I became a star cross country runner in high school. I was state champion my junior and senior year and I owe all that to my dad. He gave me a passion to run and the work we did running and the lessons he taught made me the runner I am. I once remember asking him why he always started downhill. Wouldn’t it be easier to go up to Big Culver a half mile and go around the peak or something so that you end going downhill to Little Culver instead of finishing every run with a half mile uphill? He told me his runs are a lot like life. The flat roads of life are easy son, and the downhills are even easier. You can coast along and everything is alright. Your marriage is good, your kids are healthy, your successful at your job, your faith is strong. But what happens when you hit the uphill. When life gets tough. When your marriage is struggling, when your kids are sick, when you lose your job, when your faith starts to waver. That’s when you find out what kind of person you are. Are you going to quit? Are you going to walk away from your wife, your kids? Are you going to get angry and think everyone is out to get you? Are you going to yell at God and tell him you don’t need Him anymore? Or are you going to push on, are you going to persevere? You know that even if you feel like stopping and you feel like quitting that if you keep on going that you will get through it, you will make it to the top. Tough times don’t last son. Tough people do.
I can hear his voice telling me that right now. I take a deep breath and stare out the window, blinking a million times a minute to keep the tears from coming.
I remember it was my thirteenth birthday the first time I made it up the half-mile hill without stopping.
More memories flashback as I remember the days of my youth. I remember the friends I haven’t talked to in years. I remember my high school sweetheart. I remember my mom’s kindness to everyone who came into the diner. I remember my dad’s hard work. I remember the day I told my parents I was choosing to go to The Ohio State University instead of The University of Colorado. They were heartbroken but they knew I needed to get away.
I remember the last time I ran with my dad before I took the plane east. We didn’t say a word, just ran in rhythmic breathing. He had slowed down as he became older and I had become remarkably fast but we stayed together.
Sometimes more is said in silence than words could ever say.
The pilot comes on asking us to buckle up as we start our descent into Denver. The Rocky Mountains come into view and my heart skips a beat. It’s been a long time, too long. We land and I pick up my rental car and drive the hour plus home to Little Culver.
It’s July 19th, so there isn’t much traffic. I approach the Culver Pass Tunnel and a million emotions sweep over me. It doesn’t seem as big as it did when I was ten years old and they have added more lights to it, but I can still see it as I did all those years ago. I come out and head uphill to Little Culver. I pull into our driveway and have to sit in the car for a minute. What’s going to happen to mom now? Will she stay here by herself? Will she come back to Ohio with my family? A thousand things I had not even thought of before now. I was numb and in shock, I believe.
I thought he would live forever.
I walk into my childhood home and give my mom a hug. It’s funny how everything seems big when you are little. Everything seems so small now. Our front door, my bedroom, our living room, our one street town even seems smaller. My mom even seems smaller. So much more fragile than I remember. She holds on to me longer than I thought she would, she has always been so strong. I don’t let go. She pats me on the back, signaling it was time and grabs my cheeks and looks me in the eye and tells me we better get to business.
It was a long, sad day. We made all the arrangements, had hundreds of well wishers offering us their condolences. My dad touched more people by the way he lived than I ever knew. At his funeral, there was a line that went out farther than our little funeral home could hold.
I knew I had to go for a run before I left. I had to get the stress and the emotions out of me. I just needed to get out by myself. To run, to be free. I laced up my shoes and ran down the hill like we always did. I hit the Culver Pass Tunnel in full stride. It felt good to feel the Colorado air in my lungs again. I was in the tunnel and the emotions overtook me. I sprinted as fast as I could and when I came out of the tunnel I broke down. I fell to my knees as tears streamed down my face. I yelled at no one in particular. I hit the ground with my fists.
I knew I would never run through that tunnel with my dad again.
I gathered myself together and started to run again. I looked out at the beauty God had made and remember my dad telling me to always stop and look at the beauty around you. Life will get busy but don’t forget what really matters in this life. I’m sorry dad for not coming home more often. I’m sorry for not calling more. I’m sorry for….but then I remembered dad telling me that life goes on no matter what happens to you. Respond with kindness, react slowly, forgive always, and always, always be a man that keeps his word, a man of integrity and character.
I turn around and head back home. I run through the tunnel and hit the hill with a smile on my face. I am heading up the hill, feeling strong. I think I might just go all the way to Big Culver. A slight breeze blows to my right and I look over and I swear for just a second I see my dad running right alongside me. I’ll make it through this struggle It’ll be all right. Life goes on but a part of me will never be the same. A part of him will always be in me. I make it up to Little Culver and stop. Thankful for this town, thankful for my mom and thankful for my dad, all who made me who I am today. Sometimes it takes a loss of a loved one to remember that we are alive and that we will be okay.
I thought my dad would live forever and he will, a part of him will always be in me, in my children, in their children, always.
Little Culver, Colorado. That’s where I am from. It’s a Mayberry type of town, one main street, two lights, the old school that was there before they built the new one in Big Culver, that’s now a bed and breakfast, a small cafe that my parents own and one gas station. We are exactly a half mile from Big Culver, which is exactly one mile high from the rest of the world. We are approximately one hour and twenty minutes from Denver. At least we are now, but we weren’t always. It used to take almost four hours until in 1970, the year I was born, Culver Pass Tunnel was made. They blew up part of the mountain and made a tunnel that was a smidge over a quarter mile long. By doing that, the trip to Denver became a lot less time-consuming.
We are on the west side of Culver Peak. The first major peak as you enter the Rocky Mountains from the plains. If you go east from Little Culver and go up the mountain to Big Culver, you will find the best world-class ski resort in Colorado. I believe that is why they made Culver Pass Tunnel. No one is going to drive four hours from Denver to get to it when they have so many other options. But now, book your reservations early because, during ski season, there will be no rooms available. If you go up the rest of the mountain east of Big Culver and cross over the peak, you would swear you could see Ohio. My dad once told me when he and mom were missing me, they would go up there and pretend Ohio wasn’t so far away. Once you get down from Culver Peak, it is almost all flat lands as far as you can see.
I moved away when I was eighteen to go to college to go to The Ohio State University. I am now forty-eight years old and this will be my fifth time back in the last thirty years. Life gets busy, school, job, wife, children, finances, etc. I can make a million excuses but if I really wanted to go back, I could have found a way.
Why do I find a need to write all this down and tell you? I don’t know. I think I am trying to get my mind right, get my thoughts out. I’m on Southwest Airlines flight 447 from Columbus, Ohio, where I currently reside with my wife and four daughters, to Denver Colorado. I stare out the window, thirty-five thousand feet above the ground but my mind is a million miles from this world.
Last night I got the call from my mom, dad had passed.
The only thing I could think to say was I thought he would live forever.
In about five minutes, what I am writing now will be in the future as we cross the central time zone. Another hour from that and the rest of what I write will be in the future as I keep losing time. I wish life was like that and I could go back a few hours, a few days, a few months to see my dad one more time but time, and life, doesn’t work like that.
My dad is, was a truck driver. Mostly he would drive from Denver to Kansas City and back. Sometimes he would go from Denver to Salt Lake City Utah. Usually out and backs so he was home often. My mom is the best cook in the world. She owns the Little Culver Diner. It seemed like almost everyone from Big Culver would come down the mountain to order my mom’s famous home-cooked meals. On days when my dad was gone, I would help mom set up the diner in the mornings, she would make me a ham and cheese omelet and then I would catch the bus up to Big Culver to go to school. After school, the bus would take me back home and I would help mom out in the diner as well. I believe I am a fine cook myself but I do not compare to my mom. On days when my dad was home, he was an avid runner. He said it helped clear his mind and free his soul.
I remember the first time he let me go down from Little Culver to the Culver Pass Tunnel. I was ten years old and my dad let me ride my bike with him. For a ten-year-old to look down a half mile road that was all downhill and curves, it was quite intimidating. I rode the brakes all the way down, I think I used all the rubber off the brakes that day. My dad was patient with me. We finally arrived at the pass and it was scary as well. Imagine a quarter mile tunnel that had very few lights. Parts of it, I could not see my dad ten feet in front of me. He wanted me to ride in front so he could watch me but I was having no part of that. After we appeared on the other side of the tunnel, I was awestruck from the view. Amazingly, the road was mostly flat but to either side of us, it looked like you could fall off the face of the earth. We would go anywhere from one and a half miles to three and a half miles before we would turn around and head back home. I had to walk my bike up the half mile back home.
As I grew and got older, I started to run with him. I ran on days when he wasn’t home so I could get stronger and faster and he wouldn’t have to slow down and wait on me. There were days when he wanted to run by himself and I was heartbroken. I didn’t understand the need for him to be alone. Of course, now that I am older and a parent, I totally understand. Days when I run are the only time of the day I am alone with just me and my thoughts. Running is my sanity. Looking back, I am actually surprised he let me go with him as much as he did. Being stuck in a truck all day, that was his time and he let me share that with him. That’s the kind of man he is, was.