My father turned eighty-five this March, making him the first person in his family to reach such an auspicious age. Most of his family, both my grandparents included, ended themselves early by smoking and then suffering through the inevitable consequences. Dad avoided all that, along with some of the other pitfalls of his generation. He enjoyed his career as an archaeologist without working himself to death. He ate right and exercised. He had a positive mental attitude for the most part. And modern medical science corrected those things he couldn't.
But if there's one thing he's burdened with at eighty-five, it's memory.
I know that sounds funny, but I think it's something which happens to all of us as we age. Invariably, we spend a lot of time comparing what is to what was, and often find the results disappointing. Currently, I'm touring Glacier National Park, Montana, with Dad. It's our first time here together since 2006 although Dad returns often on his own, as this is his "coming of age" place.
He first arrived here in 1945, during the last few months of World War II. A lot of the older boys he knew had left for combat, some had died. But the summer job he procured in Glacier that year was his chance to leave home too, although tending forest trails and taking park visitors on fishing trips was certainly more positive than what his older classmates experienced that year.
Now, as we're back here together, Dad has a compelling need to share his stories from that era, even though I've heard most of them a thousand times before. I know it's cathartic for him, the chance to put into perspective how this place and his experiences here moulded him into the 85-year-old now traveling the same valley and mountain passes so many years later. I feel very privileged to hear his stories again, to have a first-hand account about an age long removed from my own... and maybe to share a little of the melancholy that comes with them.
Related: See more images of Glacier National Park on my Tumblr page.