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

Adventures with Dad

Are You Taking Me Home Now?: Adventures with Dad has 14 ratings now and 5 stars! Heidi writes:
This is a delightful book and Karen is a gifted writer. She lets us listen in to the conversations she and her 100 year old Dad have on their car trips, which had me laughing and crying. Interspersed are memories of earlier times. Having a relationship with an older person whose body and brain don’t work as well as it used to requires patience, humor and love. As someone else here said, “Karen shows us how to do it right.” I enjoyed reading this very much. I highly recommend this book and will be giving it out for gifts.

Are You Taking Me Home Now? Adventures with Dad

Wikipedia Dad

The other day I had to take care of some business on behalf of my dad. At one point I needed to know his birthday – I can never seem to remember when Dad’s birthday is – it’s either this day in June or the next day in June – and I was ready to give him a call to find out, when I realized all I needed to do was go to Wikipedia.

Whoaaaah…. right?

Finding Agreeable Things

Serendipity: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for…
– Merriam-Webster

I love when serendipity happens.

Last week there was a luncheon in Tacoma to honor folks who have been members of the Mountaineers for more than 25 years. Dad has been a member of the Mountaineers for more than 70 years and we thought it would be cool if he could attend this event. But Tacoma is two hours to the south of us and Dad no longer drives – so Scott took the day off, and he and I escorted Dad to the luncheon.

Mom wanted to come, too, but decided it would be too difficult to make the journey right now. I was concerned about leaving her alone, but she assured me she’d be fine – she had plans to go for a walk with one of her friends and then she planned on spending a quiet day with the cats.

Mom got Dad all polished and ready to go and the two of them were waiting for us outside their retirement home when we arrived. We loaded Dad and his walker into the car and off we went on our grand adventure, waving good bye to Mom as she stood on the sidewalk, blowing us kisses.

***

A film-maker named Nils contacted me a couple weeks ago to tell me he was making a documentary on Mount Rainier, and wondering if he could somehow include a clip of Dad in the documentary. I suggested to him that he meet us at the Mountaineer clubhouse before the luncheon, and get a clip of Dad then, and he thought this was a fine idea. When we arrived at the clubhouse Nils was there with his cameraman, Eric, and they’d already talked to the other Mountaineers members and had invited them to be included in the clip with Dad. It was great! There was Dad – front and center – surrounded by friends he’s known for decades, hugging and shaking hands and re-connecting. And yodeling. All captured on camera for future generations.

***

When we got into the clubhouse I turned around and there was our friend, Perky – a woman we’d climbed Rainier with 40 years ago – standing in front of me with a big grin on her face. Perky had wanted to come to Dad’s 98th birthday party the Saturday before, but hadn’t been able to make it. But today – in a city two hours to the south of where the party had been – Perky happened to glance over at the Mountaineers clubhouse while she was driving through town, and saw me standing on the sidewalk! Perky said she’d been planning to leave earlier for her drive, but something had delayed her – and now she realized she’d been MEANT to leave her home and pass in front of the Mountaineers clubhouse at the exact moment she did.

I love when serendipity happens.

***

It was nice meeting Dad’s old chums. There was Helen – who’d been a member of the Mountaineers for 60-some years. Helen asked about Mom and told me to give Mom her love. There was Geoff, the president of the Mountaineers – who told me to give Mom a hug and said Mom is one of the sweetest, most even-tempered people he’s ever met. There was Mary – who gave Dad a big hug, and told me she loves Mom and wants to come up and visit her soon.

By this time I’d come to realize Mom is as much a part of the Mountaineers as Dad is – and that her presence is hugely missed when she’s not there.

***

Sitting at our table was another gentleman who looked like he might be about Dad’s age. Dad and he got into conversation about their birth years. “I was born in September, 1918,” Worth Gurley told Pop. Pop’s eyes crinkled up in delight at finding another chap of the same vintage – and he told Worth he was born in 1918, too! Dad told Worth that he’d been born in Los Angeles, and Worth, as it turns out, had also been born in Los Angeles! Soon the two were involved in lively conversation with each other, proving that it is never too late to make a new friend.

I looked around and found the woman who had brought Worth to the luncheon. I asked if she was Worth’s daughter, and she affirmed she was. Heather and I both turned to watch our dads conversing with each other – their hands cupping their ears to hear each other better – and smiled at the enjoyment we could see on their faces. Heather and I exchanged some of the details of our lives. It turns out she lives in Bellingham – only 20 minutes to the north of where I live! (Have I mentioned that I love when serendipity happens?) She said she has routinely been making the trek to Tacoma to help her father – just as I did until my parents moved up near me a couple months ago. Heather and I exchanged email addresses, with hopes that we’ll be able to get together for a walk on the Bellingham boardwalk with our dads someday soon.

We all had a wonderful time at the luncheon.

***

When we got back to Mom and Dad’s retirement place I let Mom know about all the well wishes and hugs that had been sent her way, and she smiled up at me and nodded her head. I asked her how her day had been. She said she’d been feeling lonely for Dad, but then she turned on the television and there was a movie with one of their favorite actors – Nelson Eddy! (I love when serendipity happens.) That movie cheered her all up. “Nelson Eddy was fighting for workers’ rights in this movie – he put out a newspaper called The Wasp which showed all the corruption that was going on – and they (the bad guys) were trying to find out who was putting out this paper!” she said, all excited. “And he sang! He has such a beautiful voice!”

I asked if the good guys had won in this movie, and she said, “Of course!”

And that’s the thing, you know: We would appear to be living, right now, in troubling times – there’s corruption in politics and business; there are threats to our safety and well-being; there seem to be a lot of “bad guys” out to get us. But there is nothing we aren’t experiencing right now that my parents haven’t already experienced before in some form – they’ve seen it all. They’ve also lived long enough and seen enough to know that there’s always hope. They’ve lived long enough to see good win, in the end. They’ve lived long enough to experience a lot of serendipity in their lives.

Through many years my parents have developed the “faculty of finding… valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” Perhaps that is why they have lived such long and full lives. They are open to whatever good comes their way, and they recognize it when they see it. They appreciate all the simple, beautiful, joyous moments that have filled their lives, and know how to be grateful for them.

When you look at Life in that way – expecting to find “valuable or agreeable things” every moment – every day is a treasure-packed adventure, isn’t it?

 

 

 

Preface to Memoirs of a Dinosaur Mountaineer

Preface to Dee Molenaar’s book, Memoirs of a Dinosaur Mountaineer

A light breeze came up the canyon and through the pine boughs overhead, and soon isolated white specks began descending. The snowflakes increased and soon we were encompassed in a flurry that blotted out the semi-arid valley far below, and the trail penetrating the pines below the granite walls high above. In our present light apparel and on a short, leg-stretching hike after motoring from Death Valley 80 miles in the east, our “Old Cronies Expedition” took another prolonged look around, and turned back to the trailhead at Whitney Portal.

It was then that my brother K and I and our friends, George Senner and Bob Johnson, found we were not alone among these rugged mountains.

Coming down through the mists was a lone hiker.

The heavily-bearded, long-haired chap was traveling beneath a bulky backpack that suggested he’d been out for some time. However, the big coil of fiberglass rope tucked beneath a hatchet, a large cast-iron skillet, and soft-toed boots indicated this was no modern-day mountaineer with a fetish for the latest in lightweight travel.

He stopped briefly and we questioned him about his travels. He was originally from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and more recently from the Stockton area across the mountains. Tiring of the Bay Area drug scene, he was aiming for a change of pace and was now returning from a trip into the mountains. He talked confidently of his climbing experiences and we enjoyed his free-spirited philosophy before we parted. At a distance through the mist we followed his burdened figure down the trail.

Meeting this hairy 40-ish fellow on the Mount Whitney trail rekindled my thoughts of a half-century earlier – in 1937, a late-summer trip into the Sierras Nevada with my brother K, similarly clad in jeans and carrying unwieldy loads. In that day we also had the trail and the mountain pretty much to ourselves. But in today’s world, had we passed here a couple months later, during the summer’s climbing season, we would have been part of the mountain’s allowable 75 hikers registered daily for the 20-mile roundtrip to the top of Mount Whitney.

How times have changed since those youthful days of the 1930s, during the Great Depression and prior to World War II.

Yet my life since has been a succession of fortuitous circumstances – in many cases being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right person. And though the breaks never made me rich, they provided a bounty of fond memories of fascinating places and events, people and good friends.

– Dee Molenaar

http://www.amazon.com/Memoirs-Dinosaur-Mountaineer-Dee-Molenaar/dp/1479321907/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415850855&sr=1-1&keywords=dinosaur+mountaineer