Today I am sitting at a local coffee shope remembering my favorite Veteran, Dad. His career was in the Army as an engineer for 20 years and he then went on to work for the government for another 13 years. He served proudly for his country while creating a home for his family. He believed that education was the key to success and never stopped learning. He was rarely idle with his hands and could be found creating stained glass, wood working or whittling. By the time I came along he was 6 years from his Army retirement, therefore I escaped the frequent moves that my brothers experienced.
The desire to roam must be in my DNA. Even though I lived in 2 homes all of my childhood and only 1 town most of my adult life, something sparked inside me on my first cross country road trip. My parents took their first cross country road trip the year he retired completely from work in 1994. Being on the open road impacted my parents’ life in an amazing way. They would often bring out the photo albums with detailed information about thier trip. This was THE trip that he highly recommended to his children. It meant so much to my parents that they repeated this trip several times and he spoke of the impact it had on his life until he no longer could.
When I had an opportunity to quit work for awhile he highly recommended I take a cross country trip. I listened, for once. Planning this trip and talking with him along the journey is something I will forever cherish. When I was in the parks they had visited we could share our experiences. It was such a bonding experience that I had not experienced with him before. Sure we had shared experiences in life, such as being a college student and being a parent, yet those were different. We went to different schools and parented in different times. Those shared experiences brought us closer together because I was finally able to understand both of them better and apologize for my adolscent behaviors. Yet visiting the same national parks was more like comparing apples to apples since this was a shared journey filled with love, joy and adventure without the challenges of parenting and college studies.
I remember one conversation with my dad the day after I visited Zion National Park. 20 years earlier, Dad and Uncle Alan concoured the infamous Angels Landing Hike. It is the one that truly takes your breath away as you hold onto chains hiking on the rim of a mountain edge where you would fall to your death with a simple loss of balance and then you magically you arrive at a spot clearly where angels land. I sent them some pictures the next morning and he called immediately to talk all about it. He remembered damn near every step of his hike all thoughs years ago. To share that with him in this way was wonderful. It felt as though we were finally at the same place at the same time and sharing a moment as friends not with the parent-child dynamic. We continued to talk about this shared event until he passed. When I received the call that he was in hospice. The very first thing I grabbed to bring with me was a heart shaped rock I collected on the Angels Landing hike. As I lie next to my dad in his final days of life I placed that rock on his heart and told him of our epic hike. He took an incredibly deep breath, looked right into my eyes smiling held on to the beautiful rock and drifted off into a peaceful sleep. As I laid next to him listening to his sweet breathing my heart filled with gratitude for all of his dedication, service to this country, to the family and to his love of adventurous learning.
Since his passing, I have embraced the nomadic life of traveling therapy. Some days while on a long hike or a long day of driving I can feel him cheering me on!
Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have sacrificed and served for the betterment of others.