Sunday, March 22, 2015

A life well lived

Note: This is not a normal running post, so most of you can (pardon the pun) run away now. It's going to be long with lots of pictures. But no running. Or trails. At all.

My dad passed away last week at the age of 78.  And all of those years were lived well, outside of a gradual decline in the last one.

He was born in beautiful (I'm sure somewhere on the city's website it's described that way) Garden City Kansas. His dad owned a gas station, so he grew up working on cars.

1956 - Apparently dad really like soda. Or milkshakes.
1956 - High school graduation picture.
Somewhere about this time dad met mom, one thing led to another and they got married.

I don't know the timing details, but around the time he got married he also started working in house construction. After a side trip working with a natural gas company (which involved checking far-flung wells, which were often home to rattlesnakes that he would have to dispatch - I was always amazed at the huge number of rattles he managed to collect), him and a friend bought a sort of odd business; and ice manufacturing company.

I have a LOT of memories from this place, which made a lot of ice using a process that created 300 pound hunks of nearly purely clear ice. As a kid, it was fascinating to be around this process; there were large frostbitten rooms where the ice was stored, a ridiculously scary machine that would reduce 50 pound blocks of ice into small chunks suitable for a pop, and a huge engine that ran the whole thing.

My first job (at maybe 12 or 13) was working there. Dad, showing a degree of confidence/bravery that stuns me to this day, entrusted myself and two of my friends to work the ridiculously scary machine during the summer, bagging the ice chunks for delivery throughout the western half of the state and parts of Colorado. It was a blast to work in a frosty room while outside it was often in the 100s. We learned skills that would never apply anywhere else, but more importantly, we learned what it meant to have a job and be responsible for what went on there. Even better, it was only a couple of hours a day, so we still had plenty of time to play and goof around (and we were really good at goofing around, although most of our summer time was spent playing sub-sandlot baseball).

A funny memory - when I got my first paycheck I noticed that some of it had been withheld. I knew I wasn't the best or fastest, but I didn't think I was bad enough to not get paid the whole amount. Then the concept of taxes and social security was explained to me.

I may have cried.

Another funny memory - a year or two after they bought the ice company, a new business moved into town that was going to use modern equipment and put us out of business. Within a few months they actually became a good customer; modern equipment was no match for the old, but very prolific equipment.

One of the things that I'll always remember is how my parents would load up us four kids and take us fishing or camping. A lot. Sometimes it would be just a weekend trip to a local reservoir and other times it would be a weeklong trip through Colorado. Fishing was always involved, but so was scampering on rocks and other outdoor stuff.

And as if that wasn't enough, dad became the Boy Scout troop leader, which meant even more outdoor adventures. Looking back on all this, I cannot imagine how he (and mom, who became the Girl Scout troop leader, which led a couple of times to me camping out with a huge group of girls!) managed to find the time to do all this.

There were four of us kids - two boys and two girls - and we were all roughly a year apart in age (remarkably, the middle two were born in the same calendar year).

It turned out that the ice business was a very good business to be in at that time. The railroads did not have refrigerated rail cars at that time, so they bought a LOT of ice for shipping beef from Garden City's prolific stockyards.

Remember, this was the 60s. My mom got a wig and we all took a shot at trying it on. And no, you won't see the picture of me wearing it. Ever.
This is really really hard to explain. Growing up in Kansas, pheasant hunting was a big deal. I believe my mom is holding the 30-30 Winchester that I had bought to go deer hunting with in Colorado. I'm pretty sure no deer were ever harmed by it.
A dad and his puppy.
Two things happened in the early 70s that resulted in a big change for us: the railroads started to embrace refrigerated rail cars (which took away a huge chunk of business for the ice plant), and we decided it would be a blast to run a campground in Colorado.

So in the summer of 1972, we packed up and moved to the town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Garden City was not a huge place - maybe about 16,000 people - but Pagosa was downright tiny by comparison - maybe 1,500 people.

Dad chopping ice off the roof. It turns out that it snows in Colorado. Sometimes a lot.
Unfortunately, the timing of trying to get a new campground going could not have been worse, as it turned out, since this was when the first gas crisis got going. Suddenly, people were not keen on driving huge trucks towing huge trailers or RVs anymore, and the campground never actually got off the ground.

A LOT of snow.
And this was when I really started to find out about my dad's many talents.

First, he decided that maybe building and selling houses would be a good way to make a living. I couldn't believe that he actually knew how to do this. I mean, REALLY knew! He built an amazing house that is still the class of the neighborhood, but it turned out that people willing to pay for a classy house were not as common as people willing to pay less for something with a lot less class. And he didn't know how to build houses with a lot less class.

A dad and a smaller puppy.
Then he leased a small grocery store/gas station on the outside of town. It was a sleepy place that the previous owners felt good if they had a $200 day. Within a month he had turned it into a bustling place making four or five times that. How in the world did he know how to do that? He kept the books, ordered the inventory, and kept the place hopping.

As a fun thing, the whole family got involved - this was before self-serve gas stations even existed, so I got really good and filling up cars, checking their oil, and everything else that goes along with that.

As a not fun thing, a business like this is open long hours and never takes a day off, and once the lease got close to ending, he started looking around for something else. And extremely weirdly, he found it in becoming a banker. In managing the business, he had worked closely with the local bank, and it turned out they were impressed with his skills and hired him.

My dad the banker.

Eventually he ended up managing a savings and loan, where he stayed for many years.

I'm pretty sure he shared that cake.
In 2002 he retired (then was sucked back in part-time for a short bit).

I asked for an explanation. "He was the Chamber of Commerce President." Apparently the Chamber of Commerce is a far weirder group than I suspected.
Getting his veggies.
Dad thought it would be fun to learn to weave. It turned out to be far less exciting than expected and he soon moved on from that hobby.
Dad at his next hobby, running a quilting machine. 
Dad in Maryland with a newborn Danni.
Mom, dad, and grandma shivering at the Golden Gate Bridge viewing area.
A dad and yet another puppy.
Proving that he likes non-puppy animals too.

Every Lent for many years, dad and mom would make cole slaw from scratch for the Friday Fish Fries. Enough for about 300 people each Friday. They had it down to a science, but it was still a lot of work.

After retirement, mom and dad spent a lot of time camping, towing a fifth wheel all over the Southwest.

Danni got married on Kaui, so mom and dad flew out to see Hawaii for the first time.

One of the first things done after we got to the island was to hit a yard sale.

Somewhere on that island was a little town that had a bunch of cats hanging out. Dad sat down to rest and a cat jumped up on his lap. Again, it wasn't all about puppies.

The wedding was on a ridiculously remote beach. Here dad is having a beer with the local guy that guided us to the right place. (The car rental place would not have been impressed if they knew what our van was put through to get here.)

Enjoying the Hawaiian sun.
This was all of us in about 2011 or so.
I think this was in 2013, their last visit to California.
Dad lived a great life. He leaves behind a huge legacy and massive footprints to try to follow. And a huge extended family including mom, the four of us kids, eight grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, twenty two great grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson.

Family gatherings are really impressive!

And he will always be a part of them.

That's it - move along…


DAK said...

What a pleasure to read this NotThat, and how interesting was the arc of your dad's life. He sounds like he never allowed himself to get bored and was unafraid to dive in to anything new. I do love that photo (the same one every family has who has ever been to SF) of your parents and grandmother freezing at the GG Bridge overlook. I'm really happy to have read such a sweet account of your father.

Laura said...

What a great tribute to your father. Thanks for sharing your memories and photos of him and your family. I want to see you in that blonde wig! And you know what? It's your blog. You can write whatever you want in it. :)

GBShrive said...

So sorry for your loss Allen. What a great tribute to celebrate your Dad's life! Indeed an amazing life with lots of adventure! Thanks for sharing!

Lia said...

This is beautifully written, as usual, but it also absolutely expresses how this man, your father, deserves to be known and remembered. Great tribute.

Beth said...

Allen, when I read the title of this post I thought "oh, no!" and had an initial moment of sadness....but by the end I couldn't help but feel some joy at what an amazing person your father was! You wrote it beautifully. What a gift for those who knew him to be able to reflect on these memories, and for those of us who didn't, to get a peak at what a great man your father was.
You and Mrs. are in our thoughts!

Nafets said...

Sorry for the loss of your father, who had such a rich life. This is such an interesting text. A true American story, and I say that with the admiration of somebody that chose to be an American.

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