Dad and I exchange the three best words in the world at the end of our telephone conversations on Sundays. “I love you.” “I love you.” My father, Everett Mietzner, is 90 now, so even before we hang up, whenever we end a call I sadly remember that this call might be the last one. I save his voicemail messages, his emails, and his letters. I see Dad at all the points on my compass.
When I was growing up, Dad worked and played hard. At times he stayed out late for a father of three. On mornings after such occasions, verbal cannonballs greeted his return. Mom’s rage blasted him out the door to the camper in the driveway.
Often I sneaked out of the house and found him in exile, waiting out the storm in the camper parked in front of 218 K Street in Quincy, Washington. He brought out his harmonica, played some tunes, and sang to me in our driveway moments. “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Just Because” were two of his favorites songs. To this day, Dad plays “Happy Birthday” on the harmonica, over the phone, for his grandchildren.
Uncle Johnny once told me, “I’ve never known anyone who enjoys life as much as your father.” Oh, yes, the good times. Dad greeted trades in lieu of cash on a real estate transactions the way a child welcomes visits from Santa Claus. This was especially the case if the thing given in trade promised pleasure: a Suzuki 305 motorcycle, a motorboat, and a horse.
Yes, Dad kept horses. I tagged along on foot when my older siblings competed in horse shows and rode in trail rides. Then one day, Dad took me to an auction of horses and cattle. He allowed me to pick out a horse of my own and name it.
More than the memories of riding Little Chief, it was the joy of having Dad’s attention focused solely on me that lingers after all these years. Dad became a land developer along the way. He turned 160 acres of sagebrush south of Quincy into a subdivision. Today the White Trail Tracts is a fully built-out development with beautiful homes on rolling hills. Back then, he lost the project to a lender and our better times turned into worse ones.
Dad maintained a positive attitude in our considerably reduced circumstances. “We still have our health. It’s only money,” he would say. Dad stayed in the feast or famine trade that is real estate saying, “I’m working on my second million. I lost the first.” Dad and Mom started over in mid-life working for others instead of themselves.
When I married, it was a feminist era. I planned to walk down the aisle on my own. I gave my devoted Dad the job of the reading of Proverbs 31, the passage that begins, “A noble woman, who can find?” At the wedding rehearsal, my mother grew agitated when she realized that I was breaking with tradition. “Kristine! Do you mean your father is not walking you down the aisle?”
Although I was 28, I didn’t have the courage to stand up to my mother or the good sense to listen to her advice. After a brief, awkward moment, Dad rescued me from Mom’s disapproving frown. “Yes, Marian. I’m doing the Bible reading!” He spoke up for me that day and he showed up in his own fashion when I needed him most.
After seventeen years, when my marriage was in its final days, Dad traveled three states to visit me. He drove up in his camper and parked in my driveway. His presence comforted me and greatly annoyed my departing husband.
When the day comes and the bad news arrives that I’ve had that last telephone call or visit with Dad, I’ll curse the universe for a short time. My world will go dark. Lines of W.H. Auden’s poem, “Funeral Blues” will come to mind. Stop the clocks, cut off the telephone… He was my North, my South, my East and West… My working week and my Sunday rest…
Dad has taught me about living life fully, taking risks, moving forward in difficult circumstances, and having a positive attitude. After a while, I’ll stop weeping. I’ll remember that Dad is with me every day. Part of him is part of me. He showed me that life is good and meant to be lived today. This piece was originally published by the Benicia Herald in 2010.