Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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My dad died rather suddenly the first day of summer. He was 86, so it was not totally unexpected. For elderly people, life is a ridge walk, with the ridge getting narrower and narrower till finally one thing or another takes you over.

My brother, Allen, told me a story. My dad had suffered from depression for years. Earlier in the month, my dad had told Allen about having an ongoing fantasy for some weeks, of running a hot air ballooning outfit out of Kokomo, Indiana.

“Is that crazy?” my dad asked.

Allen reassured him, “No. You’re just trying to find your happy place.”

My dad had had a fall, and some disorientation, so he was in hospice, a very nice apartment in the hospital wing. On Father’s day, he was lucid. He had a really good day, with kids and grandkids all around.

The next day he couldn’t wake up. CT scan showed a massive brain bleed. The prior directive was clear — no heroic measures.

Allen was there. Dad roused a bit.

“Are you in Kokomo?” Allen asked.


“You got your balloon?”

“Yeah.” One word responses.

“What color is it?”


“You got your chase truck?”



“King cab!”

You want to laugh and cry. He was there.

Dad slipped away the following dawn. Where do people go when they die? I like to think I know where dad is. Having a great time, running his hot air balloon operation, out of Kokomo, Indiana.

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dad is gone

In 1994, Papa got this idea he wanted to go to Europe, to retrace his steps from World War 2 fifty years before. He put out that he would like some of his children to go with him.

I didn’t want to. I had been in grad school, getting my Masters Degree. All my time taken up, for years. I went¬†directly¬†from that to a very intense summer job. I felt like I’d had no time of my own, for ever.

I was still on that job, working in the Sierra. One weekend I was down visiting friends in Chico. I’d borrowed a bike and was riding through neighborhood streets on a Sunday morning. I came by a little church. The service was just over, and all the people were visiting with each other, standing out on the lawn in front, talking. The church was on a corner. As I turned that corner I came just close enough to catch one snatch of a conversation.

“Well, I lost my dad…” a woman was saying. Then I was gone on by.

It got me thinking. Your parents are not going to be around forever. So I decided to go to Europe with Papa.

It was the first time Papa and I had done something together as adults. We operated as a team. He knew the languages better. He’d been in German prison camp, and spoke German. I had the eyes, and the reflexes, for driving. It was really good. We developed this respect and trust, something I never thought I’d have with him.

Papa had not been much part of my earlier life. The distant authority figure, “Wait till your father gets home.” If anybody had told me I would someday have a real relationship with my father, I would have thought no way.

But it came to pass on the trip to Europe. After that, we were friends. That was 1994, so we had nearly 20 years.

He had the stroke on Monday. This morning there was a text from my brother, three words, terse: “dad is gone”.

These past several years, on every visit I knew it might be the last. Now the last has come. I would say, to anybody who thinks they could never have it good with their dad, anything is possible.

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Southeast of Eden

A spring of cool, splashing water in the desert is magical. You spot its trace from far away, a cluster of green trees in a tuck of the ridge.

It’s a natural human thing to want to explore it. An excuse; go up there to eat lunch.

You trudge through the sagebrush and scrub. Gradually, the grass grows higher. Soon, lush bushes are taller than your head.

And when you finally get there, the spring itself, the source of the water, is truly magical.

But when you try to take a picture to show your friends back home, it looks like nothing but a mudhole.

me, beside the spring in desert hills

Flowing spring, in the desert hills, southeast of Eden, Wyoming.