Your 30th birthday is today. This little family of five: me, Dad, Lichen, David & Lotte, and Justine, is celebrating by having dinner together tonight at Lago in Meredith. We tossed around a lot of ideas, including going to Lily Bay. This seemed most fitting because you loved going out to dinner with your family so much. We will conjure you in our midst, toast you, and tell stories about you that will make us laugh and probably cry.
I just got back from a lightning fast trip to Oregon. I was invited on Margy’s coattails to help celebrate the long life of my stepmother, Jean, who died a few weeks before you at 92, I was apprehensive about the trip. Long days of travel for just two days there, the expense, the fact that I hadn’t seen my stepbrothers in three decades, and the fact that Dad didn’t particularly want me to go – made me wonder if it was really a good idea, but I promised Margy I would. So that was that. It does seem a miracle to get up early in the morning in the mountains of northern New Hampshire and be at dinner in a little cabin on the North Umqua River in Oregon that night. The last miles before landing at Portland, as you know, the flight path follows the mighty Columbia, and I thought about Lewis & Clark’s months of travails to reach the Pacific. And they started in St. Louis, not New Hampshire!
We were greeted by Peter, MaryAnn, Topher, Don, and Don’s friend, Jim and had a late dinner together sitting in a new dining room I hadn’t seen before. I gather it was planned by Popper but built after he died. Do you remember that he died at 64 while doing what he loved so much – trout fishing? So long ago. His wife outlived him for 30 years. The cabin they shared is small and funky, full of odd angles and surprising little innovations, with a new bedroom on the west end where Margy and I stayed. And always the magnificent river from every window, and the sound of the rapids as a constant back beat. The cabin is well-placed at a deep bend in the river so that you can look way up and way down. I hadn’t been there in nearly 34 years, and I enjoyed looking at the photos and other memorabilia of my father’s life with Jean. His presence was still very alive there, as yours always will be for me in this home of ours.
The morning of Jean’s memorial party, I received an unexpected gift. Danny, who built a yurt on Popper’s land across the river 22 years ago, offered to take anyone who wanted to go across, two by two in his rowboat. So over we went. The river was high and only Danny had the skill and technique to get us across without sweeping us over the rapids below. He had to make 12 trips to get us all over and back. Once we were all assembled on the other side, Dan led us up into the forest to find Popper’s and Jeanie’s (Jean’s daughter) graves, bushwhacking up the hill in dense rain-forest growth of huge cedars and pines and mammoth dripping ferns. We found Jeanie’s marker without too much trouble but spent ten or fifteen minutes looking for Popper’s without luck. Surprisingly it was me who ultimately found it under a downed tree. Suddenly, there I was at the top of a cliff, river far below behind me, in this deep forest staring down at my father’s grave. I got out my little ziplock of your ashes, and sprinkled some on my father’s grave. There was this brief moment when I felt all three of us were there together – one space one time – just for a moment. In my head, I said, “Popper, meet Joe. Joe, meet Popper.” Peter asked if anyone wanted to speak, and I said your little prayer song, “Great Spirit, guide and protect my father and my son, bless them and keep them….”
The next day I went to Portland and put just a little sprinkle of you in three of your favorite places; Produce Row Café, Powell’s Books and Jake’s Seafood. I thought you’d appreciate that.
I know you by heart, my son, I birthed you 30 years ago today.
Love always, Mom