“In Two Days You’ll Be in Paradise”
June 21, 2018
There’s a film-maker at Dad’s home to capture his 100th birthday celebration. Eric and his cameraman, Chip, are waiting for me when I arrive to visit Dad. They want to film me walking into Dad’s home – and I’m thinking, “Oh, this is good – my big old 61 year-old backside is someday going to be seen in indy theatres across the nation. Why couldn’t this have happened 20 years ago?” (.Ahem. I have some vanity issues.) I go through the door again for them, and go into the home to find Dad at the table finishing up his breakfast.
Karen: We’re heading up to Rainier tomorrow. You’ll get to see your mountain again.
Dad: It’s not my mountain. It belongs to anyone who loves mountains.
Karen: (smiling) Tomorrow we’ll drive up to the Beech House in Ashford. And then on Saturday we’ll go up to Paradise.
Dad: We’re going to the Beech House?
Karen: Yes. It’s Jimmy Beech’s old house. Remember your old friend Jimmy Beech? He took me on my first plane ride. He took us on a plane ride around Mount Rainier. We got really close to the glaciers…
Dad: (nodding, remembering) Is Jimmy still alive?
Karen: No. He’s gone now. But Rick and Jana Johnson have remodeled his old house and that’s where we’ll be staying this weekend. And on Saturday we’ll go up to Paradise.
Dad: (nods his head) What day is today?
Karen: Today is your 100th birthday. Today is Thursday. So in two days you’ll be back at Paradise.
Dad: I don’t want to climb the mountain again, though.
Karen: (laughing) No, you don’t have to climb it. If you want you can just stay right in the car and look at your mountain from there.
Dad: Maybe just to Alta Vista.
Karen: (smiling) Okay. Maybe Alta Vista.
The phone rings and it’s Dad’s old mountaineering friend, Tom Hornbein, calling to wish him a happy 100th birthday. We put Tom on speaker phone so we can all hear him. Tom asks if anyone has an I-phone so we can get a live picture of him as he and Dad talk. The cameraman, Chip, pulls out his I-phone and they rig things up so we can see Tom and he can see Dad as they converse. Dad and Tom talk for a while about old friends, and what it feels like for Dad to be turning 100 (Dad says it doesn’t feel any different than yesterday). I’ve moved to the back so the film-makers can catch the conversation on camera, but as the conversation comes to an end I hear Tom say, “Bye, Dee.” And there’s something about the way Tom says this – something very sweet and dear – that has me tearing up.
Scott and our son, Andrew, and Dad’s friend, Bob Ader, arrive to celebrate Dad’s birthday. Andrew arm wrestles his grandpa at the dining room table – it ends in a tie, with both of them grinning at each other.
Eric and Chip follow Dad back into his room so they can share some old 8 mm movies Dad shot years ago and that they’ve digitalized for him. I can see that Dad is enjoying watching the old films.
Eric knows we’re taking Dad up to Paradise on Saturday and he says he needs to capture every moment of the ride to Paradise. He plans to bring his camera into the car with Dad and my family as we make the drive from Ashford to Dad’s old stomping grounds. This is not what I’d envisioned when I’d imagined the drive with Dad to Paradise – I’d been expecting my family to have Dad all to ourselves in the car – imagined myself leaning forward from the back seat to see Dad’s reaction when he saw his mountain again. It was not going to be the same sharing the back seat with Eric and his camera.
“Let’s Go to Longmire!”
June 22, 2018
We help Dad into his care-giver’s car. I lean through the car window and explain to Dad that we’ll be in the car right in front of him. He nods his head in understanding. “We’re going up to Ashford today,” I remind him, “and then tomorrow we’ll drive up to Paradise and you’ll be on your mountain again.” I kiss his cheek.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you, Karen.
We ride in a caravan to Rainier: Scott and I in the first car; Gwen, Gwen’s grandson, and Dad in the second car; Bob Ader and Xander in the third car. We’re anticipating that we’ll need to negotiate huge traffic jams through Seattle, but somehow we manage to maneuver around the mess and soon we find ourselves past the metro congestion and driving on country highways through green farmland and headed towards Ashford.
About an hour outside of Ashford I get a text from my brother, Dave, letting me know that Kristianne Schoening (whose father Pete Schoening had saved my dad and four others with his famous belay on K2) and her nephew and his family were at the Beech House. They’d thought the potluck party was today and had come a day early. I texted my brother back to tell him we would be there in an hour and that we had Bob Ader with us. Dave said, “Oh! Kristianne was hoping to see Bob again! I’ll let her know.”
It has been an overcast day with no sign of Rainier. But now, as we near “Dad’s Mountain” the clouds start breaking up and we begin to see patches of Rainier’s glaciered slopes. I’m thinking, “Of course the mountain is revealing herself! She wouldn’t stay hidden from Dad!” And I begin to think about the possibility of maybe getting Dad into the park and up to Longmire today to see his mountain – if he’s up for it. I mean – why wait, right? The film-maker can still ride with us up to Paradise on Saturday – but maybe today we can sneak in a quick drive to Longmire with Dad – and Xander, Scott and I can have him to ourselves in the car for that precious moment when he sees Rainier again up-close.
When we get to Ashford I suggest to Scott that we stop at Rick and Jana’s pottery shop before going to the Beech House. There we run into Kristianne and her nephew, Gabriel, Gabriel’s wife, Terese, and their baby daughter. Gwen pulls her car in next to us and Bob parks his car a few spaces down.
Gwen: (smiling)Your dad was so excited when he saw the glimpse of the mountain. He was crying. He doesn’t want to stop here. He wants to go all the way up to Paradise right now.
Karen: Let’s do it! We don’t have time to go up to Paradise – but let’s go up to Longmire!
We confer with the Schoening family, Scott, Xander, Bob, and my brother, Dave, and we decide to go for it! The Schoenings had been up to Paradise earlier in the day, but couldn’t see the mountain for the clouds. They’re ready to give it another go.
We stop first at the Beech House to drop off our bags, and then pile into three cars and head for Longmire.
Dad is in the car with Scott and Xander and I. He’s sitting in the front seat and I’m sitting behind him. This is how I’d originally imagined it would be. I lean forward and put my hand on his shoulder and Dad reaches up and squeezes my hand. In that moment I am completely happy.
We travel to Longmire, park the car, and help Dad to a bench where he can see his mountain. There’s a small tree in his line of vision, but Dad really needs to sit and rest awhile, tree or no tree. His eyes are fastened on Rainier. He begins to describe the routes he’s taken up its slopes, pointing with his finger.
Karen: It’s been a while since you’ve been up here. How long has it been?
Dad: (thinking) Yeah. It’s been a few years.
Karen: It’s good to see it again, isn’t it?
Dad: Yeah. (He stretches the word out so it sounds like three syllables.)
After a while my husband moves a chair off the Longmire Inn’s porch and sets it out in the open, facing Rainier – there are no obstacles to a full line of sight of Rainier from that chair. We help Dad towards the chair, but when he’s about three yards out from it he says he can get to the chair on his own. I instinctively reach out to help him, but Gwen (wisely) shakes her head at me and says, “He can do this.” And we watch Dad climb another mountain as he makes it to the seat and settles into it.
Dad crosses his legs and makes himself comfortable in the chair. Aidan brings Dad an ice cream cone. He is surrounded by family and old friends, and Rainier is full in front of him. Life does not get any better than this. It is momentous.
After a morning spent in the clouds, the Schoenings are able to see Rainier now. I’m thinking they were meant to come today.
A tanned and spry woman – in her eighties maybe – approaches me and introduces herself. Her name is Annemarie and she’s a climber and she’d heard from our mutual friend, Rick Johnson, that Dad would be coming up to Paradise tomorrow and she was afraid she’d miss him. So to see him NOW – right in front of her in Longmire – is like a miracle to her. She’s clutching Dad’s book, The Challenge of Rainier, and she’s wondering if he would sign it for her. I give her a hug and take the book to Dad.
I explain to Dad who Annemarie is – write her name down on a piece of paper so he can see how it’s spelled – and he autographs the book for her. He’s an old hand at this kind of thing. He has just made Annemarie’s day.
We stay at Longmire for maybe twenty minutes – and then it is time to go back down to the Beech House. It has been a long day for Dad. And tomorrow we’re going up to Paradise!