Day 4 — Continued
In and around Big Thompson Canyon, CO
The first half of the day was the fun — riding the Glen Haven route twice — once with camera, once without — enjoying the view in Estes Park, being out and about in the Rockies on my bike. Fun. But the halfway point of the day was when the universe decided to, as they say, bring the pain.
First was the flood victims memorial flyer that I came across in Glen Haven. I asked around after I saw that, asking locals if anyone else knew about it — nobody did. The universe just put that out there for me, I guess. All this time I’d known I’d be there at the river on the anniversary of the flood — hell, I stayed on the river for the anniversary of the flood in some weird form of tribute — but it never occurred to me that there might be some kind of ceremony or service. And yet there it was.
But before that I had family business to deal with: scattering my dad’s ashes in the river and seeing my I-guess-you’d-call-them-estranged half-sisters in the process. We stay in contact, but very minimally. So that was a guaranteed good time.
Charlene and I email occasionally, but I have virtually no contact at all with Christine. There’s a weird, fucked-up dynamic between them out there and me and my immediate siblings here in California, and I think much of it is driven on their end by assumption (I’m assuming) and misinformation and resentment and I don’t know what. For me personally it’s more about just being tired of all the tension and perceived anger and my natural first instinct to just pull back and isolate myself from it all. For my brothers I think there’s resentment toward my father that is bleeding over onto his 2nd set of kids (Charlene and Christine), coupled with some anger at them for some things they’ve done and said in their own anger and hurt. And as for my sister out here in California… Well, who fucking knows. She’s an alien to me and I am baffled by the way her brain works. So with all that, my brothers and sister here in California didn’t come out to Colorado to scatter our father’s ashes, it was just me and his 2nd set of kids in Colorado. So I was meeting up with Charlene and Christine with all that as a backdrop, so I was looking forward to that.
When they showed up at the river with Dad’s ashes in a box, and with his old friend Vic’s widow Pauline in tow, I wasn’t sure what the mood would be. Thankfully, it was friendly and low key. Whatever differences they had with me and mine were put aside, at least for the day. I was relieved. I felt a little bit awkward with them, given all the above, but I think we all came together well.
We took the box with the ashes down to the riverside and I opened it up with a pocketknife. As I did so, I took a moment to note how surreal it all was — to be standing in that spot, on that day, with all that history, with my dad in a bag in a box, cutting it open so we could throw it in the water… The 13-year old I had been living there in the canyon 31 years before never could have dreamed this would be waiting up the road. It’s two weeks in my past now as I write this and it still doesn’t seem real.
We each took a handful of ashes and threw them into the wind and the river. Me, Charlene, Christine, and Pauline each took our own moment, said our own goodbyes, took my dad in our hands, and scattered his ashes. We were surprised at how much was left after we had each taken our turn, so I poured about half the remaining ashes into the river and we watched as they formed a gray cloud in the water that bloomed as the current carried it away.
We stood there for awhile afterward, just talking and thinking and absorbing the sights and sounds. We shared memories about my dad, laughed a bit, I think each of us shed a few private tears. Then we drove back to my motel where we sat around and continued talking and reminiscing for awhile before it started getting late. They had to get back down to Loveland and I had to get ready for the flood victim memorial, so we said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch, and they left.
After they were gone, I performed my own private ceremony with the remainder of my dad’s ashes. I had written a letter to him the night before saying all the things I wish I could while he was still here and saying my goodbyes, and I took that letter and his ashes down to the banks of the river directly across from where the restaurant once stood. I read the letter out loud to the river and to him, then I burned it and let its ashes blow into the river and poured the rest of his ashes in the river after it. It felt like the right thing to do. It felt like a good goodbye to my father.
Then I went to the flood victim memorial service, where I got another kick in the emotional nuts.
There are two memorial sites set up for this in the canyon, but I had somehow never found this one before. The first site, which I’d been to twice before on previous trips and can’t find a picture of now, is a tribute to two police officers who sacrificed their own lives saving others in the flood. This memorial was a tribute to all the victims and I don’t know how I had missed it before. It’s exactly what I always throught the other one should have been.
144 people died in that flood, including 8 people who were in my dad’s restaurant, The Covered Wagon, that night. Three of them — Martin and Frances and their son Adam, were like family to me. They’re why I decided to scatter my dad’s ashes there in the river, and on that date.
So I’m standing there at memorial, waiting for the service to start, and people kept eyeballing me. It’s a rural area and most of the people knew each other, so I was out of place because I was a stranger. Eventually an older woman, Barb, asked who I was and who I’d known in the flood. I told her my dad had owned the Covered Wagon and she immediately knew who I was. Apparently my sister Christine had spoken to her once about buying a brick in our dad’s name there at the memorial and she put the pieces together from there.
With all that I’d been through that day and all that I had on my mind as I stood there at the memorial, I was pretty much on the ragged edge, emotionally. Barb knowing exactly who I was and what my link had been to the flood was hard enough and I was sort of struggling to keep it together. I wasn’t crying or teary-eyed, but I was close.
And then she said “I have some pictures of Adam to show you” and I just fucking lost it.
First of all, I hadn’t said a word about Adam, only that my dad had owned the restaurant, so her knowing that I knew him blew me away. Secondly, learning that there were pictures of Adam there was like a punch in the gut — I’ve only seen him in my memories for 31 years and I didn’t know pictures of him existed anywhere, let alone here. It was all too much — I had started the day thinking all I had to deal with was scattering my dad’s ashes, then I learned about this memorial service, then I met this woman who knew who I was and what I was carrying with me, and then I found out she had pictures of Adam.
I lost it. In a controlled manner, of course, but I did lose it. I had to turn away from her and walk back to my bike and I stood there for a few minutes fighting back tears and trying to get myself back together. And of course she followed me and was comforting and caring and reached out to me saying, “Oh come here, you’re not too big for a hug” and that just made me lose it worse, and then the fact that she was fighting back tears too just added to the party. So we had us a good hug and I went with her after the service to see Adam’s pictures.
He looks just like I remember him, but also younger. He was only 8 at the time, and I was 13, and childhood memories aren’t the most reliable, but those pictures were definitely the Adam I knew and remembered and still miss. He was a good kid. I’m glad Barb showed me those pictures.
By nightfall I was pretty much wrung out and just wanted to get back to my room and get to bed. I was checking out the next morning and considering heading south to Cortez, CO, which was near my dad’s last hometown of Dove Creek. I was debating heading down that way and maybe making a pass through Dove Creek as one final goodbye to my dad. So I broke out the Zumo GPS and my atlas and started planning.
And now, I’m going to wrap this entry up. Days 5 & 6 come in the next one.