“Best of all he loved the fall, the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods. Leaves floating on the trout streams and above the hills. The high blue windless skies, now he will be a part of them forever.”
That’s the inscription on a memorial to Ernest Hemingway near Sun Valley, Idaho. Hemingway wrote those words in a eulogy for a friend, but they seem very apt for “Papa” too, who spent many happy autumns in Idaho. Dad and I drove up to see the memorial the year we went skiing in Sun Valley. The road wasn’t plowed all the way, so we waded through the snow the last few yards to the memorial. Dad knelt down next to the stone pedestal that held a bust of Hemingway, and asked me to pile more snow around his knees. Then he handed me the camera. The idea was to fool anyone who saw the photo I took into thinking the snow was thigh-deep by the memorial, when it was actually a bit less than knee-deep, as I recall.
I kept that secret until my Dad’s memorial gathering. It made the guests laugh, but I think Dad would have preferred I never revealed the truth about that photo. Skiing was part of the story of Mike and me, too. Mike asked me to marry him in Snowmass. I was skiing there with Dad when the place Mike was working closed for good: he went home, picked up his best friend (and future best man), asked his Mom for the engagement ring his great-Aunt had worn for 16 years (without ever getting married) and drove straight through from Chicago to Colorado.
The night Mike proposed, I was already in bed, and got a call from the front desk telling me I needed to come down. I crabbily asked if it couldn’t wait until morning, but they insisted. So I got dressed and went down to the deserted lounge area, where I noticed 2 glasses of champagne on a low table. The the sliding door to the slopes opened up and a coatless Mike walked in, got down on one knee, and presented the ring. I said yes. I didn’t know he’d just lost his job, but it wouldn’t have made a difference.
The next day my Dad got Mike and his buddy a room, rented them skis, and paid for lift tickets.
Mike’s early athleticism had resulted in two blown knees, and had never skied before. I stayed with the friend, while Dad led Mike off to a blue square (intermediate) run. Nice way to welcome your son-in-law to be, Dad. But Mike was a very good skater, and picked up skiing quickly, so if that was a test, I guess he passed.
Mike actually loved summer best. He loved taking Angelic Daughter to the local pool and taking very long bike rides. Once a summer, he’d ride from our suburb to the chess pavilion on Chicago’s lakefront, and sometimes beyond, to the University of Chicago on the south side, and back again, all in a single day–over 60 miles.
The last time he did that, he nearly died. He didn’t take enough, if any, water with him, and he wouldn’t wear a helmet, but we didn’t know yet that he had cancer. He made it home, semi-delirious, after calling me from a fast food restaurant and not being able to tell me exactly where he was. Mike’s determination to do crazy things in the summer drove me nuts.
I miss Mike most in the fall. It’s not just the fall excursions that get to me; it’s the fleeting nature of the season. The days fly by, and now it seems the deep blue October skies come on fewer of them. We had hoped so much that Mike would make it to October in his last weeks of hospice, so he could be wheeled out to the deck to look up at those October blue skies, and leaves, and stars after sundown, but he died on a sweltering August night.
“Sic Transit Gloria“–all glory is fleeting. Autumn puts me on a tears-trigger, as the leaves change, and drop, and the deep blue October skies succumb too quickly to November grey. It’s cool, damp, and cloudy today, and the tree whose leaves are in that picture up there has already dropped many of them. But the rest of the back yard hasn’t begun turning yet, so there’s more of the month to milk for whatever October glory it can bestow.
Just please be patient with me if I get a bit sentimental.
Mike would have turned 60 this month.
Planning closer-to-home fall excursions this year, I remain,
Your slightly weepy, missing both Dad and Mike and hoping for sunnier skies soon,