I miss my father. Daddy was my lifelong hero, sort of like John Wayne, bigger than life. His life was filled with adventure, hard work, and devotion to his family. He was a storyteller, too, and I'll admit I grew up uncertain whether some of his tales were fact or fiction, or possibly just embellished a bit.
Though many of his stories dealt with his early childhood on a homestead tract near Hell's Half Acre in Idaho, most were of his years as a teenager and young adult in Canada where he drove the buggy for his mother when she carried out her midwife duties, the long trek north by wagon train, playing hockey on frozen lakes, riding rodeo for badly needed money, his years at the Mounted Police Academy, cattle and horse drives, driving a dog team for the Hudson Bay Company, delivering serum to the northern Indian tribes, being followed by wolves, a short stint as a miner, and he also cooked briefly for a logging company.
My earliest memories of him include him handing me a box with a rubber doll inside and of riding in front of him on his horse. As I grew older it became my job to lug heavy Mason jars of cold water or lemonade to him wherever he worked in the fields. I'd have to set the bottle down occasionally where the condensation would leave a muddy ring in the dirt which would then transfer to my clothes when I picked up the bottle again. Once I reached him he would halt his horses or the tractor and we would sit in the shade of the farm equipment wheel to pass the bottle back and forth between us.
From Daddy I learned to drive---though it might be more accurate to say he taught me to aim. One cold fall day after my older siblings had to return to school, Daddy and a neighbor were trying to finish up the last of the potato harvest and they needed a truck driver. He wired blocks of wood to the gas, clutch and brake pedals and perched me on the edge of the seat to drive while the two men bucked the potato sacks onto the back of the truck. Daddy shifted the truck into "granny gear", told me which pedal to push, and showed me how to aim between the rows of sacks and we were off. At the end of each row, Daddy jumped onto the running board to turn the truck by reaching through the open window. I'm proud to say I never ran over a single potato sack.
I was in the third grade when I contacted rheumatic fever. Daddy was the Elders' Quorum teacher and every Sunday morning he'd come to my room to practice his lesson on me before leaving for Priesthood meeting. He was patient in explaining concepts I didn't understand and I think that was the beginning of my real testimony. Somehow I figured God must be a lot like Daddy, loving me no matter what and ready to be my best friend.
As I got older and my big brothers left home, I took over the dairy barn whenever Daddy had to be on a fire lookout or fight a big fire for the forest service. When he was home we were fishing buddies. Daddy and I spent many days tramping through the wilderness areas of western Montana, then cooking our meal of trout, fried with potatoes and onions he'd hauled around in his pocket all day. We always had to be back at the farm in time to milk the cows.
I could always count on Daddy being there in the middle of the crowd grinning from ear to ear every time I had a role in a school or church program or play. It wasn't until my second year of college that I played a major role and was hit with a bout of melancholy when I realized it was the first performance my father had missed. It was just too far to travel and no one around who could do the chores if he made the trip.
Writing involves a lot of research and I quickly discovered my Dad was better than Google when I needed the name of a piece of harness, a bit of wilderness lore, or just a better understanding of customs and vocabulary of the early 1900s. He took great pride in my writing and as soon as he finished reading one of my books, he passed it on to everyone he could think of and bragged it up to anyone who would listen.
I never lived near my father as an adult, I suppose that's why I never stopped calling him Daddy, instead of Dad as my brothers and sisters did. We visited as often as possible and I wrote letters though he seldom did; that was Mama's job. After Mama passed away I continued to write letters and we often talked on the phone. He was nearing the century mark when he moved to an assisted living home and his hearing became so bad, we could no longer talk on the telephone (He had hearing aids, but hated them and seldom wore them or could find them), but thanks to my sisters, we continued to correspond through emails I sent him, and my sisters copied to read to him, then he would tell them what to say to send back to me.
I miss his political tirades; I miss the long talks we once shared, and his stories. I miss his lopsided grin. Most of all I miss him. And sometimes I wonder if there's a trout stream up there in heaven just waiting for the day when he and I will once more sit side-by-side on a grassy bank until he leaves me to drown worms while he wanders off to do a little fancy fly casting.