September 17th 1983
As the American Indians say, many moons ago (some thirty years ago to be exact) two people met. Beneath the mouth of a canyon named after a creek and a fowl consumed for Thanksgiving. Terrill Dean and Laurie Ellen. Was it love at first sight? Perhaps a little—they sure didn’t date for very long—but then again it was the eighties.
She didn’t say yes at first.
She said she’d have to sleep on it.
How a man could stare a comment like that in the face and not lose heart is beyond me. But he did. He faced the tempestuous response from her lungs and didn’t waver. Eventually she came around. Perhaps it was his conviction that made her say yes, but how she got over those ugly facial features I’ll never know. Then to be honest, I’m not really sure what happened after that. They got married beneath a mountain named for it’s number of sisters. Three to be exact. But I have very little recollection of what happened after that. Perhaps it’s because I was not yet even a fetus.
But soon I grew inside, firstborn and reckless. Then they had two more. A girl and then a boy.
The girl was okay.
One time she bit my back and drew blood and to this day I’m still quite scared of whatever mythical vampirecal teeth she might possess beneath those seemingly innocent lips.
The boy was not so good either as he continues to receive the award for world’s most good intentioned, kind, and smiley human being ever. Next to him, I’m practically a child rapist.
But they raised us, the three of us, all of us, in the best possible way. Giving us the sort of childhood that seems rare as you get older, setting the bar so high we’d need a lunar rover to reach it.
They moved from Morrison to Conifer to finally settling in Bailey, Colorado, a small mountain town in the foothills outside of Denver. A town so small it didn’t deserve a dot on most maps. My mother planted a beautiful garden in our front yard. She planted aspen trees and pine trees. It was beautiful for the way in which it held up against the harsh mountain climate. My dad literally chopped down trees in the forest and built a deck around our house, stripping them of bark with a silver blade you held with wooden handles between your hands. Sometimes they made me help them plant trees or peel bark to which I begrudgingly did. I was a teenager and I wanted to skateboard and watch T.V. and music videos, not move rocks around the garden and peel an entire tree of its bark. But I did, and now I will make my kids move rocks around for no reason and peel entire pine trees.
My parents gave us the best thing a parent could give to their kids—a wonderful marriage. Not a perfect marriage, but a wonderful one, leaving us no better example to follow. It was rare that I ever heard my dad raise his voice to my mom, or my mom lose her temper with him. I’m sure they did. But they worked it out. Hell, they were so good at marriage they started marriage counseling other people.
My dad took me on a backpacking trip when I was in the eighth grade. It was part of a coming of age ceremony my dad wanted to hold for me to celebrate my journey from adolescence to adulthood. One night he invited a bunch of older, distinguished men from my life (uncles, youth pastors, friends, and such) to share with me their life experience and offer a gift containing some symbolic element. Example: my youth pastor gave me a piece old climbing equipment known as a piton, which functioned essentially as an anchor back in the olden days. He then went on to talk about how important it was to know what you anchor yourself to in life. It might sound weird to the modern ear as people don’t really do that thing anymore but it was nothing of the sort. My Dad and I spent an entire week backpacking around the beautiful Tetons. On the last day of our trip we returned to Jackson Hole and rented a motel room before our drive back to Colorado. My dad took me to the video rental store (sorry if this concept doesn’t make sense to you droids in the future) and let me rent Gladiator. It was a big deal. I had wanted to watch Gladiator for years, or so it seemed, but couldn’t because it was rated R and had lots of violence in it. The renting of Gladiator, more than the advice and backpacking, made the trip really seem as if I had come of age. I mean backpacking is cool and all, but rated R movies? Awesome.
My mom used to throw the best birthday parties for me. She’d ask what I wanted to do for my birthday and I’d tell her. It usually involved some crackpot treasure hunt or cowboy and Indians theme. But on the day of my birthday she’d stand there, handing all of us rabid boys a treasure map with which to find trinkets buried around our yard. One time in high school she almost bought me cigars at the gas station when I stared up at her with those puppy dog eyes of mine. I almost had her under my spell when suddenly she broke and said, “What am I even thinking about? I can’t buy my son cigars!” It was funny mostly because it was a trick you could never even think about pulling with my father.
I’ve been married a year now. To think about what it means to be married for thirty years is incomprehensible. It’s unbelievable. The number of hurdles faced, the joys shared, the tears collected, the road trips to the Tetons and road trips to the hospital. Raising three kids who are just now barely out of the house. Setting aside everything for them. Making sure they knew they were loved no matter what career path they took. Even if they skateboarded and snowboarded instead of playing high school football.
I hope now I am old enough to ask them for advice. To ask them questions I’ve never asked before, about what those first few years of marriage were like when I was still unborn. About their favorite memories together. How they can still sleep in the same bed without losing their minds or stabbing each other with forks.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever be as good of a parent as they were to me, I can barely take care of myself. But they’ve given me a pretty good starting point.