My dad stayed out in the mountains.
He worked out there in his workshop alone. He would go to town to buy cigarettes and a beer, and he would take his time. Sometime he’d go visit friends in town or they’d come out and see him, but most the time he was alone. He liked it because then he could get his furniture built just the way he wanted it. It took him a long time to get things just so and he couldn’t have done this if the phone was ringing or if someone were wanting to tell him a story, right when he was gluing or cutting the expensive wood from all over the world. Koa, Cherry, Mahogany, Maple, Teak, were all the words he used when he showed me his furniture or pulled out a piece of wood and ran his hand along it to clean off the sawdust. I knew what it was like to be out there all alone all day. And, I knew how much the heart looked forward to the silence breaking in the evenings when a car pulled into the driveway. I knew why the dogs went out by the road to wait even if they had had fun all day by the river. I knew that I’d have to have a little of both of these worlds. I’d have to have the quiet and I’d have to have the stories. I have to wash off the mud and put on some nice shoes to go to town. I’d have to have some phone calls to make and some bills to pay. I’d have to have the mountains and the river and a desk some where and, I knew that I might even like a little T.V. to turn on, every once in a while.
There would be eyes glowing in the dark on the way to school.
If it were school time, it would be dark when we left for school and when we came home. It would be cold and snowy and we usually see lots of animals on our way home. There would be eyes glowing in the dark. Cold animals and hungry staring at us as we drove by in our warm car. We get home to our warm house, barely finding the path to the door, the only part not covered with snow. We go inside to the warm fire. My mom would put a brick on the stove and heat it up. Once it was warm she’d wrap it in a towel and put it in my bed. I would hug that brick all night to stay warm, especially when they fired died out. Keeping the fire going meant going out into the snow to cut more wood, mom and dad would let the fire die and climb up the ladder to their room. Their room stayed warm because it was about the fire place, so they’d go to sleep warm. My room was away from the fire, so it was cold in there.
My room was close to the road, so sometimes I felt alone and scared, like someone might stop their car on the road out there and come to my window. I used to imagine a lady who’d come to my window, when I lay in bed, but she was nice. She told me lots of things I didn’t know about myself, like how I had been adopted and that I really used to live with her, but she couldn’t take care of me. I had to tell myself a lot of stories in that room, cause my parents went to bed so early. I would have been all alone if it weren’t for those stories. My parents always got up early in the morning when it was still dark. They’d get the fire going in the winter and make coffee. I knew not to get up until they were up and had been for a while or the house would be way too cold. Even after our chamber pot, turned to a composting toilet, if I could wait until the house was warm it would be much better. It didn’t take long though and once I smelled the coffee brewing and felt some heat come through my door, I knew it was safe to get up. I quickly put on long johns or kept on the ones I had slept in and pulled snow pants over them. A turtle neck, sweater, socks and boots and I was ready. I’d eat a good breakfast, usually cooked by my dad and then, my mom and I would make our way out to the car to head into town.
My dad might go cross country skiing out in the field while we were gone or he would tie flies for the fishing stores in town for the following summer. He’d make furniture for people or for my room. He made me a bed, with four big drawers under it. The bed had little ladder to get up to it and a place for all my stuffed animals to go across.
Then, he’d make me a desk in the place of the bed, when I became a naturalist and had home work to do from school. He made me a door for my room when I needed more privacy and a door for my closet. They were all beautiful and made out of special wood. He worked in the living room, the cold room that we didn't heat in the winter. Then, he worked in the building that we moved out there for him to use. He had grown up around beautiful furniture that had been passed on from generation to generation and his parents and grandparents like to take good care of things and they made that known. He had a real appreciation for things that would last and he figured that if a beautiful Koa tree had to be cut down in Hawaii than the wood from it should make some thing that would last forever.
When people knew about what my dad did and appreciated it, he would build some thing for them. He build doors, bed frames, shelves, entertainment centers, furniture for Steve Miller’s music studio, and many other things. He once built three Santa Fe tables for a man, but the man ended up in jail for steeling a horse, so we still have those tables. He went to Santa Barbara one summer to build furniture for Fred. He built screen doors for the Baskin’s and showed everyone who came by how well they worked. He built all the cupboards in our house and added on a laundry room, bathroom and art studio for my mom when I was older. He built the walls, the floor and the roof. he plumbed it and put in the electricity. He finished the walls. My Grandmother gave my parents some money so we could buy a composting toilet and we named it Lacey’s thrown.
Every once in a while when we were on a trip we would go to an exotic wood store. I always remember those places to be big and dark and I wasn’t sure how my dad could tell what he was buying because it was so hard to see. But, he knew. He would bring home what looked like a big long piece of wood, wipe it off with his hand or a cloth and spend the next year letting it speak to him about what it should become.
One time a man who was traveling around the country came to our house to interview my dad about the chests he had made. He was writing a book about chests and a few years later he would send my dad a copy of the book.
My dad described what he did once when won a furniture fellowship from the Idaho Commission. Here is what he said:
We make things of Wood. We intend them to be useful, wish them to be durable and hopefully beautiful. We do it to give a tree another life, to keep a business afloat, to express something of ourselves and the slate of our work. We live with the object, invest it with our efforts and then let it go. We are left with what the making of it has made us. The things we make ultimately must stand free of us and all our words and feelings about them. They take on their own life in the world. My log states: “Furniture: durable, functional, beautiful”- this is the goal for the pieces I fashion.
My dad wore a hat from the Mad Hatters all winter long. That’s because he was constantly going in and out of the house. He would go out to his workshop and light the fire. Then, he would come inside and wait a little while for the place to warm up. Then, he’d go back out. My mom thinks he wore the same hat for 30 years.
My dad picked me up from school a lot when I was in Kindergarten. We would go to the Western Cafe and have a BLT, hold the tomatoes and no ketchup for our fries. I’d follow what my dad did. If we went straight home, my dad would make me a big bowl of pop corn with lots of butter. I’d sit and eat it, while he finished working on his furniture. Then, I would go outside to play in the snow under the Aspen trees.
During Christmas or on the weekends, I could cross country ski with my dad. We had a hill right outside the back of the house that we could ski down, landing on or pond that was frozen for the winter. Some times we would make a jump. Some times we would clean off the pond and make an ice rink. This would take hours, but I had a pair of ice skates and the ice was perfect under all that snow. Or, I would have a friend over and play out in the snow all day.
My dad got me a inflatable boat and we would fill it up as soon as the ice melted off the pond and the snow was gone and leave it tied in the slew all summer. I go out in the boat often some times bringing a dog or a friend. I could paddle down towards our neighbors house, or lift it over the bridge and paddle the other directions. Both very nice options.
My dad found a very long piece of wood one day and made a bridge to go across the slew. He also got a dock and so, with waders and four large pieces of what looked like firewood, he put in the dock. It became a place to sit, a place to play, a place to leave my dolls when I went in my boat. When a cotton wood tree fell in the back yard, my dad cut the trunk that was left standing to make a life guard chair for the pond. No one ever sat there, but that is what we called it.
He had made me a swing and a little shed into a playhouse. He had made our home. Our life.
My dad took me to frog island on a canoe.
Not, very often, but once we went camping as a family, at Bull Trout Lake. We brought a canoe and my Dad’d friend Fred’s truck. We parked near a camp site, and then put all of our stuff in a canoe and went across the lake to the other side, where there was no one but us, to camp. Once we got our camp set up, my dad took me out in the canoe to an island. I loved frogs and this island was absolutely covered with frogs. Tiny frogs jumping every where. I was in heaven. Never before or again have I seen anything like that.
The Western Cafe.
When I was in Kindergarten my dad would pick me up from school most days and because it was at lunch time we would go to the Western Cafe. The waitress got to know us there. She knew my dad would always order a BLT with no tomato and french fries with no ketchup. “Do you need ketchup with that?” No, my dad would say. He only said it once and she remembered. I, not knowing what to order, would order the exact same thing and I never tried ketchup until I was an adult.
One night I was sleeping and our dog was outside. I woke up and heard her jumping up on the side of the house as though she were trying to get in. She was trying to tell me some thing. My window was open and I could hear her panting and running back and forth. I got up and looked out the window to where she was and she ran around to the front of the house where the door was. I walked in the hallway and looked out the window. There I could see some light. An unusual light. My eyes began to focus as I began to wake up and I realized it was fire.
There was a fire outside and our German Shepherd knew. She knew it was bad and she knew that she had to tell us. I climbed up the ladder to tell my parents. They were groggy too, but they knew what to do. My dad went outside to look at it and my mom dialed 911.
A power line had rubbed up against an Aspen tree and the tree was on fire. Our dog had saved our lives and the forest too.
A pocket knife.
In 2014, my family was out visiting the place where I grew up.
We were lucky enough to be staying at a neighbor’s house at the far end of the field and I felt at home just being out there. I had come to this realization that it wasn’t the house I needed to visit in order to feel at home, but the place. As soon as I start driving out the dirt road and pass the old mine, Basset Gulch, where we had to leave our car all those years ago and ski in, I feel at home. I knew the turns in the road, the trees, the spots in the river where I liked to go. My head automatically turns to look up at where avalanched used to slide. The only thing that kept me from going to school. Being out there, walking again in the field and putting my feet in the river is like being home again for me.
I was curious though, now, to see my house, so when the caretaker, offered to let us go see our old house we all decided to go. Luis, my younger son, had never really seen it because he was very young when my parents sold it. Nias, my older son, had been there as a new born baby and a child and had his memories of it. My husband, too had been there in the cold fall and winter. He had heard the sound of my mom coming down the ladder, lighting the fire, grinding the beans. He had smelled the house as it filled up with the smell of strong, hot coffee.
We all seemed to go different directions when she let us into the house. I headed for my room and the old living room, my mom looked at the kitchen and her old bed room, Raul walked into the room where my dad used to tie flies. None of us could believe how different and how the same everything was. Sizes seemed smaller than we had remembered. The wooded cabinets, the hard work my parents had done to create a home was all still there. The old beautiful stove was gone, but the microwave of the 1980s was still there thirty four years later. The piece of wood that the cat had scratched, the big cupboards that you had to push and then pull to get to open, were all still there.
There had been one for food, with deep shelves where things could get lost. Every once in a while I’d take everything out of there and look to see what we had. There were high shelves which I could never reach and so I would never know what was up there.
The middle cupboard had a shelf on top that I couldn’t reach and room for a vacuum. But at one time it had had a bin full of rice in it. My mom used to put a piece of mint gum in there to keep the rice fresh, and for me, a child with very few opportunities for sweets, that gum tasted like a million dollars when I discovered it one day and put it in my mouth. Never again will gum ever taste that good.
The third one was the coat closet with a shelf below and under it shoes. That closet always seems very deep and mysterious too.
I would look in certain spots and want to see the same thing that was there for years like the photograph of the girl in the dress full of flowers that was always next to the front door by that closet. My mom’s neighbors the Cowdens had given her that was a young girls and I as a young girl had grown up with it too. Certain things that we saw that day, I couldn’t help seeing as they had always been. I feel as though the phone was still there on the wall with its long cord, but I don’t think it was.
What was still there was my playhouse. And, it didn’t look like anyone had been in there since I last was. My “guest book” was still there and had a few signatures of the guests who had visited it. The shelves. The little bed. The chairs were all still there. The chairs I had used when pretending to play school with chickens and at my restaurant for guests. My name Melissa still on the door. Even when we moved my playhouse to its new location, by my pretend restaurant, the sign had remained on there.
Just before we left and Heather locked the door, to keep us out of what seemed like ours, Raul had brought me into the little room off the kitchen. This is the room where the wood stove was and where my dad had spent a life time. It was the room our Christmas tree had been in and where my dad used to sit for hours and tie flies. He had his stereo there and had played music that would stick in my mind forever. Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, George Winston, and many others on records, tapes and then CDs. Never a female voice Fred would remind me. Raul reached his hand up to a log beam. It was one of the beams that held one end of all my dad’s skis that lined the ceiling. Raul felt around and then pulled out my dad’s pocket knife. I had never known that that was where my dad kept it. After all this time it was still there, and no one probably knew that but my dad, Raul and now me. Raul quickly put it back as though my dad would want it there, when he needed to use it again. We left it there, because it felt like that was where it belonged.
I loved crossing the bridge to go to my friend Marina’s house.
Marina had grown up even farther up the road than I had and her first house out there had been a teepee. She lived closed to the hot springs and the river wrapped around her yard. She and I both loved to make forts, play by the river and sled down steep, snowy hills. Some times her grandma would be there, knitting hats for her and she would make us tapioca pudding when we came inside from the cold.
Marina and I took ballet together and ate bean burritos from Desperados. When Marina was in Kindergarten she decided to become a vegetarian all by herself. And, she still is.
I only made it up to the bear cabin two times in my life. One time was with my dad in the summer when I was determined to see this bear cabin he talked about skiing to every winter. We walked all the way up the field to the Baskin’s, crossed the bridge and then headed up the gulch to the cabin. It was an uphill climb and there were lots of trees down, logs to limb over, bushes, high grass. I wondered how my dad and I had skied this in the winter. There must have been a lot of snow covering all of the ground and the logs. We climbed and climbed not talking. Part of me was tired. My heart was beating fast. I was out of breath. I wanted to get there.
We walked and walked. It seem to get greener up there and the terrain began to change. The valley took a turn to the right and we followed it. My dad finally said “It is right up here. Bear cabin.” We walked and walked some more and then finally there it was. A collapsed cabin. It had sunk in the dirt and was very low to the ground, the door was so small from the sinking and the collapsing from all the snow the only way to get in would have been to crawl. My dad said it had been the perfect place for the bear to sleep all winter.
The second time I went up there, all the way, I had sun flower seeds in my pocket. I was with my mom, Nias, Luis and my husband Raul. We were staying across the street from the Baskin’s at the cabin, where Raul and I had stayed for our honey moon. Now, we were there for a funeral. We walked and walked. The sun was shining through the trees. I wondered if it would be enough sun for the sun flowers to grow. I sprinkled a few around. I didn’t feel tired. I didn’t feel out of breath. I just kept walking, hoping that everyone could keep up. Raul could carry Luis if he needed it. We walked and walked until it turned to the right and I could hear my dad saying “Its right up here.” We got there to the collapsed cabin, with the greenness of spring surrounding us. I spread the seeds and my mom spread my dad’s ashes up there. It was early enough that there was a spring running from there all the way down to the river. It was the water we had followed up there. My mom told her grandsons that my some of dad’s ashes would go down that spring, into the river, they would go into other rivers and make it to Boise and they would pass us in Boise on their way to the Ocean.
We headed down the path that my dad had skied down so many times in the winter. I had gone a few times with him, but never from Bear Cabin, always lower. It was fast in the winter on skis to go down, but slower today as we followed the spring with the ashes. The sun went away and the valley grew dark. It began to rain, actually it poured. I laughed I cried, I stood by my husband as thunder ripped through that valley. We were sopping wet. My husband and I knew that my dad was right there.
A truck picked us up and drive us to the cabin. We dried off, cold and got ready to go to Minette and John’s house at Frenchman’s Bend. There my dad’s friends were waiting for us, to say good bye to my dad. People shared stories in the rain and then when the sun came back out, we went outside and put some more of my dads ashes in the river. My friend Rio talked about how my dad used to tell us funny stories when he was driving us home on the the long dirt road. Richard said that my dad had taken him fishing once and he had just sat on the bank while Richard fished. Richard wasn’t catching anything. My dad was looking at the river. Then, my dad got up, walked over to the river, cast and caught a fish. These were some of the stories people shared.
There is a song my dad used to play that goes “Spending our time waiting for the weather and all my friends to come together yeah….”
We watched an elk die on the side of the mountain.
My dad and I both noticed that there was a large elk all by himself on the side of the mountain about half way to town. He stayed there which was very rare for an elk to do. We watched him everyday. Eventually, he was laying down as we drove by. My dad told me that he had probably left his herd to die there, on the side of the mountain. He told me this not as a sad story, but as a part of life. It was time for the elk to go and the elk knew it, so he left the herd and found a place, a comfortable place to die.