What follows is something I wrote whilst travelling on a train to catch a plane to get back home to be with my mom. I read this today, at my father’s funeral. I have decided that it would be churlish to keep this memory to myself any longer, and wanted to share it with the world. This gives you a hint at the father behind the man my dad was.
My dad was magic. He could make a corner store appear out of nowhere. This was the best part of going on calls with him: getting a bag of chips and an old-style curvy bottle of Coke, which you had to open using the bottle opener that was part of the cooler. That was summer for me. The smell of dust and manure, hot on a summer breeze, pushed fast through the windows as we drove down winding roads. Even now, and I know how awful it sounds, but the smell of manure makes me think of my dad. For years, I have always enjoyed that smell, and would inhale it deeply, surreptitiously, whenever I encountered it. And I would be transported back to those summer days. Days with my dad.
He could tell you how long a mile was… What I didn’t know was that he was checking the odometer the whole time. Those magical corner stores? He just knew the countryside so well, that he knew when to ask if I wanted a snack, to make it seem like a store just dropped out of the sky, next to a country road, merely because he wanted it so. And I only figured it out a few years ago.
But he could make magic happen. One night, he took me out to a calving call. It was a dark and snowy night… We parked the car at the side of the road, but the barn was nowhere to be seen. Standing there, in blissful confusion, I was unconcerned because my father was there with me, and I knew nothing bad would happen.
Out of the darkness, a jingling sound emerged, getting louder and seeming to come from every direction. I was young enough to hope that it could be Santa with his reindeer sleigh (for Christmas was on the horizon), and I waited, hopeful. A light bobbed along across the field, and I watched with open-mouthed wonder as a horse-drawn sleigh drew up beside us. “The drive is too full of snow,” my dad explained, “so they came to pick us up in the sleigh.”
Now, I don’t know whether that was true or not. To be honest, I don’t really care if it was. The truth of that night was a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snowy dark of night, cuddled up under a rough woollen blanket that smelled of horses, and holding my dad’s arm. I don’t remember much else, but that journey stayed with me for a lifetime, and this is quite possibly the most precious thing my father ever gave me: a treasured memory.