My father would have been 77 this week, but he passed away almost 23 years ago when he was 54. The suddenness and swiftness of his death left the whole family bereft, and we still miss him.
Although he died relatively young, my father did a great many things, and some of those things I got to do with him. One time, we took a father-daughter trip to Idaho to work on the Lewis and Clark trail. My dad, an amateur history buff, had read the original journals, and he regaled me with tales of their experiences as we huffed and puffed our way through trail maintenance during the day. At night, we camped with the other trail workers at No-see-um Meadows, ate ravenously and fell into a deep sleep.
One day he and I were on our own on a section of the trail above the Selway-Bitterroot River. My father told me that at this point Lewis and Clark had run into severe difficulty; hostile native Americans prevented them from walking along the river where they could have access to precious water and game. Instead, they trudged along the ridge line where we stood, running low on food an supplies. The Bitterroot Mountains seemed to go on forever. In their journals, they wrote that they were considering turning around and heading east.
But somewhere along this trail, my dad told me, a scout found a break in the trees and the mountains gave way to the flat, fertile plains beyond. They found their way to food and water, so they eventually could continue on to the Pacific Ocean. It proved to be a pivotal moment for the expedition.
We cleared trail and walked along, my father slightly ahead. I heard him shout for me to come see him, and I headed up the trail to where he stood, looking west. Through the dark evergreens I could see the yellow plains laid out below, a river snaking through them. We had found the very spot where, 190 years previously, Lewis and Clark had stood, staring, coming to the realization that their expedition could continue.
It was a peak moment.
But if I could have my dad back just for a day, that would not be the one I would pick.
I would pick an ordinary day.
On an ordinary day, my dad would get up and go for a run. He might run three miles, he might run five. He would come home, shower, and get dressed in khaki pants and a button-down shirt with a pocket and a handkerchief.
He would walk upstairs to the kitchen and pull out the Cheerios and milk. He’d sit at the dining room table, and a cat might jump on his lap as he read a book or the newspaper and ate his Cheerios.
He would walk to his office on campus, sometimes with mom, sometimes on his own. He would work for several hours, stopping now and then to talk to my mom or his office neighbor and best friend. Then he and my mom and their colleagues would go to lunch at the union. They would talk and laugh, and people would probably groan a few times at my dad’s silly jokes.
My dad and mom would come home, and he might go out and mow the lawn, or frown at the dandelions growing amid the grass and head for the garage to get some weed killer. If the weather was nice, he might sit on the outside patio with a beer and a book before dinner, or if it was snowing he might make up a fire in the fireplace.
He and my mom would eat dinner, then clean up after, listening to NPR. Then they might visit a neighbor or get a little more work done. Then finally my dad and mom would head to bed.
If my dad could have just one more day, one ordinary day, I wouldn’t even have to be there, at home with him. It would be enough just to know that he was there, that he was happy, that he was in the world.
Just an ordinary day.