Dad’s memorial service at the Seattle Mountaineers was yesterday. I was asked to be one of the speakers. Here’s my contribution to the celebration:
The Mountaineers were important to my dad – the fellowship and friendships he found there meant a lot to him. And it means a lot to me that the Mountaineers are celebrating him today.
When I was younger, Dad was my favorite climbing and hiking partner. And in the last few years of his life we had more adventures together on the drives I took him on. I chronicled these drives in a couple of books. As my contribution to the celebration today, I’m going to read the last chapter of one of these books, Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad :
I stop by to see Dad while I’m in town on an errand. My plan is to take him for a quick drive to get him a root beer float, if he’s up for it. He says that sounds like a good idea. Meagan puts his alpine hat on his head, gets him in his sweater, and puts shoes on his feet. He is still wearing his pajama bottoms. That puts a smile on my face. I tell him he is a fashion plate. Meagan points out that Dad can actually pull this look off, and I have to agree.
When we get in the car Dad asks, again, where we are going.
Karen: I thought we’d take a quick drive and I’d get you a root beer float.
Dad: That sounds good. But what I’d really like to do is go to the Big Four Inn.
The Big Four Inn would be a major trip. I hadn’t planned on this today. But… Dad has been mentioning the Big Four Inn for a year now. Maybe two. We’ve always managed to brush this idea off, and suggest we’d do it another time. But… this might be our last drive before I start another school year. And I don’t really have anything else planned for today – and there’s nothing else I really want to do with my day. So. Maybe. Maybe today we’ll drive to the Big Four Inn – or to where the Big Four Inn used to be before it burned down. I’m going to think about this on my way to Sisters Espresso for Dad’s root beer float.
As we’re driving through town…
Dad: We used to dance in that building on the left. On the second floor. We’d come down from the Big Four Inn and dance there.
Karen: Do you like to dance?
Dad: I’m not very good at it. I started too late. All my friends used to go dancing every Saturday in Los Angeles. I didn’t. (Thinking.) Do you like to dance?
Karen: Yes! You used to dance with me when I was a little girl.
Dad: (Smiling.) Did I?
Karen: (Remembering.) Yes. You’d pick me up and dance with me. I loved dancing with you.
Dad: I love doing everything with you.
As we head out of town…
Dad: This isn’t heading towards the mountains.
Karen: I’m going to get you a root beer float first and figure out how to get there.
When we get to the Sisters Espresso, I order Dad his root beer float. As I’m waiting for the float, my neighbor and friend, Denice, shows up. Denice is a mountain woman, too. It occurs to me that she might know how to get to The Mountain Loop Highway.
Karen: Hey Denice, the sons and I used to go hiking along The Mountain Loop Highway all the time when they were growing up – but I can’t remember how to get there anymore. Do you know how to get on The Mountain Loop Highway?
(And sure enough, Denice knows exactly how to get there! She quickly gets out her phone, taps in some words, and reads me the directions.)
Root beer float in Dad’s hand, Dad and I head out for The Mountain Loop Highway.
Dad: Are we going to the Big Four Inn now?
I head east up the South Skagit Highway. I am feeling a happy, blissful freedom as we travel along the Skagit River, through maple trees and cedars. I am on another adventure with Dad.
Dad is observing our route…
Dad: The old route was on the other side of the river. (He’s right.)
A little later…
Dad: Now we’re going to cross over the river and get on the other side of it. (He’s still right.)
At one point I stop to take a picture of the river and I snap a quick photo of the sedimentary layers in the cliff next to the road. Dad has noticed the layers, too…
Dad: You see that white layer there? I think that’s ash from a volcanic eruption…
When we get to the Darrington Ranger Station I stop to take a little break. I ask Dad if he wants to get out of the car and he says yes – he wants to go into the Ranger Station and look at maps.
Dad: (As he struggles to get out of the car, laughing…) I wonder if the rangers can see me trying to get out of the car. This doesn’t look very good.
Karen: (Laughing.) Don’t worry about it!
We manage to get into the ranger station and I help Dad over to the big 3D map in the corner. I position a chair for him if he needs to sit down while I use the restroom. When I come out he’s sitting in the chair next to the map, talking with the ranger ladies. He’s already asked them about the Big Four Inn, and Erika is looking at Big Four Inn postcards with him. I buy the cards for Dad (25 cents apiece) and ask the rangers how to get to the Big four Inn. I’ll need to go straight through Darrington, they tell me, and follow The Mountain Loop Highway – at some point it’ll turn into a gravel road – and somewhere on the other side of the gravel road we’ll pass the field where the Big Four Inn used to be.
Erika has been enjoying Dad and his stories. She confides in me that her great-aunt lived to be 106 – she passed on just last spring. I let Dad know that Erika’s great-aunt was 106. Dad nods and says he’s just a kid. Erika says that her great-aunt just started using a walker in the last year or two before she died. I tell her Dad doesn’t like to use his walker. He can be pretty stubborn about not using it. Erika smiles and says her aunt could be stubborn, too. I observe that’s probably why she lived so long, and why my Dad is still alive at 100. Erika laughs and agrees.
I turn to help Dad out to the car, and he wants none of it. The ranger ladies are watching.
Dad: No. Don’t help me! I’m not a cripple. I can walk on my own!
Karen: Okay, Daddy. (I keep my arms ready to catch him if he falls, but he manages to get himself to the car on his own. He is a stubborn Dutchman. He is also my hero.)
We drive into Darrington and I stop for gas.
Dad: Where are we?
Dad: (Looking around him in wonder.) Darrington. I’ll be damned. Darrington.
Karen: (Pointing to the Mountain Loop Road sign.) The Mountain Loop Road.
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah. The Mountain Loop Road.
The road becomes narrow at spots – but every time there’s a car coming from the opposite direction there always happens to be a place for me to pull over.
Dad: You’re a good mountain driver. (Thinking.) It’s nice to come up here when there are roads to travel on. This used to just be a trail. (A little further…) It’s nice to finally be back here. I never dreamed that one day I’d be back here as an old man with my daughter driving me in her own car. (Thinking.) All the rangers at that ranger station were women. Women are fighting for their rights. I don’t blame them. (More thinking.) It’s hard to drive with all the shadows on the road – hard to see the ruts.
The road becomes more primitive now – in places there are ruts and pot holes in gravel – in some places the gravel disappears and the road becomes a little slippery and muddy.
Dad: I never dreamed that someday I’d be up here – an old man gripping the door handle.
We pass the trailhead for Mount Pugh and I stop to let Dad see the sign. I’m wondering if he’ll recognize it. I am not disappointed.
Dad: Mount Pugh. I climbed that one.
Eventually we roll onto asphalt again. We pass the trail to the Ice Caves, and I remind Dad that we hiked up there once with Pete Schoening. Dad nods his head, remembering. Not far beyond that is a sign that says “Big Four Picnic Area.” On a hunch I turn to follow the road to the picnic area and sure enough…
Dad: This is where it was!
(I park in front of the site of the old inn. I’m blocking the road, but there haven’t been many cars today, and I want Dad to be able to get out here and not have to walk too far.)
Dad: (Getting out of the car.) Ohhh… this is where it was… (There are tears in his eyes. His voice is choked up.)
Dad makes his way to the display that shows pictures from the Big Four Inn. He spends time there, looking at each picture, remembering his days in the Coast Guard in World War II, when he was stationed here for a time. This was a good time in his life.
Dad: What’s that…? Oh… the old fireplace. And the chimney. Yeah. I wish I’d brought my camera…
Karen: I brought my camera. I’ve been taking pictures.
(A car pulls up behind my car and I scurry back to drive my car out of the way so the other car can get past. I want to explain to them that my dad is 100 years old and I just parked there so he could walk to the site of the old inn. But I know they don’t care about any of that – the straight-lipped looks on their faces tells me that. So I pull out of their way and then loop back to where I was so I can load Dad back up in the car.)
Dad: What’s your hurry?
Karen: We’ve been gone a long time, Daddy. I need to get you back. (I’d told Dad’s caregivers we were going for a short drive, and I haven’t been able to call them because we’ve been out of cellular phone range.)
Dad: (Looking at his watch…) Oh yeah. 3:30. Okay.
As we’re driving away from the Big Four Inn…
Dad: Thanks for finding The Big Four Inn for me.
A little further…
Dad: Mom won’t be worried about us this time.
As we’re getting near his home…
Dad: We saw some pretty country today.
Karen: Did you enjoy our drive?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yes.
We pull into his driveway and I come around to help Dad out of the car. Dad shifts his body around, trying to get in position to get out of the car. This is not easy for him. He looks up at me and I look down at him, and we both start laughing. Then Dad manages to get his feet on the concrete and I heave and he’s up.
Dad: Thank you for the drive today.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: I love you, too. We blow each other kisses and I leave him on the lounge chair in front of the television.
Thank you for letting me join you here today. It’s meant a lot to me to be here.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell