Wednesday, January 27, 2016

For My Dad

Today, was my father's birthday. He died last April- on Earth Day- which seemed appropriate since he was the most in-his-body, connected-to-the-earth person I've ever known. Because he had suffered horribly with Alzheimer's, it's been hard to grieve his passing- I was relieved for him, glad he was free. Recently I wrote a little story about my father. It just bubbled up one morning. I share it here to honour him and to honour the sweet ache of missing him.

My childhood was shaped and scoured by the Spirit of Winter. In 1963 my family moved four hundred miles north to a small town set between trackless wilderness and an incongruous patch of flat farmland.

I loved the cold, the sharp edge of the wind at forty below zero that cut through mental defenses and made me feel deeply alive in my body. At night the darkness held the hum of frigid power lines, and the house cracked and moaned on its foundation as the frozen earth heaved and sighed.

Once, in the midst of high winds, the wind chill was calculated to be seventy-five below zero. We dressed in layers and covered every square inch of exposed skin to go out and shovel drifting snow so a hearse could retrieve the recently deceased body of someone’s beloved from the hospital across the street.

I remember stepping outside, shovel in hand, swaddled in long johns and itchy wool and a one-piece skidoo-suit, toque on my head and a scarf covering my face. I may just as well have been stepping outside naked- the forty mile per hour winds at forty below zero cut through all layers and whisked away my body heat in seconds. Shocked I just stood there until my father hollered above the wind, “Keep moving!”

But he was the one who cleared the way that day. My brother and I, both in our early teens, lasted five minutes tops before he sent us in. I remember watching from the kitchen window as he dug in front of the vehicle one foot at a time, motioning the driver forward little by little until they could get to the street where a plough waited to clear the way.

That was my father: a burning coal against the power of ice and snow; a man who trusted his physicality and threw himself against the elements when someone was in need; a man who reveled in working to provide, who did not fear sweat or frigid cold or the need to do what had to be done.

Not too long after this l I started getting up at five am so I could serve breakfast and do dishes at that hospital across the road before school. It was my first real job. My Dad took me aside. He said, “This is up to you, but remember, you’ll be working for the rest of your life- don’t be too eager to get started.”   

I replied, “But I want this job, Dad.”

He nodded and smiled a little sadly. “Okay,” he said.

I get it now. He valued the ability to work, but he wanted me to have more time without that pressure. But I was my father’s daughter, and off to work I went. He was right of course- it was the beginning of a life of work. I love how he wanted me to know it was okay not to start so early, and how he acquiesced to my determined spirit.

For this and so much more- thanks Dad. I miss you. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

(Deep thanks to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for this beautiful photo of a cold dawn.)


  1. This story is so loving, what a good and extraordinary man. How lucky for you to have such a father.

    1. Thank you Jennifer- and yes, I know how lucky I was to have my Dad for a father.

  2. Sweet memories of your Dad, Oriah. He sounded like he was special to you and a wonderful man. Thank you for sharing him with us.