I woke up last Monday missing my dad terribly.
On Sunday, a patroller-friend had turned me onto a bluegrass cover of one of my favorite songs, “Such Great Heights.” I listened to it over and over when I got home. Steve laughed as I danced around the room during the first playing or two, but his eyes started to glaze over when I asked him to listen closely to the banjo solo in the middle. I played the song for a few friends, too—they listened politely, then nodded and smiled when it was over.
See, my dad played the banjo. I grew up with him playing songs like “Has Anybody Seen My Gal,” ad libbing the words to make it about me: “Amy Sue; eyes of blue; could she, could she, could she coo.” Since he died in 2012, the banjo has sat on a shelf in my mom’s home in Florida. One day, I’d like to learn to play it. For now, it feels better that it’s there, as if some part of my brain thinks he’ll want to come back to play it.
Which brings me to Monday morning. As Steve and I collected our ski socks and radios and lunches to get ready to head to Gore that day, I wanted desperately to call my dad and play that song for him, turning up the volume on the banjo solo. I could practically hear him exclaim, “Wow!” and then start trying to figure out the chords on his own banjo. The fact that no one else in my life shared my enthusiasm underscored a wonderful and terrible fact: There will never again be anyone on this earth like my dad.
When we arrived at Gore, the song was still in my head. I made my first turns of the day to its rhythm, and I heard that banjo solo as we worked our way to the mountain’s summit. It had rained and sleeted the night before in Saratoga Springs, but on the mountain, it was a powder day. We helped to open Lies, one of Gore’s premier steeps, and got to make fresh tracks on its headwall with a layer of light, fluffy snow beneath us.
It was a gorgeous, perfect powder day—exactly the kind of day my dad, one of the best skiers I’ve ever known, would have loved.
I rode up the lift alone after that first run, still giggling and breathless from the glee of it all. I sighed happily, and was struck suddenly by the strong feeling that my dad was sitting on the lift next to me, smiling and exuding the same peaceful joy he did on the countless lift rides we enjoyed together while he was alive. I didn’t say anything, but just basked in his glow, afraid that if I moved or made a noise, I’d break the spell and he’d be gone.
Nothing broke the spell that day. I felt my dad’s presence with every turn, and as a result, felt an extra boost of calm and confidence: I picked better lines and turned more gracefully, as if I actually WAS him skiing.
Of course, this feeling made my heart ache with loss. But it also made my heart swell with the silent knowledge that as long as I’m here, and as long as I’m doing the things that brought us both joy while my dad was alive, he’s not really gone after all.