It isn’t every day that a renegade trio shows up in your front yard, but I’ve come to expect that from Oklahoma. After grazing undisturbed for a moment or two, this wayward threesome trotted up the hill, satisfied with their adventure.
When I wrote home about it, my Dad was tickled by the tale of their unfettered freedom — he loved anything that hinted of “Westerns” — and on June 8th he followed suit, peacefully riding off into the sunset.
I mean no disrespect by announcing his departure this way; in fact, when it’s my turn to saddle up, I hope to hit the trail with half as much grace and good humor as he did. Plus, “cowpoke dialogue” frequently meandered into our conversations.
On the heels of my last trip — not knowing whether I’d see him again — I said goodbye ala The Duke: ”Well, I guess this is the part where I ride off alone.”
Dad responded with a nod and an “Adiós.”
His fascination with the Old West rubbed off on me. He shared my delight in moving to Oklahoma, even if it meant not coming to visit very often (we both accepted the ramifications of being apart), but the prospect of wandering at will or being “willing to wander” held mutual appeal. In my lifetime, I accomplished it in the cab of a semi; in his, via the pages of his favorite books.
While it’s difficult to sum up eighty-four years of life in a few sentences, here’s an excerpt from the eulogy I gave in his honor:
“Dad loved the land and the stories associated with it. He once told me that he’d read “Centennial” so many times he lost count! Not only did he love the geological descriptions, he admired the settlers and cowboys who expanded this country — a country which he proudly served.
Taking Dad’s respect for the land into account, God blessed him with a small piece of earth he called “home” (which he loved dearly) and a wife and family he loved even more. It was there that his own story was written.
Dad’s story includes a trail of sawdust… being a good neighbor… working up a sweat and cooling down in the shade… the satisfaction of unloading the last bale of hay in the barn… cows mooing contentedly… hitting a nail square on the head… sunrises and sunsets… finding the first pussy willows in the ditch… the tug of a fish at the end of his line… his infamous “grin”… Sunday drives on the back roads he knew so well… going to the A & W… mowing lawn… family picnics…. watching his kids, grandkids, and great-granddaughter frolic on the front lawn… a refreshing sip of cold water gushing from a garden hose… snow flurries on the way to midnight Mass… reading the newspaper with a good cup of coffee… the merits of homemade pie, sit-down suppers, and Westerns on TV… serving God, country, and family… and surprising Mom with a vase of red roses on the kitchen counter…
Dad recently compared his time on earth to his favorite book, “Lonesome Dove.” In a conversation between two age-old friends — one of them near death — the character comments that it’s been “quite a party.” Dad grinned at me and said, “I’m glad you came to my party.” That’s how he felt about all of you.
Today we give Dad back to the land he loved, but his story continues… written on our hearts.”
Adiós, Dad — and Happy Trails.
Enjoying memories of you,