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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Roadrunner Farewell

The last prayer having been said, I reached into my pocket for the tiny bird. I handed it to my husband, who stepped forward and carefully placed it on the small box containing Pop’s ashes. There were smiles and surprised murmurs from the few guests; we thanked them for coming and helped Mom back to the car. It is never easy to say good-bye to a loved one, but our final gesture had been decided weeks before and we were at peace with it.

How does one sum up a father’s life? Surprisingly, the tiny wooden Roadrunner seemed to do just that for us. Carved in the later years of his life, it was but one of a whole cabinet-full of birds and animals. He and Mom had spent their many retired years thoroughly enjoying their life together. Taking pride in their home and yard, Pop enjoying watching the birds and squirrels. He built bird houses, feeders, and carved the Robin, Hummingbird, House Finch, Magpie and Meadow Lark. They drove their small motor home throughout the U.S., claiming it was best to see what our own country had to offer first. Pop kept a record with his carvings - Ibis, Cardinal, Blue Jay, Bald Eagle ... Each fall they headed down the Oregon coast - Loons, Gulls, Pelicans, Killdeer... Wintering in the Palm Springs area of California, he captured the Cactus Wren, California Quail, and yes, his beloved Roadrunner! They especially loved their own part of the world - spending time each summer camping and hiking in the Tetons of Wyoming. We joined them there as often as we could and have many fond memories of the times we shared together in this magnificent place. And so we have the carefully carved Chickadee, Mountain Bluebird, Stellar’s Jay, “Camp Robber”, Western Tanager and Red Winged Blackbird.

The earliest of Pop’s carvings are dated in the late 1930’s and ‘40s. In his young married years he worked as an engineer helping to build the Fort Peck Dam in Montana. My husband was born there. World War II and the Navy took them to New Jersey, after which they returned to Fort Peck, until a new job took them the New York, then a final move to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where they remained. Those early carvings are of a primitive style, but still show his exacting nature and attention to detail. After those, work, family, church, and his civic organizations took up most of his time, as we have no evidence of any more carving until his retirement. His fine woodworking took other forms however, with finishing projects in their home and lovely pieces of furniture.

I have no idea what Pop expected when I became his first, and only, daughter-in-law. Being one of 5 sons, with 2 sons of his own, he must have wondered a bit at this “earthy”, then 20-something, college tomboy his son brought home. But from the beginning, we had a special bond. His quiet, thoughtful wit, neat, precise ways, quirky sense of humor, and fantastic creativity with recycled materials struck a chord with me. He quickly learned my interests, and I his. We had mutual respect for each other and shared quiet conversations about his art and mine, the natural world around us, and always - birds. We learned so much from him and we miss him.
It was Pop’s fervent desire to leave this life with dignity in a quiet, respectful way - with no undue outside interference. He wanted no fuss, no frills, just a short service with immediate family. For 90 years he had lived his life this way and we sent him off as he wished. But a part of him remains - we see it in the strong, determined stance of a tiny wooden bird with a bright, devilish glint in its eye.

Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old. 
Proverbs 23: 22

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
Honor your father and mother -
which is the first commandment with a promise -
“that it may go well with you
and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” 
Ephesians 6: 1 - 3

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