Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yosemite Memories

A few years ago, I took my son to visit my grandfather.

It was the first time my boy had met my mother's father. He was a fascinating man, a naturalist who had a real affinity for growing things. He owned a nursery and created a new kind of tree, the fruitless mulberry. He took me on my first camping trip in the place he loved the most in all the world: Yosemite National Park.

He loved Yosemite. It was the place he led countless troops of Boy Scouts in his decades as a Scoutmaster. An Eagle Scout himself, he lived to walk among the trees, and he married my stepgrandmother in their shadow in a small chapel within the park.

But disease and age robbed him first of his active life, and then of his mind. By the time I led my small boy into his nursing-home room, he was barely conscious of us. I don't think he recognized me, or the significance of meeting his only great-grandson, all of age six.

Or so I thought.

Papa Ivan died not long after, finally escaping the prison his body had become. Of course I didn't have the money to fly out there. So instead I coordinated a charity drive to raise money for the Yosemite Conservancy in his name. I figured rather than people buying overpriced flowers that would be thrown out in a week, they could help preserve the natural beauty he loved all his life.

We raised a few hundred dollars in a memorial fund, and I signed up to give them $5 a month ever since. It isn't much, but it's what I have. Yosemite is one of the truly wondrous places in this world, and my love of the outdoors began there.

It's been more than six years since Papa Ivan died. Tonight, my mother called me. It seems my stepgrandmother was cleaning out a closet and found an envelope. On it was written: "For Ian, the new Scout."

Inside was Papa Ivan's first Scout knife. It was his knife, the trusty blade that he carried from the time he first got a carry chip through all those trips to Yosemite. And he set it aside for his great-grandson, the little boy he barely remembered meeting.

I find myself moved nearly to tears. There is little enough that our family passes on to us - a book, a coat, the small things that become imbued with who and what we are. I am honored that he chose to leave it for my son, in the hopes that something of our past carries on through the next generation. It's the closest thing any of us will have to immortality - to live on in the memories of others.

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