As a father, grandfather and son, Father’s Day has real meaning for me. This year it means more than ever.
Our three children are thriving, our two grandsons and I will fish together soon, our new granddaughter is 2 months old. And my 91-year-old father, Ezra Smith, is still alive and kicking.
Dad has gone to live in the Hospice Unit at the Togus Veterans Affairs facility, where a wonderful staff of professional caregivers and some amazing volunteers are making him comfortable and able to enjoy his remaining days. He has especially enjoyed getting out and fishing in the small pond on the Togus campus, a pond that is stocked with trout.
You may know Dad; lots of people do. Perhaps you remember his letters to the editor of this newspaper. A year ago, he wrote his “final letter.” I told Dianne at the KJ not to believe it. And sure enough, six months later, another letter.
Last week, I asked for some help finding something at Home Depot, and as we walked along, the employee asked, “How’s your dad?” It was James Martin, the taxidermist who did Dad’s big brook trout for him.
And that’s another story. Dad was fishing at Norcross Point on Maranacook Lake where small 8- to 10-inch brook trout were stocked. But he was fishing with a big casting rod and lure. Not long after friends told him his lure was too big, he caught a huge brook trout. Thanks to Martin, it’s now hanging on the wall of Dad’s Winthrop home.
Dad’s always been a bit of a contrarian. And a collector. A relative did a video of him, focused on his growing up years on a North Wayne farm. At the top of the hill leading down into North Wayne to the elementary school, Dad talked about getting on his sled at that spot and sliding all the way down to the school. Beside him was the sled. Yes, he still has it.
Later, he’s seen on the bike he rode to Kents Hill School. In fact, I remember Dad riding that bike to work at Wilson’s Dollar Stores in Winthrop. Seemed kind of embarrassing at the time. No one else’s parent rode a bike to work. Turns out Dad was just way ahead of the times. And yes, he still has that bike, too.
It’s been a real privilege and pleasure to sit with Dad in his room, decorated with his carvings and art, hear his stories and share our memories. One of my favorite stories involved his childhood task of going to the far pasture to bring the cow into the barn at night. He usually hopped on and rode the cow back to the barn.
One rather stormy night, the cow took off too fast for Dad to get on board. Halfway back to the barn, the cow was struck by lightning. If Dad had been aboard, you wouldn’t be reading this column, because there would have been no George.
My new book, “A Life Lived Outdoors,” contains lots of stories about Dad. His yard sales are famous, as is his penchant for going to the dump with an empty truck and bringing home a full load. And of course, it has stories about hunting and fishing with Dad; last year we hunted together for the 53rd year.
Dad had been looking forward to turkey hunting this spring, but his legs weren’t up to it, so we got into the Subaru and drove around the Windsor and Somerville area where we first hunted turkeys with our friend Harry Vanderweide.
When we got to the place where Dad shot his first turkey, we stopped and reminisced. As Harry drove up the road that day eight years ago, we spotted a big tom turkey in the strawberry field where we had permission to hunt. But he was close to the road, so we told Dad there was no way he could sneak up and shoot the turkey.
Dad insisted that we stop. He hopped out, loaded his shotgun, and somehow managed to sneak up on the tom, using a big tree as cover. When Dad got to the tree, he peaked around it, raised his gun and shot the turkey. I wish I had recorded the smile on his face as he walked back to the vehicle with the turkey.
As we sat in that spot a month ago, retelling this story, we looked across the road and spotted a flock of turkeys. Dad was really happy about that. “Well, they’re still here,” he said. And so too is Dad. And that will make this Father’s Day especially meaningful for me.