story telling and didn't mind telling a good one a few times. I didn't mind hearing it over and over. I had no idea how important this skill would be later.

Dad didn't hate anything except his own name. When my first son was born, I talked to Dad about passing his name down. Dad was crystal clear: Nobody should be called Noble unless they are in a book and it's used as an adjective.

I saw Dad get into two fights in my lifetime. Once he decked a hippie at the beach who was being disrespectful to my step-mom. Dad's best friend only said one thing: "Nice left, Hardwick." Another time he got into a knock-down-drag-out brawl with my Uncle. My Uncle spent time in prison and it showed. But his refined street survival skills were no match for Dad's determination and speed. I had no idea how fast that man could move until that day. I never challenged him after that. I was 11 years old.

Dad taught me courage. When I was 10 years old, I got a new bike for my birthday. I paid for half of it with the money I made mowing lawns. We vacationed in Sun Lakes that summer like we did most years. Dad liked going over White Pass on Highway 12 to get there from Centralia. At the summit, Dad let me get the bike out of the trailer and ride around while he and Mom made lunch. Dad told me I should take the bike for a test run down the mountain pass. So I did. I was going about 40 miles per hour on a little BMX bicycle. People stared at me as they passed by, not sure if I was lost, crazy, or both. Twelve miles and a descent of about 2300 feet later, Dad honked and my step mom waved as they passed me. They pulled over at the next wide spot in the road and loaded me up. "Did you have fun?" Sometimes Dad would tell me to go play on the freeway. Did that, too.

We were very familiar with the wide spot in the road. Dad didn't need a campsite with full hookup. His favorite camping spot was the wide spot in the road just past Lilliwap on the Hood Canal. It had blackberries and a trail leading down the 30 foot bluff to the water, where there were plenty of butter clams, horse clams, and oysters. It was all he needed. Blackberry cobbler and fried clams for lunch and dinner.

Dad could cook for an army as long as he had flour and oil. Everything followed the same basic recipe: Flour it and fry it. And I mean everything.

I remember all of this and more. I can't wait to tell my Dad.

Don't wait to tell your dad.

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