A formal funeral service did NOT feel right, at all. It just didn’t seem like Dad. He did love his traditions, but was far from traditional himself. He would have chuckled at calling it a “Celebration of Life,” but taking the memorial in that direction made more sense. So we settled on a good old backyard barbecue, just like Dad hosted so many times before. We wanted it to be about Dad, so we filtered all of our decisions through: what would he like?
We asked my Uncle (and Godfather) Frank to be our “officiant” of sorts. To lead us in songs, stories and through the program. The whole evening was just three activities: the program (a few songs performed by my aunts and sharing stories), dinner, and a self-guided walking tour.
Yes, I said a self-guided walking tour. You see, 22 years ago my parents bought a piece of land that would become our home. It was nothing but a field that butted up against a creek. The property was developed in phases. First, a road, lined with baby cottonwood trees. Next, a shop, partially used as a home while construction of the house began. A garden was planted, pastures fenced for future horses, and two little kids given the opportunity to grow up on a farm.
Dad had a lot to be proud of, especially having done so much of the work on the property with his own two hands. Whenever someone would visit the Slutz Ranch for the first time they were almost always in for a tour. So for the memorial service, we wanted to recreate that experience. We picked out ten of Dad’s favorite stops on the tour, provided the background story of what made it special, and included a map in the program for each guest. Before the program started and after dinner, guests would make their way around each stop and take it all in.
Chic wanted the stair railing to match the walnut floor in the entry and was disappointed to find that only laminated railing material was available. His vision was for a solid piece of wood with no seams, and he was determined to make it happen. He found a source in the Midwest and ordered the lengths of raw walnut he needed. One afternoon, a semi showed up and dropped what looked like three very long and uneven railroad ties on the driveway. Chic worked with a trim shop to develop the desired shape, then slowly and carefully trimmed the 6×6 boards into the size needed for milling. The result speaks for itself.
Chic grew up with a snooker table, which is larger than a pool table and has smaller pockets. If you’re good at snooker, you’ll be a safe bet in a pool game. He always had a goal of finding one and an ad showed up in the Thrifty Nickel about the time the house was finishing up. The table had been in a pool hall in Twin Falls for many years, then acquired by a local family when the bar closed. They used it for a few years, then put it in storage, disassembled, when they downsized. They had had no luck in selling a snooker table kit, until Chic saw the ad. They ended up bringing all the parts up and spending a weekend re-assembling the table in the game room. Chic ordered new felt for the top and the games began.
After a few years of being fussed at for the mess associated with bringing firewood indoors, Chic incorporated a more efficient means of keeping wood handy for the fireplace. Not only was the wood stove set up with a fan and designed to circulate warm air upstairs, the wood was right next door to it, literally. The wood box opens into the living room and also out onto the back porch, so it can be loaded about once a week (child labor is best) and be transferred to the fireplace with a minimum of cleanup required. He even added a ramp to the back porch for the wood cart, so the kids could get a cart full at a time. The fireplace is finished in granite, which set the color scheme for the house – Chic described it as like looking down into a stream.
When Chic moved to Boise for Hewlett Packard in 1978, a weekly poker game started that shifted to monthly and continues today. The ‘poker guys’ have ebbed and flowed as people moved, but most months there is a quorum and the game is on. Word to the wise – these guys are typically engineers with impressive math skills and have crafted a full menu of wild card and high/low games, so it’s best to watch your bet sizing, lest you get in too deep. Most of the time, Chic was in the money, and always counted on his winnings to fund his excessive 4th of July fireworks program.
For Chic, having a garden was always a required project of the summer, and it was as big as there was sunshine on the ground. When the original raised bed area became too shaded, he moved out by the fruit trees and then added the front garden to really spread out. Crops included zucchini, corn, green beans, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, cantaloupe, watermelon, pumpkins, gourds, apples, peaches, apricots, and cherries. Extra produce was shared, especially pumpkins for eating, decorating, and carving – one year there was a trailer full taken to the Food Bank and parked for kids to hunt through. For Patricia, he always planted a row of zinnias and this year was no exception.
Chic delighted in variety when it came to trees and selected species to plant without regard for their preferred habitat conditions. The backyard is home to grand fir, pines, spruce, western larch, and dawn redwood. One of his favorite trees was the giant redwood that went from 3 feet to 30 some in about 15 years, and he grieved mightily last year when the tree succumbed to the harsh 20 below winter. His last addition was a western red cedar from a trip to Washington. He enjoyed letting the cones and needles accumulate so it felt and smelled like a forest in case we wanted a quick camping trip.
After buying the property, the first step was to build the road (which requires owning your own dump truck, according to Chic) and then the shop. Chic opted for a steel building, engineered for a Category 5 hurricane, which has held up well over the years. The only damage to the structure has come from user error, often involving the tractor. Family and friends helped pour the concrete floor and put on the roof and siding and build an interior wall of shelves. Lots of planning went into the shop design to provide supplemental living space as well as furniture and storage until the house was built. In combination with a 32’ travel trailer, the shop provided a comfortable home. The shop then saw an epic Halloween party, multiple group events, as well as a wide variety of projects large and small. If you need a part, piece, or patch, chances are it’s in the shop.
With the move to Middleton, Chic needed a tractor to develop the acreage. There was one on the farm in TX, in three main parts, that might do the trick, so he went down to fix it up. After a lot of time at the local John Deere dealer, he had a tractor that ran, an upsized loader bucket, and a new seat. In the meantime, he and a friend built a flatbed trailer stout enough to haul the tractor back to Idaho. The Suburban was only a few years old at the time and had a towing package, so there should be no problem hauling a 12,000 pound tractor, right? Right. We made it home and then replaced the transmission. The tractor has been integral to living out here, and the whole family operates it. In Middleton, there was even a drive your tractor to school day and we got to participate. The loader bucket has been a snow plow, a road grader, a trash hauler and a platform for reaching high branches with the chainsaw. Don’t ask.
With property in the country, there are unique options for entertainment, and Chic enjoyed shooting stuff. Beginning with the kids, Chic introduced many people to target shooting, including a team of visiting engineers from China who had never handled firearms before. He and Ben especially enjoyed challenging each other and Chic bragged often about Ben’s accuracy. The Texas Pasture (so named for the buffalo grass added to the seed mix) has been set up with a couple of his favorite guns and targets, and you’re welcome to squeeze off a few rounds – the steel hen on the far post was his favorite shot. At about 100 yards, it became a permanent installation after Ben pierced a soda can on that post with a WW2 era 30-06 rifle. In addition to target shooting, Chic waged war on local varmints and looked forward to the opening day of dove season, when he would step outside and come back in with dinner.
Chic was so proud when Sarah won the Eh Capa Queen title, he decided she needed a better looking horse trailer. He meticulously sandblasted and painted, then got a new trim package so it was ready for decals. The process took weeks, but he persisted and it has held up ever since – with extensive travels through Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, British Columbia, and Ohio. Sarah’s Queen year coincided with Eh Capa 50 Year Anniversary, and Chic decided that needed to be properly documented. With a small team of dedicated club members who helped with research and design, a pallet of paper donated by HP, along with commercial printer resources and a local book binder, the result was a comprehensive scrapbook history of the club. He was very proud of the effort and the results, Sarah is featured in year 2006.
We had some family come into town on Friday and the extra hands to help get everything finished was wonderful. My beautiful friend Lauren flew in and stayed with us the entire week, helping to run errands, finish projects, lighten the load and make our event even more special. The whole week had really felt pretty good. We’d stayed busy, had our to-do lists and stayed focused. It was on Saturday, just a couple hours before guests were to begin arriving, that I had a moment of overwhelm. It started to hit me what we were doing all this work for. And I began anticipating all of the conversations I’d have to have and questions I’d have to answer. Anxiety kicked in, so I went to Mom. We sat together, with Lucy, and talked about it. We acknowledged the feelings of overwhelm. We shared out loud how we were feeling. We refocused on what this event was really for. And that was what I needed to get recentered. I took some more time alone to get myself ready (this hair doesn’t curl itself) and headed downstairs to meet our guests.
I mentioned a portion of the evening was dedicated to sharing stories. This will forever be my favorite part of the event. I learned things about my father I never would have known if not for the platform we provided that night. The impact he had on others. The ways he supported them. How he showed up. I’m grateful we have every minute recorded. In the planning phases we decided to video the event, from the walking tour to the stories. We wanted the friends and family who weren’t able to attend to not miss a moment, and of course for us to look back on. I couldn’t bear to watch it now, but I know in the future these will be part of the stories I hang on to forever.
And of course we had to serve barbecue. Dad’s Texas roots had his taste for the grill rather specific, and there was one (of only a few) restaurant chains that met his standards so we chose Dickey’s BBQ to cater a full meal while the family threw in a couple more sides. It was all incredibly delicious, although it took most of the night for my appetite to show up. I was preoccupied catching up with people. There were so many I hadn’t seen in years, and they all had a connection with Dad to share. I did everything I could to soak it all in. While everyone was finishing up with dinner, you could hear so much laughter and talking and see all the little kids running around. The whole backyard just sounded happy.
Exactly how Dad would have wanted it.
If you’re wondering, my mom did ask Dad if he had anything in mind for this event, as well as if he had a preference over cremation or burial. His answer? “Those things are for you dear, I’ll be dead.”
We opted for cremation and throwing one heck of a party. We haven’t decided yet how we’ll scatter Dad’s ashes at the house, we just know we’ll do it there. Half of them, that is. The other half now reside in Texas. I’ll be getting to that…
Saturday ended with a bonfire, smores, and more beers. Sunday, we woke up and got the visiting family on the road home. Ben and Meredith also set out on their drive back to Eugene, which left Mom and I (and Lucy) on our own.
My mother and I have always been close, as have my father and I. I’ve recognized for years how special it is that I’ve had genuine friendships with both of my parents and, let me tell you, in their own ways they are each incredible human beings. And together, they demonstrated what true partnership looks like.
My mom is one of my best friends, and this whole experience would have been a lot harder without having her around. I truly am half and half – half my mom and half my dad – so given that we’re pretty similar it’s always been easy for her and I to get along. On this Sunday, like we’d been doing all along, we followed our emotions to what felt right and after dropping off some family at the airport, that was some good ol’ fashioned retail therapy. Once home, we settled in with some leftover pizza and watched a movie.
The whole next week was another big blessing. We again, could take our time. Each day had a small list of priority items that we meandered our way through. This infused lots of time to go in whatever direction felt good. Shopping, TV watching, puttering around outside, tiptoeing back into work, eating up leftovers, making phone calls, sorting paperwork, and overall just laying low.
Lucy and I had moved back in with my parents right before Dad was admitted into the hospital. Mom and I had already agreed that I’d stay with her after Dad passed for as long as we felt we needed, for me just as much as for her. But I think we were able to accomplish a lot in those first two weeks. A lot of processing, grieving, and healing. I know we’re far from finished but by the end of week two we were feeling a semblance of balance and itching for some routine and normalcy.
Ben has extended time off from work and also made the same offer to stay with Mom, and I’m so grateful. The time he has is a real gift he can give to her, especially in these coming months when we don’t fully know what to expect. I’ll be getting back to work full time so it worked out so wonderfully that he’ll be able to be there, unhindered, for as long as they both need.
So as week two wrapped up, I packed up to move back home. On Thursday, I dropped Lucy off with her Godparents (her last foster home) and Friday morning we made the flight down to Dad’s hometown of Vega, Texas for our second memorial service.