On April 20, I wrote to let Betty know that I had written nearly sixty pages of text in my YA bio. And I also told her that I was soon leaving for the West Coast, where I was going to deliver a talk about Jack London and The Call of the Wild at the American Literature Association—and then would drive up to Oregon to scatter my father’s ashes in several places. Oregon. His state of birth. The place he loved with a passion that was visible whenever we drove out there—which we did several times in my boyhood. The closer we got to the state, the less he wanted to stop—his sons’ bladders be damned! Oregon was home for Dad. Nowhere else he ever lived was anything like a competitor.
I wrote about this journey for my father in my earlier memoir Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012), so I won’t go into the same sort of detail here. I’ll just say that I scattered some on the slopes of Mt. Hood (which he’d climbed with friends in 1937—an ascent he spoke about with pride throughout my life), some more on the property that was once the Dyer farm—near Milton-Freewater, Oregon. It’s still a farm but has not been in the family since my father was a teenager. His own father died at that time, and the family soon moved into town.
I carried out the farm portion of the ritual with my uncle John, one of Dad’s younger brothers, who still lived in the area. I loved Uncle John, who had worked for John Deere and knew stories about local rattlesnakes that delighted (and terrified) me. But he, too, is now gone. We climbed from his car near a line of black walnut trees that had been there when he and Dad were children. I said the Lord’s Prayer, then, weeping, scattered the ashes. We had to hurry back to the car, though, because the automatic sprinkler system kicked on in the field, quickly soaking us both. I said in my earlier memoir that Dad, surely, was somewhere laughing.
The final remains I took out to Cannon Beach, which, as I said earlier, was where my parents had lived during the early years of their retirement. Near their place, little Wolf Creek cuts across the beach and empties into the Pacific. Dad—while he was still mobile—had liked to walk down to that creek and then back home. It was his exercise.
I tossed the ashes in the air, some blowing back upon me, the majority settling into the water, heading out to sea.
I wrote to Betty on April 27 to tell her that I’d finally been able to read a reel of microfilm acquired via interlibrary loan. It was the Niagara News from 1833, the year Trelawny supposedly swam the rapids. I found no mention of his feat … no real surprise.
Meanwhile, Betty was dealing with family health issues, as well. Her sister-in-law (I’ll call her Susan here) had been ill for some time (Betty had first told me about her in October 1999). She told me a bit later, in January, that she had already lost her mother (five years earlier), her father (94) was in a nursing home, her brother (died three years earlier), and now yet another beloved family member was in distress. On February 15 she wrote to tell me that Susan had suffered further heart damage—at the moment it is stabilized but …
And then, in May, Susan was gone. Cancer.