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Portrait by Anonymous

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 Portraits by Anonymous

Our third day in Yellowstone Park.  Started out as glorious and then, as we approached Old Faithful, rain dumped out of a seemingly clear sky.  I don’t know how this happens up there in Montana, but magic must be involved.   Del found a parking space that was quite close to the beautiful historic Inn.   This is a miraculous feat in high summer, but my husband was known for doing the impossible, impossibly often.   We all ran for it.  Dad, mom, and twin girls, our hair and clothes soaked through even in the short sprint.

Inside, we watched the geyser for the second time this year, do what it is known for world wide.  Does it spout so high you can’t see the top?  Uh, no, actually.  It is a modest height, impressive but not overwhelming.   Does it roar and growl and rumble the ground before it spouts?   It is quiet and orderly, in fact.   Old Faithful starts low and then builds quickly to full height, then moves back down the scale until it disappears.   Why does such a predictable and orderly geyser garner such a rapt and adoring audience?   Because it is predictable.   The times of eruptions are posted inside the massive, historic lodge and tourists can stroll and eat and shop at the gift shop without any real fear of missing the spectacle.   Other geysers in Yellowstone can be much higher, screamingly loud and sulphur smelling, threatening in their sudden blasts and reach, and can shoot out at any moment.    They wow you!   They scare you into shouting, cowering and running.  But, you have to catch them doing their act and therein lies the problem.   Old Faithful is faithful and never disappoints its fans.

I love Yellowstone National Park.  I grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho which is now less than 2 hours from there, but in the sixties it took longer.   Old two lane roads,  farmers pulling out on tractors and backing traffic at 10 mph until they reached their next field to mow,  old Fords and Chevys chugging along, their fat bodies resembling colorful beetles, all contributed to the slow caravan of Park worshippers.    Going to Yellowstone  as a child seemed more of a trip to me than it does now and I live in Southern Oregon.   But, oh is it worth the trip – from anywhere!  Nothing is like Yellowstone Park.  I won’t describe the beauty and the majesty because even a huge coffee table picture book like I have in my living room, does not prepare you for the solace, the spectacle,  and the grandeur.   Go see it.

Del also grew up in Idaho and was no stranger to Yellowstone.   We were  equally vested in our twin girls experiencing this bedrock of our own childhoods.  We warned them ahead of time that Yellowstone Park was not Disneyland.   It was an experience of the soul.  And, even though they were only 14  when we visited first, and we had taken them to many places in Europe, South America and even China, their hearts were nurtured there.  Yellowstone spoke to our offspring and why wouldn’t it?

As we watched the geyser out the grand picture window, rain trickled into my ears from the short minutes we had spent in the downpour.  “It is still raining, honey, maybe we need to get a rain slicker or something from the gift shop.  I think they are fairly cheap.”

Del nodded.  “Sure.   Get something for you and the girls.  I will be fine.”   That was so like him.   His white t-shirt would be damp for hours, but he would not even notice.   So, when the geyser finished its performance, the girls happily  strolled with me to the gift shop, and found what  looked like glorified trash bags that fit over our heads.   They were dazzling white,  and had a black etching of the geyser on the front.  At $2, I thought they were charming.  We put them on as we exited the lodge and kept the pouring rain mostly off as we navigated almost blind from the deluge to our car.

By the time we got to the Falls at Canyon, the day had brightened and warmed up, but the girls and I kept our slickers on just in case.   Del’s t-shirt had almost dried out.   After “daddy” deftly negotiated yet another unlikely parking space, we eagerly hiked down to get a closer look at the exploding water off the Yellowstone River.   A mountain range on one side and the water on the other formed such a perfect view that Del got out his seldom used camera.  We were always so engaged that we forgot to take photos and photography was nobody’s forte in our family.  A group of people walked by – three or four – and Del instinctively targeted the man of the family.   He said “Hey sir, would you mind taking a picture of me and my family?”  This sort of thing usually embarrasses me.  I am quite private and do not like bothering people on their holiday.   But, Del always offered to take other’s pictures and I had to admit that a shot of all of us together is a nice thing to have.   Del backed us all up to the rail with our backs to the mountain range, grabbed us all in close.   Our hastily recruited photographer  smiled at us and then said, “Smile.”  He clicked and checked the shot, asked us to pose for another, and said, “There!”  He handed Del the camera.   We were off to finish the hike.

The girls had their 15th birthday on that trip.   Our  twins’ birthday always started as just a small celebration, but got out of control.  I mean, hey, twin girls for heaven’s sake and completely identical and gorgeous to boot.  So, the trip was all part of that celebration of lives so precious they took our breath away every time we looked at them.  August 24th, for us, was the day to celebrate over all others.

It was September 24th when Del did not come home to dinner.   I had it on the table as usual.   He was a dentist and his office was close to home.   Sometimes he had a procedure go longer and he was late, so I didn’t worry too much for the first hour.   The girls and I ate without him and preserved the part of the dinner we knew he enjoyed the most.   When too much time had passed, we went looking for him.   I won’t relate the rest.  It was the day the girls lost their dad and the love of my life was gone forever.

After the funeral, a friend recommended some grief counseling.   Donna, our counselor, asked me if we would spread Del’s ashes.  I said we would later, so we discussed where to spread them.  Yellowstone Park was agreed on as the ONLY place we could consider letting him go.    We knew he would like to be part of that land.  I guess just to further convince ourselves, I told  Donna about our trip and realized I had some pictures I hadn’t yet processed.

When I picked up the photos – processed old style because we hadn’t discovered digital yet, the shot of our family at Canyon Falls was breathtaking.   Backed by the mountains and lit by the brilliant sky, we are all four there, dressed in white – the girls and I in the slickers and Del in his bright white t-shirt.   The whole family looked like angels, but Del was the only one who had made it so far.   With Donna’s encouragement, I took it to a photographer who made the little photo into a 16 X 24” portrait.    It hangs on our wall to this day as our last family portrait.  Nobody – even a professional – could have taken a better shot.

And, the crazy thing is that it is a stranger who took this.  I don’t remember his face, I never knew his name.   But, he gave me the best gift for healing our grief that ever could be imagined.

This summer my twins will turn 20.   They are both working at Canyon Village in Yellowstone Park.  To them, it feels like heaven.   Their dad is always there in every blade of grass or breeze that blows.  And, through the kindness of a stranger, I wait for them here in Oregon, with the Yellowstone scene and our smiling faces always above my dining table and in my heart.

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  1. August 22, 2012 at 4:25 am

    Wow. Kaye, this is beautiful.

    • kayedproctor
      August 22, 2012 at 5:17 am

      Thanks Mitch. Seemed like it was a story that needed to be written.

      Sent from my iPad

  2. August 28, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Great post. When I went to Yellowstone in 2006 I had a lot of the same feelings about Old Faithful. Impressive, but not nearly as impressive as tons of other things I saw in the park!

    Thank you SO MUCH for reading and Liking my post “TATTOOS AND SUICIDE” about my brother David. that was the most personal and intimate thing I’ve ever posted, so it really means a lot to me =) And thanks, also, for checking out my tribute to Pride Week (the Stonewall Riots post, “Fighting Back…”) *Following* your blog now =)

    –Love and Liberation–

    Jan @ TheRewildWest

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