Daddy had to go home.
It creeped my sister out to feel him lurking in her wardrobe, so I took him in. Whenever I slid back the closet door, there he was, waiting. His mahogany box, shadowed by pant hems, nested among my Nikes and cowboy boots. Weird for me. Disrespectful to him.
Pam and I decided to take Daddy on his last road trip up the California coast over Christmas, his favorite time of year.
Our father had always been demanding – not in mean way, but in a spoiled, martyrish, guilt-inducing way. This didn’t change with his demise. He gave very specific instructions – with photos – about where he wanted his ashes scattered. Half were to be strewn on the bluffs overlooking a bay an hour north of San Francisco, the other, under the Golden Gate Bridge. We, ever-dutiful daughters were expected to fulfill his post-mortem dictate to the letter.
Pam and I took off in her P.T. Cruiser at dawn. We smacked into a heavy storm near Sacramento, but by mid-afternoon, grey skies cleared to teal, and we thrilled to a waltz of fat, showy clouds.
The trek was longer and curvier than anticipated. Rounding the final bend, a “Flooded – Road Closed” sign halted our progress. Guilt-sweat flushed our furrowed brows. Could we fulfill our filial obligation? Would we have to leave him close – but not exactly where he wanted? After a lot of sighing and swearing, we consulted a map (what a concept), found another route in, and by 4:30, we arrived at our first drop-off point.
The view from the cliffs was spectacular. Stormed-churned waves thrashed violently against the jagged rocks. We felt Daddy’s spirit in the salty air, but we still had to transport his essence onto the bluffs. Unfortunately, other people – a lot of other people, were also out enjoying the blustery afternoon.
This called for stealth. Hoisting Daddy out of his box, we slipped him into an empty Carl’s Jr. bag. How odd that a two hundred pound man could weigh so little. By cleverly disguising our father as fast food, we smuggled him onto the overlook undetected. Gale-force winds whipped around us. I found a spot with a stunning view, opened the bag, and cast him over the damp ground. I wore a simple black turtleneck for the occasion. A playful gust suddenly changed directions and, look at me! I ‘m wearing Daddy! Brushing myself off as best I could (sorry Dad), Pam and I descended to the picnic area. We asked two German guys gnawing KFC to take a picture of the three of us – me, Pam, and the bag. I know Daddy would have “gotten a kick” out of such irreverence.
A ftangerine glow bathed the hillside as we bade him goodbye and headed to the lodge. Our lack of sadness surprised us. We felt, in fact, joyful. Daddy was finally free - half of him, anyway. And so were we. He was at home in a place he adored. Two good daughters slept well that night.
The next morning, a cold, soupy fog swirled around the Cruiser as we crept down the coast. We arrived at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge at noon. The storm had kicked up an extraordinarily high surf. Waves slammed against the jetty, soaking joggers, tourists, and families who had come to gawk. Our father would have been right there with them. In fact, he was.
We discovered that a San Francisco highway patrolman guarded the spot Daddy had chosen. Something about dangerous surf conditions. We initiated Covert Operation Two. It’s actually against the law to scatter “cremains” less than one hundred feet from shore. Oh well.
We waited for a lull between waves and looky-loos, and made our move. Having practiced the day before, I released the “pater powder” with calm efficiency. Pam had my back. Mission accomplished, we strolled nonchalantly from the scene of the crime. Wow. Felony’s a rush. I think we got away clean, although a pudgy online skater flung a suspicious look at the empty Carl’s Jr. bag. Not seconds later, a behemoth wave thudded over the rocks and Daddy bodysurfed out to sea.
We took a photograph of his spot and ceremoniously disposed of the bag.
I don’t know if we’ll ever go back. It doesn’t really matter. Our father’s life (and death) is now complete. His daughters have fulfilled his final request, and he, at last, has fulfilled his lifelong dream – to retire in San Francisco.