Ashes to Ashes, or Dad’s Secret Lesbian Friends

I did not know when I volunteered to pick up my recently deceased dad’s ashes that I would be driving through the fire to do so. When the plan was made, the Pacific Northwest had yet to go up in flames. Arrangements were made: my father’s wife would fly down from Seattle, Washington to Bend, Oregon; my partner and I would drive up from Santa Cruz, California in Maude, our ’91 Chevy Conversion Van, camping along the way. We’d meet up at Tumalo Campground, where one third of the ashes would be handed over to me. My father moved a lot in his life; he wanted his ashes scattered in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and mixed with those of his wife when she passed. The Pacific scattering was/is my responsibility.

Maude, our '91 Chevy Conversion Van
Maude, our ’91 Chevy Conversion Van

Around Crater Lake the smoke got thick. At one point we noticed we were the only ones driving north. Were we headed into fire? Were people evacuating? I pulled out my iPhone, checked the interactive wildfires map. If it was to be believed, US Route 97 was going to usher us between fires. We carried on.

Once arriving at the campsite, we were happy to discover that, while definitely smoky, it was bearable. And we had time to kill before the allotted rendezvous. My partner’s brother took us sightseeing. Who knew Oregon was filled with volcanoes? I swear, Oregonians are like Eskimos with their many words for snow—only they have them for lava rock. There is pumice, scoria, obsidian; there is black lava rock, red lava rock, green; there is lava rock that cooled midair into balls, lava rock tunnels, lava rock hoodoos, lava rock rivers.

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Inside the Newberry Caldera, note the smoke

Standing atop the huge Newberry Caldera (so big it’s home to two lakes), followed by a hike up a jagged, glassy Obsidian peak, it was hard not to feel the force of fire, and the part it played in the violent formation of this planet; hard not to reflect upon the ashes I was to receive, my father turned to mineral; hard not to feel the insignificance of a single life.

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Huge Outcropping of Obsidian

And looking out into the smoky vistas, I couldn’t help but think that the earth is working to regenerate herself. There have been floods like we have never seen, astronomically high winds, and fires that are burning so hot, I’m told they are essentially sterilizing the topsoil, possibly keeping them barren for hundreds of years.

It is within this vast global drama that I had an experience which, while actually tiny in the grand scheme of things, seemed to me to be quite big.

Back at the campsite, when it came time to hand off the ashes, my father’s wife brought with her two lesbians she was staying with in Bend. Let me explain. The couple, together thirty years, had been friends with my father and his wife. The doctor of the two, a nephrologist, considered my father her mentor, felt it was because of him she even went into nephrology. All this, I found out that night. Until this meeting, I’d had no idea my dad even knew any lesbians besides me, let alone had served as witnesses at a lesbian wedding! (Note: I do not believe he purposefully neglected to mention these lesbian friends. A scientist, he was much more comfortable talking about ideas and books he’d read, and rarely dwelled on topics of a social nature.)

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Kidneys look the same whether you’re gay or not

He did, finally, come around. By the time this lesbian nephrologist had come out to him, I’d spent years cobbling together a healthier relationship with him, had won him over so completely, he’d come not only to know my current partner (twenty-six years and counting!), but also to love her. He even loved my novels! Couldn’t wait for the next one to come out. I wanted the lesbian nephrologist to know that the acceptance she felt was due, in large part, to me. Somehow, it made all those years of heartbreak seem worth it.

So I said to her: “I warmed him up for you” and left it at that.

I have yet to bring his cremains down to the ocean, but I imagine she will swallow him up, no questions asked, and what is left of his body will begin its next incarnation as it mixes itself up with the rest of the minerals at the bottom of the sea. In the meantime, I will continue to wonder what other surprising bits of his life he took with him. And, as of this writing, Mother Earth rages on.

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The Pacific Ocean, Big Sur, Pfeifer Beach
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18 thoughts on “Ashes to Ashes, or Dad’s Secret Lesbian Friends

  1. Your article is interesting and tender. It’s ironic that a parent’s death frequently gives birth to facts about his/her life that we offspring never knew. Being privy to formerly unknown tidbits about our parents gives us an opportunity to know them once again, to put pieces of their puzzle together, to understand things about them that we never understood before. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Clifford.

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  2. Love reading your words that offer a peak of your own life that we may not otherwise experience.
    I know a lesbian..couple in Oregon and one of them is a doctor…wouldn’t that be something!
    Thank you!

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  3. Hey Clifford, great to read your stories. I’m sorry about your loss, and in reading that you’re responsible for scattering a third of his ashes, I remembered that the boat I just booked a whale watching trip on offers a ‘scatter’ service. They are Santa Cruz Whale watching, over on Brommer and 17th.❤️

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  4. Clifford, I love this piece. I would love you to expand on it–the idea of each of us returning to mineral and the earth working to cleanse herself (maybe of us, we seem to cause most of her problems…) I always think of how much my parents didn’t know of me, but you so wisely point out how much we all don’t know of our parents. We are all so many faceted, like a geode, or the landscape of the earth itself, that who can really be fully known? And, as with your father, some of our best facets die with us, returned to The Great Mother. Thanks for being you.

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    1. Hey Joyce, thanks for checking in. Yeah. Weird to think of someone returning to mineral. Oddly, comforting too. At least for me. As for what we don’t know about our parents, acres! As for what they will never know about me. Same. But your life is one sparkly thing, and I’m glad it has touched mine! Congrats too, on Eight Tens! You’re in a play that was started in my writing salon. The circle goes ’round and ’round.

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  5. Hi Clifford, I hate to be one of those bloggers who writes ‘check out my blog’, but I literally JUST posted a blog about scattering my Dad’s ashes up a mountain (& I promise it’s well-written). Yours is lovely; my Dad died in 2008 (as you’ll read hopefully), but I definitely am a wiser, softer person because of his loss. And only yesterday, I found myself wondering what he would think of my new & fabulous lesbian girlfriend… I think he’d like her a lot. Here’s the link if you’re interested, and thank you for sharing your experience, gabrielle in Australia : )

    https://boneandsilver.com/2017/09/19/how-i-climbed-a-small-mountain-did-something-slightly-illegal-created-the-sacred/

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  6. Thank you for sharing that with us Cliff. You write so beautifully I love when I come across anything you’re written. Condolences on the loss of your Dad. How interesting that he had become such good friends with a lesbian couple. Do you think you’ll continue to stay in touch with them? I’d be curious what stories they might have about him. Stories of him just as a nice man they knew, not through the daughter filter you through which you knew him. Hi to Dix. Dar from Oakland

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  7. I’m curious about that too. We exchanged phone numbers. She was so indebted to my dad, she entreated me to contact her if I ever needed anything. Anything, she repeated. So who knows? Thank you so much for the kind words about my writing. That’s always good to hear. Love back attacha!

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