our yellowstone summer vacation

“Do you remember all of this?” my husband asked, gesturing toward the famous geyser spewing skyward.

We were seated on a downed lodgepole pine tree, our backpacks at our feet. What seemed like thousands of tourists stood on the broad wooden deck around Old Faithful in front of us, standing four and five people deep, cameras and cell phones and video cameras raised high into the air to get a better shot. We were many yards back, at the grassy periphery of the Old Faithful viewing area, where it was less crowded, and also shaded by a grove of the tall pines. The dead, bleached-out pine tree made for a wonderful seat for our tired legs. The kids were off to our left, laughing and squealing over an inside joke.

“I don’t think so,” I said. “I remember different things.”

old faithful | the merry gourmet

I was ten or eleven when my parents took my brother (who was six or so) and me to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone was just a small part of a 6-week road trip across the country, from Florida to California and back.  And though I don’t remember the near-boiling waters of Old Faithful erupting out of the hot earth, I remember waiting for the geothermal show to happen. Mostly, I recall feeding the marmots with my brother, Clay. Those furry brown creatures would stand on their hind legs, like little tiny people, and take potato chips from our hands.

I don’t remember specifics of Mammoth Hot Springs or of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone or of Lamar Valley. But I remember a grinning Clay running into a grassy meadow filled with a herd of giant elk. Perhaps the elk were actually bison, but elk is in my memory. The elk scattered, galloping away, much to the disappointment – and fury – of the numerous tourists (and my parents) who had their Polaroids and film cameras aimed at the wildlife. It was pretty typical of something my brother would do.

black-bottom peanut butter pie | the merry gourmet

We celebrated my husband on Father’s Day with handmade and store-bought cards. We gave him gifts of his favorite candies – Jelly Belly jellybeans, Sour Patch Kids, and Mike and Ike candies (really, for a dentist, he’s a terrible role model). We surprised him with a Super Dad t-shirt and a Minecraft shirt to match his son’s. Oliver spent a week building a special “Dad’s World” in Minecraft and  unveiled it Sunday morning. Madeline made her father his own paper fortune teller and used it to predict that he would be famous one day. I made Sam a decadent black-bottom peanut butter pie that we nibbled on all weekend.

But really, it was not the best day. It was the first Father’s Day since the death of both of our fathers.

I tried to stay upbeat, to celebrate the amazing father of my children, a man who deserves recognition every day of the year, not just on one Sunday in June. But I couldn’t keep my grief at bay.

the box on the dining room table

strawberry balsamic & black pepper ice cream | the merry gourmet

There is a box on the dining room table. The box is a run-of-the-mill cardboard box, about 7 inches square. There are no shipping labels on the box, just a name, written in black Sharpie. The top flaps of the box are folded in an overlapping fashion, as I might have done with that box of stuffed animals I moved from my childhood bedroom to my college dorm. Because we are lazy people, the box is surrounded by stacks of my daughter’s clean laundry, a set of folded sheets, an unopened wine bottle that hasn’t yet found it’s home in the wine fridge, and some of my son’s school artwork.

The handwritten name on the box reads, “George, Truett.”

My father’s ashes are inside. I presume they are in a plastic bag, but I am not certain, because I’ve not mustered the courage to open the box.

Last week, when I spoke to my mother about babysitting the kids on Friday, I said to her, “Bring Dad, please.”