I came to Great Falls, Montana, this week to share in the scattering of my Dad's ashes to the winds of a land he loved mightily. My stepmother brought Dad from Florida, and my brother and sister-in-law came from their home in Maine. It has been a good trip.
Today was the first anniversary of Dad's death. Although Dad did not believe in deities or an afterlife, I firmly believe that he oversaw and took part in the events of the day. I know he approved. We initially planned on taking Dad down the Missouri River to Fort Benton, as he had once taken my brother there on a hunting trip. We figured we would find someplace along the river to say good-bye but did not have any particular place in mind. If Fort Benton failed, further downriver was Loma, witha gravel road leading to the river. We figured that we could find someplace private since for all we knew (and we certainly weren't going to ask) scattering ashes just anywhere violates some sort of law.
Yesterday, we went to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center along the river here in Great Falls. My stepmother had been there before and didn't want to go through it with us. She passed the time talking with a volunteer who gave her a cheap-looking, black-and-white flyer with a map showing how to get to the dam that now sits at the true "great falls" of the Missouri River. Since my brother and I had wanted to show this to my sister-in-law, and I wanted to get a photo for someone who seemed incredulous that there were "great falls" on a prairie river, we thought this was great. It was on the way to Fort Benton, too, so how lucky.
So this morning we headed out to Fort Benton with a side trip planned to the falls. I got the photo I wanted. Leaving the dam, my brother announced the need to visit an outhouse we'd seen at a trailhead we passed. As we each visited the outhouse, the others looked at the trail board. The trail ran pretty much right along the north bank of the Missouri, and one of the sites (sights) mentioned was the Box Elder Creek Overlook. I remembered Box Elder as someplace I'd heard Dad mention when I was a child. We all looked at each other and decided this was a sign. We started down the trail. See the spit of land out into the river on the right side? We figured that was where Box Elder Creek entered the river, and we were right.
When we got across from Box Elder Creek, we only had to go a few yards off the trail to set things up. Along with Dad, we'd brought four chocolate chip cookies, one for each of us, with part of each to be scattered with Dad. Dad loved chocolate chip cookies, and we could think of no better way to toast his release. I also brought my new netbook, with Frank Sinatra loaded into iTunes. I had my Mac with me when Dad was in the hospice a year ago, and set Sinatra on shuffle to pass the days. Even after he was seemingly unconscious, Dad would smile when Sinatra sang "My Way." Needless to say, that's what I set to playing as we got Dad out. We each took a turn throwing a handful of Dad to the winds, letting my stepmother do most of the tossing. As you can see, the winds were quite cooperative.
I think Dad likes the place we chose, overlooking Box Elder Creek. Walking back to the trail from bidding Dad farewell, we decided to continue a bit further along the trail. Not ten yards down the trail, a bit of litter caught my eye. While chocolate chip cookies were a love of Dad earlier in life, in his later years his lunch, virtually every day, was a Veggie Delight or turkey sandwich from Subway. The litter that caught my eye was a Subway napkin, which I take as a sign of Dad's approval of his final resting place. You can say it's just a coincidence and I might even say that myself later, but for today, I'm thinking that it was Dad smiling at us. Yep, even if that means he was wrong about the whole deity and afterlife thing, I'm going with that he was smiling.