27. December 2010 · Comments Off on Christmas Day Nature Walk · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Memoir

Our family was always rather traditional about the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Since Mom and Dad were both only (or only surviving children) it made deciding whose house to go to for the holidays rather easy: alternating Granny Jessie and Granny Dodie for Thanksgiving, but Christmas . . . invariably everyone came to our house. One of those things which we would do – after opening presents on Christmas morning, and while Mom and Granny Jessie (who usually stayed with us, for Christmas after Grandpa Jim died) got Christmas dinner assembled – was for Dad and all four of us, and the dogs, to go out for a hike in the hills for a couple of hours. Dad, being a research biologist, did terrific nature talks during those hikes, pointing out the various sorts of sage, and the animal tracks and scat to be noticed. I think this tradition was carried on with for a couple of years after I went away to serve in the Air Force, in some fashion. I know that when I did come home for Christmas now and again, to my parent’s retirement house in Valley Center, Blondie and I and my little brother Sander dragged out the nieces and nephews for a hike down through the abandoned orange grove above the Guejito. One year we had the teenage niece of my brother JP’s significant other, who thought that a walk meant a gentle turn around the block . . . not a hard slog down a rutted dirt road, and a clamber up to the top of a knob of stone that stuck out of the hillside. The rock knob offered a wonderful view of the valley below, and the cattle that moved so slowly and were so far away that they looked to be the size of fleas. She was wearing low-heeled pumps – didn’t appreciate the need for something a little sturdier.

Christmas and nature hikes. I didn’t ever think to take a camera along, when I led my niece and nephew into a muddy slough halfway down the hill – which they enjoyed terrifically, of course – although I think Pip was pretty horrified at how much mud they still accumulated on their persons. I did, for some reason, remember to take a camera on one of our hikes with Dad, though. It must have been Christmas of 1974 or 1975 – by Christmas of 1976 I was away in Basic Training, in San Antonio, where I live now. I took that picture at the top of one of the hills in the San Gabriel Mountains – Pip, Sander, Dad and JP, with Toby and Duchess, all sitting or laying down for a rest after a long slog uphill from our house. That’s Tujunga – La Crescenta in the background, with the mountains of the Angeles National Forest on the horizon.

Christmas, nature hikes and Dad . . .

I wasn’t planning to go to California this year – just plain couldn’t afford it again, and when I talked to Mom and Dad about it, two weeks ago Friday, they said – well, never mind, Pip and her husband were going to his family, Sander and his wife and their kids were going to hers . . . and well, don’t feel bad about not coming. They were going to have a nice quiet Christmas by themselves, and Dad had a case of walking pneumonia, which made him feel a bit under the weather.

Except that it didn’t work out that way. Dad suddenly felt worse the next week, was admitted to the hospital on Friday last with a diagnosis of bleeding into the brain, was operated on that night and seemed to be responding well, but there was a setback on Christmas Eve . . . and Mom was chipper and hopeful and altogether reassuring when we talked to her on Christmas Day. So I was reassured, and made plans to come out to California and stay with them for two months, to help when Dad was out of the hospital, and all.

But she and my brothers and sisters were called to the hospital Sunday morning, and Dad died about 1:15 in the afternoon. The last time I talked to him by telephone, I said “Dad, ya sound like shit!” and he said, “Yeah, I feel like shit!” and I told him to take care of himself. I wish I had said I loved him, but I still thought I would have the chance to say it one more time.

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