Tuesday, May 18, 2021

My Father's Mountain

Today would have been my father’s 91st birthday. He died in his early 80s from Alzheimer’s. I think of him often, but never more so then when I see the massive, majestic bulk of Mt. Rainier rising into the heavens. My father loved that mountain.

He was born in the Appalachians, in a sleepy little town now called Whitehall, whose claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of the U.S. Navy in the Revolutionary War. A silk mill employed many in town for some years. The oldest of ten children, he wanted more than anything to get out and see the world. As soon as he could, he enrolled in the Air Force. His dream was to go into radar.

After some training, he ended up at what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He arrived in the winter and endured weeks of unrelenting rain and snow. The first sunny day, he looked out in surprise, then asked his fellow airmen, “Who put that big pile of snow at the end of the runway?”

That big pile of snow was Mt. Rainier. From a certain angle, it does indeed look as if it rises from the end of the main runway.

Even before he married my mother, he was spending his free time up on the slopes, hiking, taking pictures, soaking up the beauty. The tallest mountain he’d seen before then had been less than one-quarter the size. He and Mom went there often. When I was a few months old, he was given the chance to go to Greenland and learn about radar. Instead, he mustered out. His dream was less important than spending time with his family.

I don’t recall a time growing up when we didn’t spend a good chunk of the summer on the mountain. My father liked to brag that I had made the long and steep climb to the Ice Caves (now gone) above Paradise when I was only six. One of the pictures of the climb shows me up on his shoulders, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t walk the entire way!

We hiked, and we camped. He always wanted to summit, but life got in the way. When we moved north for five years, he found other mountains to love in the North Cascades, but Rainier was ever his favorite.

She is mine as well. Happy birthday, Papa. Now, at least, you get to look down at her instead of up. 


mamafrog said...

Sorry your dad didn't get to go there, I've never been even though I lived in Washington 17 years. We lived on Whidbey Island for a year and you could see Ranier and St. Helens from the beach at times. I'm sure the fact he was from the Appalachians made it feel like instant home for him.

QNPoohBear said...

Alzheimer's is a terrible disease. My grandmother is 97 and the pandemic lockdown was incredibly confusing for her. She got progressively worse and she can't hold on to a memory for any length of time. She can't remember my grandfather is gone, my uncle is gone and it's just her, my mom, my dad, 6 grandkids + 4 spouses and 13 great-grands. She doesn't remember the great-grands at all. It's been absolutely heartbreaking. I hope somewhere in your dad's mind, the memory of the first time he saw the mountain lived on!

Regina Scott said...

Thanks, Mamafrog! Love Whidbey Island--such a beautiful place. Visited it often when we lived in Everett.

Regina Scott said...

It is a horrible disease. I've heard it said that the people inflicted with it leave us before they actually leave us, and it's so true. Hugs to your grandmother, and to your family. She may not remember the good times, but you do.

mamafrog said...

@QNPoohBear My mom is going through that now. Like your mom the lockdown, while not as severe in Oklahoma, is making her get worse. She's 86 and her youngest brother has to live in a lockdown facility to keep him from wandering off. I'm afraid she's headed the same way. Their other brother is beginning to worry me also. It has really gotten worse.

mamafrog said...

@Regina Scott I think of all of Washington I miss Whidbey the most, we lived in Oak Harbor. There just wasn't any work at the time for my husband so we had to move to Port Orchard as he got a job there. Then we moved to Grand Coulee ten years later. Port Orchard had a lot of issues, but it was beautiful. Grand Coulee, while okay to live in, was two hours from anything other than a little local variety store and three or four restaurants, and a medical center. If you couldn't drive you lived with the higher prices. Everett was gorgeous in the Spring with the tulip festival, we got to visit there a lot.

Regina Scott said...

Sounds like you have a lot of good memories of Washington, Mamafrog. My mother, brother, and I went to the tulip festival this year. So gorgeous!