I Felt Dad with Me Today

I felt Dad with me today as I drove down Chuckanut through the changing autumn leaves. Autumn was his favorite time of year. October was his favorite month. The last few years of his 101 years, he was my companion on almost-daily drives – and I used to love driving him through forests full of gold and copper this time of year. Sometimes we wouldn’t say anything, and sometimes he’d tell me about the geology or the history of the places we drove. I miss seeing him sitting in the seat next to me, his alpine hat on his head. I miss his gravelly voice giving me lectures on glacial till and glacial moraines…

Dad: This is beautiful farm country. There used to be ice 5,000 meters deep here. (He points to the hills surrounding the flats.) Those are glacial moraines. They were created by glaciers.

(Excerpted from The Second Hundred Years: Further Adventures with Dad.)

Dad is just finishing up his breakfast when I get there. We put shoes on his feet, his alpine hat on his head, and a sweater over his shoulders and load him up in my car for a drive. First stop: Sisters Espresso for his root beer float.

As we’re driving through the Skagit flats…

Dad: What kind of bird would you like to be if you were a bird? A seagull?

Karen: Yeah, maybe. (Thinking.) Or a kingfisher… those are pretty cool… they dodge up and down and skim the water… how about you?

Dad: (Thinking.) A seagull, I guess.

(We drive along the water for a bit.)

Dad: How’d you like to be a seabird, just sitting on the water, waiting for your next meal to turn up…

(On impulse, I turn down the airport road and head towards the little Skagit airport. Every now and then I stop to take pictures of the autumnal trees.)

Karen: I love autumn!

Dad: (Nodding his head…) Yeah. I think my favorite time of year is late October.

(I discover there’s a flight museum at the airport I never knew was there and pull over to take a picture of an old propeller. Dad’s turning his head from left to right – checking things out.)

Dad: I really appreciate you taking me on these scenic drives. Thank you.

Karen: I enjoy these drives.

(We head back to Dad’s home and pull into the driveway.)

Dad: This looks familiar.

Karen: Yup. You’re home!

Dad: Are they expecting me?

Karen: Yes, they are.

Dad: What are their names?

(I tell him the names of the people who care for him, and he nods his head – I think he’s trying to remember the names of his hosts, so he can be a good guest.)

I bought Dad a pair of headphones for his television – I’m hoping they can help him hear the dialogue. Gwen and Cindy and I play around with the headphones for a while – trying to get them to work – and we finally find success! I lead Dad to his room and put the headphones on him, and he can hear the conversation on the television. We settle him onto his bed.)

Karen: (Waving good-bye…) I love you, Daddy!

Dad: (Waving back…) I love you, too!

(Excerpted from Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad.)

MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood

I’ve said their names so many times together that they’ve morphed into one word: MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood.

The first major volcano I climbed was 11,249′ Mount Hood. I was 15. I didn’t really understand the BIGNESS of what I was doing at 15. I just followed my dad, Dee Molenaar, up to the top of Hood, and followed him back down again. I remember feeling like I was on a whole different planet, though. I remember the smell of sulphur from the crater, and I remember it made me a little nervous. I remember the top layer of skin on my face burning a crispy red. And I remember being back in high school on Monday morning.

The summer before I turned 21 I asked Dad to guide me, and some of my friends who worked with me at Paradise, up to the summit of 14,411′ Rainier. I better understood the bigness of what we were doing by this time – this was my second summer working on Mount Rainier and I’d been around enough climbers up there to know that some people prepared their whole lives for this climb. But I don’t think I yet appreciated how blessed I was to be able to call Dad to be my guide and then two weeks later to find myself climbing in his foosteps up to the summit of Washington’s highest volcano. Climbing mountains is just what the people I’d grown up with had always done and it seemed natural that I should climb mountains, too. Our climb of Rainier that weekend was awesome – like on Hood, I felt like I was in a whole different world, but this time I wasn’t nervous about it. I remember the suncups that looked like little ice castles. I remember the deep blue crevasses. I remember climbing under the stars, in the quiet and stillness of pre-dawn, and then watching the sun rise over little Tahoma down below. It was magic!

A few years later, as a promise I’d made to one of my bridesmaids, I, once again, asked Dad to lead me and my friends on a climb of Rainier. But this time felt different for me, and for Dad, too. He was 66, had already climbed Rainier 50 times by then, and I knew his heart wasn’t in this one. He was a little grumbly. So this time, as we left Camp Sherman, I told Dad I wasn’t feeling well (this wasn’t really true) and I could hear the lift in his voice as he happily unroped from the rest of the team and announced that he and I would be heading back to camp because I wasn’t feeling good. We had a wonderful time that day just hanging out at Camp Sherman together, preparing to be a support for the other climbers when they made it back down. Dad’s friend, Pete Schoening – who’d saved my dad’s life and the lives of four other climbers with his famous belay on K2 in 1953 – was with the team, and we knew our friends were in good hands.

A year after we got married, my husband, Scott, and I moved to the northern part of Washington State, near the Canadian border. Rainier was no longer a quick drive away. Now our closest volcano was Mount Baker – Rainier’s 10,786′ sibling. Baker is humbler than her big sister and less famous, but I began to think of her as “my” mountain – and her summit was calling to me. The summer before I turned 31 I called Dad and asked him if he could guide Scott and me and some of my teaching friends from Sedro-Woolley to the top of Mount Baker. And bless him, he agreed. Dad must have been about 69 then – at the time I didn’t think much of that, but now, from the perspective of someone who’s almost 66, I am in absolute awe of who Dad was at 69. He safely led the team to the top of Mount Baker – and (just as importantly) safely led us back down again, over and around crevasses that were widening as the afternoon grew warmer. It was another wonderful day with Pop in the mountains – and Mount Baker was the first summit my husband, Scott, and I stood on together.

The summer before I turned 41 I got it into my noggin that I wanted to climb Mount Adams, Washington’s second highest mountain at 12,280′. I picked up the phone and called my faithful guide, Dad. Dad agreed to guide Scott and me and Scott’s friend, John, up Adams – and when I think about that now I am astounded! Dad was 79. In retrospect, I can see that, even if I was oblivious to Dad’s age, he wasn’t. He invited another man with a lot of mountaineering experience to join us on the climb, and that proved to be a really good call on Dad’s part.

A couple of significant things happened on our climb of Mount Adams: first, I had an epiphany that changed the way I viewed mountain climbing – it struck me, as I looked down the steep, icy slope I was traversing, that I was a mom now – I had a a three-year-old and a five-year-old waiting for me back home – and it occured to me that I could no longer be so cavalier about my own life – I had little people I loved who needed me to stay alive for them; and second, at about 10,000′ Dad let us know that he was done – that he felt he was holding us back (he wasn’t) and he would stay down below at base camp while the rest of us went on up to the summit. It felt really weird to be climbing without Dad. It was like there was this empty place at the top where he should have been standing. When our troop made it back to base camp, Dad hurried out to greet us – his arms opened wide to hug me. He said, “This is the first time I’ve had to wait at base camp for you and I didn’t like the worry of it!”

Mount Adams was the first big volcano I summited without Dad, and it is the last big volcano I ever climbed.

I look at these mountains now – MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood – and I think to myself: “What in the heck were you thinking?! Whatever made you think you could climb those mountains?!” But then I remind myself that I did, indeed, climb those mountains and I’m sort of blown away by that. And I realize that if I hadn’t been born with the Dad I was born with I probably WOULDN’T have climbed MountRainierMountAdamsMountBakerMountHood. How blessed I am to have a father who gave me the mountains! How blessed I am to have a bank of memories over-flowing with the mountain adventures I had with Pop! I’m not climbing big volcanoes anymore, but I still get into the mountains for some good hikes. And every hike I take, I bring Dad with me.
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

Photos: My boots next to Dad’s boots on Hood (upper left); teacher Jim Johnson, Dad, me, and Scott on Mount Baker (middle left); Scott and me on Mount Adams (bottom left); Dad, me, and my brother, Pete, on Rainier.

K2: The Highest Paintings Ever Painted

In 1953 my dad, Dee Molenaar, was a member of the climbing expedition to K2 that attempted to be the first team to summit the world’s second highest mountain. Being who he is, my dad brought his watercolor paints with him. As anyone who’s ever been on a high-altitude climb will know, water is a precious commodity up there. After my dad painted the art you see below, his teammates (understandably) made him drink the water he’d used for the paintings. Dad was always kind of proud of that.

Dad’s painting are the highest paintings ever painted. Here are a few photos of them (I cropped one of the paintings so you could see Dad’s writing on it):

One of the two highest paintings ever painted. Painted on K2 by Dee Molenaar in 1953.
Cropped photo of one of the paintings Dee Molenaar made at 25,000′ on K2.

Posted by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

“The Children of the Belay” Podcast

In 1953 Pete Schoening saved my dad’s life, and the lives of four other men, with his belay (known as “The Belay” in mountaineering circles) on the slopes of K2, the world’s second highest mountain. If not for Pete’s belay, a lot of us would never have been born. Pete’s grandson, Brian Schoening, recently invited me to chat with him about “The Children of the Belay” on his podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.

Here’s a photo of The Children of the Belay taken when the descendents of the 1953 K2 climbers were able to get together in Leavenworth, Washington, in 2006.

The Children of the Belay

Worthy of Being a Prize

Something happened that really touched me today. It was Scott’s last day of the quarter at WWU and, unbeknownst to me, he brought in one of my books – Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad – as a prize for whichever student was the first to find out who’d painted the highest painting in the world. “Dee Molenaar?” one of his students asked, after a quick search. And she got my book! Scott explained to the class that Dee Molenaar was his father-in-law and that his wife had written the book. It just really warmed my heart that Scotty thought my book was worthy of being a prize.

Two Years Ago Today: The Last Time I Saw Him Alive

Two years ago today: The last time I saw Dad alive. He died the next day, before I could get to him.

January 18, 2020

Dad is in bed. His eyes are closed. He’s very still, but I see his chest moving. He’s still with us. I lean over and kiss his forehead and say into his ear, “Hi Daddy. It’s Karen.” (There’s no response at first. Then his eyes open and he looks at me.)
Dad: (Weakly.) Karen.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.Dad: (I can feel the effort he’s making to mumble the words.) Ah uv you.Karen: (Smiling at Dad – my heart filled with tenderness.) You old mountain goat. (That’s what Mom had always called Dad – and it comes to me – out of the blue – to call him that. Dad smiles at me. And now I find myself singing to him – that old Jeannette McDonald-Nelson Eddy song that he and Mom used to sing to each other…) When I’m calling you-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh… (I see Dad perk up a little. I get this sense that Mom is calling to him.)

We don’t say much after this. I stay for a while, stroking Dad’s forehead, and watching “Maverick” on Dad’s television. Every now and then Dad opens his eyes and checks to see if I’m still there. Eventually he falls back to sleep. I leave to go home and fetch my husband and son for a return visit. When I arrive home and describe Dad’s condition, the husband and son immediately let me know they’re with me and we go back to Dad’s house.

We enter Dad’s room and approach the bed. He’s sleeping. We pull up three chairs and watch him for a while. His foot is moving back and forth. I approach Dad’s bed.
Karen: Hi, Daddy. It’s Karen. And Andrew is here. And Scotty.
(Dad opens his eyes and looks at me.)
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
(Dad’s eyes are locked on mine and he nods his head at me once, twice. An affirmation. I nod back at him. He reaches up and holds my arm and squeezes it gently. I hold his hand and squeeze. He squeezes my hand back.)
Karen: Here’s Andrew, Daddy.
(Andrew sits close to his grampa. This is his time with Grampa. Love is exchanged. This time belongs to them and it’s not mine to share in words.)
Karen: And here’s Scotty.(Scott grips Dad’s hand and receives a strong grip in return. They both grin at each other. Male bonding.)

We all feel when it’s time to leave and let Dad get back to the business of sleeping. I get up and kiss Dad’s forehead and tell him I love him. Scott says his good byes. Andrew is the last to leave – he gets a strong good bye handshake from his grandfather before he leaves him to sleep.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell, The Second Hundred Years: Further Adventures with Dad

Jolene Unsoeld: A Powerful Presence in a Small Frame

On Sunday Jolene Unsoeld’s son, Krag, called to let me know that Jolene had passed that morning. Jolene Unsoeld was a dear friend to my parents, and one of my heroes. The last time I saw Jolene was on the day after Dad’s epic 100th birthday celebration at Mount Rainier. She held a presence in her small frame that, even in her eighties, was powerful and bolstering.

Here’s a little of what I wrote about that day (in Are You Taking Me Home Now? Adventures with Dad):
I wake up and peek outside the curtains. There are blue skies out there! My thoughts immediately turn to Dad. Yesterday he missed seeing Mount Rainier from Paradise because of the clouds. It would be a tragedy to get him this close to his mountain – knowing he’ll probably never come back here – and not try to get him up to Paradise one more time to see Rainier up-close and personal.

I confer with Scott and Gwen, Dave, and Xander (whose birthday it is today) to see what they think. They all agree that if Dad’s up for it, we should try to get him back up to Paradise. I ask Dad if he’d like to go back to Paradise today to see Rainier – and he nods his head and says yes. So it’s a go!

Dad’s dear friend, the incomparable Jolene Unsoeld (a former state representative and widow of mountaineer Willy Unsoeld) and Jolene’s son, Krag, join us at 9:00 and we let them in on our plans. They’re happy to join us on our trip to Paradise.

Dad: But where is Mom in all of this? Will she be with us?
Karen: (I have fielded this question so many times in the past – but, for some reason, I find myself at a loss today.) No…
Krag: She’ll be with us in her own way.
Dad: (Looking confused.) I don’t understand. I didn’t hear that.
Karen: (Repeating Krag’s fine answer.) She’ll be with us in her own way, Daddy. (Changing the subject.) Let’s get you loaded up in the car…

The drive to Paradise is quick and without complications. Every now and then I look back to see if Dad is checking out the scenery from the car behind us. I can see that his head is up and he’s awake. I smile, imagining him catching glimpses of Rainier through the trees…

Pretty soon Dave, and his daughter, Claire, her husband, Michael, Xander, Krag, and Jolene join us in a circle around Dad. We turn the wheelchair so he’s facing the mountain…
Karen: Do you want me to turn you back around so you can see the mountain again?
Dad: It doesn’t matter. I’m happy whichever direction I face. (This is a good answer, but I turn Dad around so he’s facing Rainier. For a while we all enjoy the mountain together.)

…We load Dad up in Gwen’s car.The rest of us head to our cars and start the trek back down the mountain…

We’re all feeling hungry now and turn into the parking lot of a Himalayan restaurant that Krag suggests to us. Dad and Jolene sit across from each other at the table and the rest of us sort ourselves out into the rest of the chairs. We talk about mountains and Nepal and the Peace Corps and politics and old friends and music and Himalayan food. Tibetan prayer flags hang around us, gently wafting in the breeze. It is peaceful out there.

When we’ve finished lunch, we load Dad back in the car with Gwen.
Dad: (Smiling and happy he had a chance to see his dear friend, Jolene, again.) Did you meet Jolene?
Karen: Yes! I love Jolene! (Kissing Dad’s cheek…) I love you, Daddy.Dad: I love you, Karen.

***

Here’s the part I left out of the book: As we were all saying good bye in the parking lot of the Tibetan Restaurant, Jolene came up to me, looked me directly in the eyes and said, “You make good things happen! You do!” And those few words were exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. Jolene saw the good in me.

I will miss her.


Dad’s Mountaineers Memorial Celebration

For podcast: https://anchor.fm/karen-molenaar-terrell/episodes/Dads-Mountaineers-Memorial-Celebration-e18lcvt/a-a6men5d

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?

Karen: Yup!

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? 

Karen: Darrington.

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.

Dad: Good. 

(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

Are You Taking Me Home Now? Adventures with Dad

Dad’s Big Birthday Bash

(Excerpt from Finding the Rainbows: Lessons from Dad and Mom)
June 21, 2016
Dad’s (Dee Molenaar‘s) big 98th birthday bash was yesterday. I spent the week before the party trying to get the house ready for our guests – dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, washing curtains, washing windows, battling cobwebs, pulling weeds, planting flowers, de-cluttering, and policing every horizontal surface in the house to make sure no new piles of stuff started growing on them. But frankly, when one lives in a house full of active, busy people, it ain’t easy to hang onto one’s feng shui. By the day of the party I was completely wiped-out.

And my house was still… well… how shall I put this? Let’s just say my house is not something you would find in “Good Housekeeping” magazine. It is not a show house. It has been lived in, and it looks like it: The ottoman has chunks out of it from when the dog was a puppy; the ceilings have hand-prints from the sons jumping up and tagging them; and the windows on the french doors have perpetual smudges at about the same level as the dog’s nose.

A couple hours before the party I went to fetch my parents and bring them back to the house. When I returned with my parents I found my sons, Andrew and Xander, and my eldest son’s girlfriend, Sierra, had arrived and were ready to help in any way they could. The sons moved furniture around for me, and, with the flip of a sheet and a strategically-placed pillow, Sierra was able to turn a battered old chair into an attractive piece of furniture. Then the three went outside to set up the volleyball net (because what is a summer party without volleyball – am I right, or am I right?), my husband, Scott, put the salmon on the grill, and Mom and Dad got comfortably settled to await their guests – who soon began to arrive.I hadn’t told my parents about most of the guests.

I hadn’t told them about Dad’s nephew who was flying in from Chicago; Dad’s niece who was coming up from San Francisco; Mom’s niece and her husband from Oregon; one of Mom’s nieces and her husband from Vancouver (Washington); another of Mom’s nieces and her husband from Seattle; and the daughter of a niece, and her husband, from Tacoma; Fred, Bill, and Roger, Dad’s old climbing buddies from Seattle, and Fred’s wife, Dorothy; Roland, who’d worked as a mountain rescue volunteer in King County; musician Tracy Spring – the daughter of Dad’s old friend, Bob, the famous photographer; Mark Schoening, the son of the man who had saved my dad’s life on K2, and his wife, Emmy; my old high school friend, Rita, who years ago had taken a trip to California with Dad and me, and Rita’s husband, Skip; and the two young women who worked for Mountaineers Books and wanted to return original artwork from Dad’s book, The Challenge of Rainier.

And then there were the people my parents HAD been expecting: My brothers, Pete and Dave; Pete’s girlfriend, Sheila, who immediately manned the kitchen for me and kept the food coming; Dave’s children, Claire and Casey, and Claire’s boyfriend, Michael; our old family friend, Jack, whom we’ve known for more than 50 years; Rick and Jana and their daughter, Cindy, who are like family to us, and Cindy’s friends who had been in the same orphanage in China that Cindy had been in before they’d all been adopted and brought to America; my neighbors and fellow mountain people, John and Mike and Cliff; and Dean, a former colleague, and his wife, Ruth – both big time mountain aficionados.

The house was soon packed full of people. Interesting, well-traveled people. Fun people. Amazing people.

I forgot all about the aesthetics of my house – my focus shifted, instead, to all the generous, wonderful folks who had taken the time and made the effort – some of them traveling hundreds of miles! – to be with Daddy on his special day. I was overwhelmed by the kindness of that.

Near the end of the festivities, Tracy Spring got out her guitar and sang for Dad a song she had written herself. It was the absolutely perfect song for that time and that place and I started tearing up when Tracy got to the last verse. Then Roland brought out his guitar, and he and Tracy strummed the song Summertime, while I sang it.

Ohmygosh. It was such a fun day!

At the end of it all, as Dad was sitting in the car, waiting to be driven back to his apartment, I asked him if he’d enjoyed his birthday bash. He said yes, he had. But he was surprised. Had all those people come for him?! Why?! “Because they love you,” I told him, and kissed him on the cheek. He blinked at me, trying to process it all.

At some point – a couple hours into the party – two or three different people came up at separate times to tell me what a “beautiful home” I have. I thanked them, but… yeah, I was surprised. They saw my puppy-chewed, son-tagged, dog-smudged house as “beautiful”?! Wow. That was very nice for them to say, but… really?!

This morning Mom called to tell me that Dad has been asking her all morning if yesterday had just been a dream. Each time he asked, Mom assured him it had all been real.

I thought again to those comments about my home and had an epiphany. My home HAD been beautiful – not because of its physicality – but because it had been packed full of beautiful people. It had been filled full of love. How could it NOT have been beautiful?!
-Karen Molenaar Terrell

A Hike with Dad

(Excerpt from Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad)

I’ve graduated from university now. Dad has led me to the summits of Rainier and Hood by this time. I’ve seen deep blue crevasses and the castle-like suncups that form on glaciers; smelled the sulphur of volcanoes, and the ozone of high altitudes. Today, though, Dad and I are on a simple hike up to the top of Salushkin Falls.

We find a place to settle together in the heather meadows and pull out our sandwiches. We sit for a while in companionable silence. Then Dad asks me if there’s any song that inspires me. I think about this for a moment. The first Star Wars movie has just come out, and I tell Dad that the Star Wars theme song inspires me. I ask Dad what song inspires him, and he says, without hesitation, “The Lone Prairie.”

I am surprised by this. I was expecting him to name some song of the mountains maybe – Dad is a well-known mountaineer, after all, and at the moment we’re sitting on the slopes of Rainier.

Intrigued, I ask Dad to sing “The Lone Prairie” for me, and he does – in the same way a young boy might sing to his mother – without artifice or showmanship. It is a sweet moment.

“Oh carry me back to the lone prairie
Where the coyotes howl and the wind blows free
And when I die you can bury me
Neath the western skies on the lone prairie… “

(Here’s a photo of Dad on me on Sauk Mountain. Circa 2000.)