June 20, 2010

Thanks Dad; not a day goes by...

It was a wonderful day in Washington state. The early threat of showers had passed and the sun peaked through the breaking clouds streaming down like golden ribbons. The morning air warmed with the welcomed sunlight. Some of the neighborhood kids and I were anxious to take a hike around the 'point'. We lived on the Makah Indian reservation at the northwest tip of Washington. There was a listening post there and dad was an Air Force staff sergeant assigned to that base. This was one of many interesting places that we lived during dad's service, including Alaska and Biloxi Mississippi. Service brats have a different mindset sometimes due to the fact that you are moving every two or three years. You tend to look at friendships as special but fleeting. You know that you're not going to see most of these people ever again in a short while. Nevertheless, I made some special friends including Robert and Trey, two Indian kids I had met at school. No they weren't 'Native-Americans', no one worried about political correctness in those days. They were just Americans of Indian heritage. They were very proud of their heritage and we always enjoyed the festivals they had celebrating such. Robert and Trey were set to join us today as well as a few service kids from the base housing area we lived in. Dad was a military man and when he wasn't working on the base he worked around the house. He kept his time organized with lists of things to do, daily or weekly. The lists were ongoing and flexible. He was always good for a short wrestling match or some catch, but something like todays hike would have to go on the list. We were proud to make the list and looked forward to this time with him. We made our way to the point and began the rugged portion of the hike. The village of Neah Bay was only about 5 miles from the point but it was a days worth of hiking to make the point and back. Much of the area was part of the national forest and the coastline was very rugged around the point of Cape Flattery. This was the most northwestern spot in the continental United States. The rain forest gave way to sharp rocky cliffs overlooking the beach below or in some cases straight down to the ocean. The ocean was a little rough in this area and the waves were large enough to provide a constant roar in the distance when you were anywhere near it. One could actually hike around the tip that turned from the Pacific Ocean into the Strait of Juan de Fuca between the U. S. and Canada. In some areas the misty spray from the violent clash between ocean and rock would caress your face with welcome coolness. It was an awesome place to be, staring at the endless Pacific to your left, Canada to your north and the mouth of the Straight to your right. Tatoosh Island was about a half mile out to the WNW, its rugged coastline bombarded by the ocean waves. We would always stray off of the Cape Trail and forge our own way along the rocky crest. On this day we were like a little scout troop with dad leading the way and this ragtag bunch of kids following along giddy with excitement at the adventure ahead. Suddenly we came to an area where the trail we were on went along a rock shelf. The ground rose sharply to the right and to go around this area one would have to backtrack and go up the hill and around. Some spots were very tight with a sharp cliff to the left. There were scraggy trees clinging to rocks, roots spread out seeking any crevice to anchor the desperate timber to uneven landscape. These were comforting and provided some hand holds as well as a bit of a barrier between the traveler and the steep fall to the loud ocean below. Dad stopped and began to reconnoiter our situation with the intensity typical of a military mind. After several minutes of silence he turned to this band of small boys, none over 12 years of age, full of vim and vinegar and soaking in the day, and made a stunning announcement. "The trail ahead is very treacherous. We are going to have to be very careful. I think that we need a leader to take us through this area. You boys need to elect that leader." After a few seconds to recover from our surprise, Robert offered the obvious answer. "We think you should lead us Mr. Rodebush." Dad was not cooperative however. "No. Not this time. It needs to be one of you. Ya'll talk it over for a few minutes and let me know what you decide." With this he simply walked away several feet back to a vantage point and began staring out at the ocean, disinterested in the process. Slowly we boys began to talk and it really wasn't that tough of a decision. Trey was the oldest and more importantly the toughest one amongst us. This indeed was one of the reasons we had become friends. As a military kid the prejudice I experienced was civilian prejudice to military brats. It was quickly my strategy to befriend a tough local kid to help protect me from the taunting at school. Trey was my protector here and I and others were happy to have him lead us. We informed dad of our decision and he nodded in approval. "Okay." dad stated, "Everyone do exactly what Trey tells you. I'll be the rear guard." With much pride Trey began telling us all to follow him slowly and watch our step. Everyone be ready to help the one in front or behind if needed." With that the trepidacious band of disparate fellows quietly headed down the thin rugged trail. We stayed close but allowed some separation to prevent tripping over each other. The silence occasionally broken by a warning from Trey. "Look out for those rocks, they're loose." These warnings were quietly passed from child to child and finally to dad who would feign surprise. "Oh thanks." he would say. The ocean below seemed deafening at this point. There was no beach below and the cliff went straight to the water. White foam churned in the water close to the coast from the crashing waves. Moisture oozed from the rocks in many places making the trail slick. We were all being very careful and slowly made our way along the inclined trail. Finally the trail leveled out and the rocks to the right began to fade inland giving breathing room. A grassy area ahead was the perfect place to stop and reflect on the accomplishment. Handshakes all around for Trey who beamed with pride. But it wasn't just Trey. All of us boys shared this triumphant moment with him. We had conquered the trail! And most importantly we had done it on our own, without the help of an adult. For young boys just about to enter the teen years this was priceless freedom! Dad sat down on a rock after congratulating Trey. "You all did a great job." he said. " Always remember, that you must always be prepared to be a leader or a follower. Both are just as important in life. The best leader is one who also knows how to follow when it's needed." In hindsight, the trail in question was probably not that treacherous. Dad certainly would have never put us in any real danger. But that didn't matter. It was bad enough that we would have never guessed that he would want one of us take the lead. At that age none of us expected that from an adult. Trey and Robert came from very poor yet proud families living on a reservation. Having left shortly after that summer of 1969 I never really knew what became of them. I did notice a sense of pride and confidence in them both that I had not before. I don't think it's a stretch to say that every boy on the hike was affected that day in a very positive way. The American male longs for individuality and a sense of pride in oneself. These qualities are carried through our lives and help define who we become. I have been up and down throughout my life as most people have. But one thing has been constant, and that is the unwavering sense that I can do whatever I put my mind to. That day went a long way in reinforcing that mindset. I'm sure it did for my friends as well. Thank you, Dad. This is what being a dad is all about. Teaching positive lessons that make ones life better and more successful. Sometimes we don't understand what our fathers do, but many years later we realize how important they were to who we have become.

by: Keith D. Rodebush in honor of Loren C. Rodebush

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