My brother Bruce remembers, “My Dad was cool!”

brucedad

At my mother’s memorial in 1999, we were all too raw to share personal remarks, but at Dad’s memorial, it seemed right to share our memories and reflections. Together, we painted a more complete picture of Dad for those who joined us in honoring him, and for each other. Bruce is my middle brother, 10 years older than I am. Here are his remarks:

“I wrote this recollection in 2008, shortly after Dad had a pretty significant stroke and I thought we were going to lose him. I wanted to capture some of my favorite times with him (and some were yet to come). Most of my best memories of Dad took place outdoors, frequently involving hunting or fishing. I dimly recall fishing Deep Creek Lake with Dad and Scott before my sister Madeline died, and I also remember fishing through the foot-thick ice on Lake Ontario. My first “best memory” took place during the summer I turned 13. It may actually have occurred the day I turned 13, but I’m not sure of that. It was the summer before everything changed, forever.

I had been involved in the Sportsmen’s’ Club (not sure that’s the name) as an after school activity at Kensington Junior High that year, and I wanted to go fishing with Dad in the worst way. I also wanted to go to summer camp at Monte Vita Ranch, near Berkley Springs, WV. I had been invited back as a CIT, and all of my best friends were going. I knew it was a financial stretch for our family, at least in comparison with those of my friends in Kensington’s Rock Creek Hills. When I actually got to go to Monte Vita, I was surprised and thrilled, and really didn’t expect much else, birthday-wise. I did mention to Dad that I wanted to go with him to fish for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac River sometime.

On the second weekend at camp, Dad showed up (my birthday or parents day?). I remember showing him around the camp, especially the pond where I fished for bluegills after supper, and also the rifle range where I had just earned my Sharpshooter and Expert Rifle certifications. That night, Dad gathered me and several of my friends up and took us all down to the Potomac River, just upstream from Harpers Ferry. He had a rod for each of us boys, and he set up the rods for my friends. Then, he roped us all together and, ever the optimist, handed each of us a burlap sack to hold our fish. Then we waded out. It was terrifying, but incredibly exciting at the same time. It was dark; my glasses were completely fogged up from the humid summer air. The cool rush of the water tugged powerfully at my legs, and the rocks were slippery beneath my PF Keds. I have no recollection of actually catching anything, but I know absolutely that I was an instant hero with all my buddies. MY Dad was COOL!

I know now that Dad had fished the area many times for smallmouth bass. I know from personal experience later in life that it is possible to know a river well enough to wade safely even at night. I know now that he would never have done it if he felt we were seriously at risk. But I didn’t know it then, only that I trusted him completely. He never failed the trust we placed in him; he never failed the trust anyone put in him.

My second “best memory” with Dad probably took place in 1978 or 1979. It was not long after his first bypass operation, and he had a new lease on life. I came home in November on leave (perhaps for Thanksgiving?), and we took off Friday night together for a weekend of chukar hunting in the Bridgeport, WA area. We stayed at the “Y” Motel, a running joke: Y NOT! The next morning, we parked the truck and began walking uphill along a long intermittent stream channel. We had been walking perhaps 30 minutes when the current dog started getting birdy. As we crested the rise, it opened up into a sunlit shallow bowl. Dad was slightly downhill and to my left with the dog, working along the edge of the rimrock, and I walked slowly into the depression. About ten yards in, the birds began to flush. I hit one, then another, and the birds kept flushing and flushing, in the hundreds. I heard several shots from Dad, and saw more birds fall from the sky. We recovered 4 birds (one of mine was lost), and spent the rest of the day picking up scattered birds from that same initial flock. We probably walked ten miles up and down the mountainside. It was a great hunt, and we returned to the Y tired and content. After that, I never again saw a flock of chukars that large in one spot.

My Dad also loved the romantic poets, and often recited long passages from memory. He often quoted from the poem I am going to share with you. It embodies, I think, how he sought to live his life, and largely succeeded.

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act, – act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

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1 Comment

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One response to “My brother Bruce remembers, “My Dad was cool!”

  1. Sean West

    Regarding Monte Vita — I know of the camp and we called it Camp Monte Vita. My grade school teacher in Fairfax, VA moved to Berkeley Spgs and taught there for 20 years while being involved with the camp. Do you remembere Glen Wells? Seanw340@aol.com

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