Four decades and two years ago, my father, Theodore Henry Holt, died at the young age of 49. That is a long time ago and much has happened since and continues to happen now. Perhaps it is my chosen career, but regardless of the reason, the old cliché holds true when it comes to my journey: “There is never a dull day!”
I thought about Dad quite often last week as I visited my Mom in Pittsburgh. Due to dementia, Mom lost the last vestige of personal freedom. She moved from independent living to personal care. It is never easy to move, especially at 94, but Mom is adjusting well. We are breathing a sign of relief that she is safe and receiving excellent care. It certainly is our turn to take care of the amazing woman who, for so many years, took great care of us. Thanks Mom!
My primary task during her move was to go through her file cabinets. I organized her papers into three piles. The first pile was reserved for documents that we needed to secure for future reference, such as her will and power of attorney. The second pile headed for the dump or the shredder. The third pile contained items that related to our family history. While making my way through that pile, Dad often came to mind. I found, among other memorabilia, his birth certificate, death certificate and his military service record. I cannot believe how emotional it was to go through his stuff, but there was a poignant moment to come that transcended anything I felt sorting through his stuff.
I was driving to our attorney’s office. On the way, I passed our old church and the cemetery in which Dad is buried. Neither one pulled too hard at my heart strings. It was when I passed a wooded hillside on a road less traveled that my emotional thermometer rose quickly. It was on that hill, in those woods, that Dad used to take his boys on hikes. I pulled over and parked in a small, dirt lot. I could not believe it. The path we took from the parking lot up the hill still existed. As a light rain pattered on the car roof, I decided not to go up the hill. Instead, I sat in the car and let the wonderful memories of those days come flooding back.
The hill is not very steep, but to a small boy it was Mt. Everest. Near the top, we stopped to rest. Dad lit a campfire. We toasted some marshmallows. Then, we climbed a tree. Sitting amongst the branches, Dad told us stories that he never dared to tell in front of Mom. He even said, “damn” once or twice! That was a huge “no-no” in our God-fearing family. As the fire subsided from flame to embers, we climbed down out of the tree. We put out the fire via what Dad called “an act of nature,” (We peed on it!) after which we hiked back down the hill singing crazy songs that my Dad invented and headed home.
As I sat in the car thinking about hiking with Dad, something that I say frequently at funerals popped into my head: “Memories are a gift from God. As long as we have one memory of somebody we love, that person still lives.”
John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA