The cowboy who lassoed a star.
My Dad ( Gramps to his Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren) passed on just before Christmas, 2018. He breathed into his passing as if he heard the angels singing. He had been in a retirement home in Port Orchard Washington for a couple of years, in an ever worsening state. He had lots of family visitors, an eagle’s view of Puget Sound, a lovingly tended community garden and one of his flights of fancy, wild birds to watch and feed. He made friends with each turn he took in his power wheel chair until one day he went too far afield where he tumbled down a steep embankment. The fall knocked the wind out of his eyes and bruises through his body were not as great as the bruise to his spirit, one who had spent his life getting up and going.
Dad was born in Clarmemore Oklahoma in 1929 just before the dust-bowl blew holes through the hard knock lives of thousands. His family stuck it out in Oklahoma as his Dad supported his growing family as a ranch hand, His Dad, William Oliver King, was known as a horse whisperer because of this gentle giant manner of taming wild horses. He also took extra shifts at the local coal mine, especially before Christmas, so he could offer his kids just a trifle of something tor Christmas. It was just days before Christmas when my Dad, a boy of 15, ran up the hill carrying a lunch pail with his Dad’s lunch. Instead of a picnic, there was an explosion and his beloved Dad was gone.
Before that traumatic moment, I imagine my Dad, filled with the energy of a freckled, red haired lad, not caring if he had shoes or a warm enough coat. He and his brothers knew how to make ends meet from shooting squirrels and rabbit for dinner to stealing watermelons from the fields, after the land had recovered from the blight of grasshoppers. Dad used to tell how those giant insects had sawed in like lighting rods in the tails of the dust, destroying any hint of plant life that may have managed to survive.
Through Dad’s life those childhood memories, indelibly formed the man he grew to be. I never heard “poor old me” in those hard luck stories. They were adventures, succulent with opportunities to transform a boy into a man: watermelon swiped from fields became melons for picnics wherever he saw a big tree alongside the road. Squirrels and Rabbits that he and his brothers shot so the family could eat, became the proteins that linked his DNA to his Grandchildren. His tales of “back in the day” became increasingly embellished over time. His boy size heart beat fast as he swiped a bottle of milk from the milk truck so his baby brother could eat. That milk swirled in his memory transforming into his favorite sweet treat as a man: Ice Cream, especially Black Walnut. Milk and certainly cream had been a precious commodity in those dry times.
As Gramps morphed into an old man, he was known for his cowboy hat that didn’t quite cover his always wired, now rusty eyebrows. His bely was heavy, legs filled with buck shot and and for years he could only walk with a cane. He had the Irish heart of gold and the love and gift of weaving untethered yarns. With each twist and turn of the plot, his sky blue eyes twinkled even more. He was like Merlin, a wizard at turning choking dust busters into clusters of stars that would in the end encircle him and guide him toward the sound of angels. He was born under a wandering star and through his 89 years that adventure bound star, although invisible to others, was his side kick and guide. And when it was Gramps’s time to go, I know he was riding that star into his next bigger than life adventure.