I am moved to write this because I received a package in the mail from my father’s wife Sandy today.
The package contained some remembrances of my father, Mel — a recent photo of him with his wife and her sister, and their collection of dogs and cats, some of his watches, tie clasps, and a ring. My father passed away 26 Dec 2011, a couple of months shy of his 82th birthday.
The package also contained a bit of his ashes, in a simple, lovely memorial candleholder.
One of the first bad dreams I ever remember having as a child was one in which my father was shot and killed with an arrow. I don’t remember any more than that. But it has stayed with me all these years as the first memory I have of being afraid of my father dying.
I imagine I got the concept of being shot by an arrow from watching the Westerns that I loved as a little kid. I was especially in love with Roy Rogers and Trigger. Roy Rogers began his career in show business as Leonard Slye, singing and playing guitar in a trio called the Sons of the Pioneers. The SOP performed on radio in So Cal in the ’30s, featuring in their cowboy ballads a trademark three-part harmony yodel. The original SOP trio expanded to include a few more musicians, and they appeared with Roy and Trigger in most of their movies up until the late 40’s.
The reason I bring up the SOP is that one of my dad’s favorite songs was “Cool Clear Water”, a western ballad made famous by Roy Rogers and the SOP, and written by Bob Nolan, one of the SOP’s founding trio. I think it was the only song I ever heard my dad sing, at least all the way through. I remember being enchanted by my dad’s singing, the song’s lyrics painting a vivid picture for me of cowboys sitting around a campfire under a star-filled sky, horses tethered and quiet nearby, sage and cactus, saddles and ropes.
It was around that time, when I was about 5 years old, I decided I wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up. Not a cowgirl, you understand. Cowgirls were too silly and stupid. They were always getting into trouble, in need of rescue from outlaws or a runaway horse, or needing their ranch/gold mine/rodeo company saved from an evil cattle baron or some other bad guy. I was not about to be that type of girl.
I don’t think my father saw me as that type of girl, either. He applauded my enlistment into the Air Force and was proud of my service, especially of my Expert Marksmanship ribbon, and later always supportive of my career and encouraging of my interests, and he liked that I had dogs and horses. We did, however, have our share of dysfunction. For many years I avoided him. Later, we figured things out and I am thankful to say we forged a pretty good relationship out of it all.
From my dad, I got my love of animals and the outdoors and rainstorms, a good part of my sense of humor and brains, and a bit of a flash temper besides. One key lesson he taught me, whether he meant to or not, is to not keep bitterness and regret alive in my heart. He did a lot of that, you see, and for many years … I don’t believe he saw the folly and self-imposed misery of it until much later in his life. But over time he became a different person, a nice man, content with his life, and so proud and thankful for his long and happy marriage to his beloved Sandy.
So with that, here’s a little gift for him, courtesy of YouTube and one of us few remaining who remember the Sons of the Pioneers. Cool Clear Water
Rest in peace, Dad, and say Hi to all of your dogs for me.