Jarhzeit For My Father
October 24, 1910-January 8, 1997
Twenty years ago I had driven over from Hillside Farm to the property on St. Clair Rd. where the Fur Peace Ranch would bloom the following year. Though it was January, it was not an exceptionally cold day like it is today. Ranch construction was already under way and the following year we would open for the first time. I was down at the little A frame which at the time was a functioning studio. I don’t remember why I was there on that winter day, or what I was doing. We had been in California over the New Year and had spent time with mom and dad and my brother Peter. We had only been home a couple of days.
This was before any of us had cell phones, if you can imagine such a thing. I had just returned to Hillside Farm and as I got out of my truck and walked across the driveway in front of the barn, Vanessa called out, ‘Your father just died,’ Vanessa told me. ‘You have to go back to California.’ Mortality is always with us but sad to say, for me up to this point it was an abstract concept. Friends of the family had passed… true. My grandparents had passed… also true… but for some reason in the order of things that’s just the way it was.
This was different on many levels.
Vanessa couldn’t leave the farm untended at that time soI was on a plane back to California the next day. I got together with my brother Peter and our dear friends Chuck and Donna and along with my Mom, went to the funeral home where there was a viewing. The moment was so surreal. We had just seen dad the week before, and here he was in a funeral chapel…
My father was as human as any of us. In life he was, as I am, an imperfect man. That said, he always did the best he could and loved his family with a passion all his own. In life that kid who was born in 1910 in Ironwood, Michigan in Gogebic County to Finnish Immigrants would stride across the world with very long legs. My relationship with him as a young man was always contentious and in retrospect that is more on me than it is on him. Late in life I was blessed to be able to call him friend. We were often able to show love for each other… to be able to say, ‘I love you!’ Death leaves many things left undone, unsaid… but this was not one of them.
I remember so well the last time I saw my father. After our time with mom and dad over those Christmas holidays Vanessa and I stopped by their house in Mill Valley to say goodbye. Dad already had a far away look in his eyes, as if he could already see another place waiting for him. I did not see it then… but over they years I have came to recognize that look when I see it today. We all hugged each other and as I was getting into the car dad went up to Vanessa. He looked at me and then at her and said, ‘Is the kid going to be all right?’ I don’t know what Vanessa answered but I can tell you today, ‘Yeah dad, the kid is all right.’
I miss you dad.
May your memory be a blessing!
Foto by Vanessa Kaukonen