Phil Taunton, Southeast Kansas District Director for the Kansas Wildlife Federation reflects on Father’s Day and what it means to him. Phil is a native of Junction City, Kansas, grew up on the banks of the Republican River and still owns the family cabin on Council Grove City Lake.
A Father’s Day Tribute—-Thanks, Dad.
……..We had a good time at the Lake during the Memorial Day weekend with most of the family being able to make the “get together” for one day or the other. The fishing wasn’t too bad either, considering intermittent rains, high, murky waters, and the wind. Earth wind and fire– Yes, we had fire– when Wifeus burnt the hot dogs!
The note on the refrigerator door was dated August 20, 1995, and had to do with regulations concerning how the family cabin was to be run since my father passed away less than a month earlier. With me being the oldest and living the closest, I guess I just took it upon myself to administer a list of rules to be followed when using the cabin.
Number one had to do with no work being done–don’t even worry about getting the car unloaded and supplies put away–until hooks are baited and lures cast to proven time-tested “honey holes” around docks, stumps, rock piles and brush. I just couldn’t understand how Pop spent half the day down at the lake and not even wet a line. More than once he told me he had to take the poles out of the water because the fish were so active he just couldn’t get any work done and enjoy all the other things that being outside had to offer. Other things, was he serious? What could be more important than reeling in fish, one right after the other once the bite is on?
A work ethic that included picking purple hulled peas for less than a quarter an hour when that was the only job available and coming from a large family that depended on everyone doing their fair share just to get by can do strange things to a fellow.
Number two on the list was to get bait secured, especially if I was going to make it down later. I just couldn’t stand the thought of a big old catfish prowling around the dock and there not being a juicy tidbit of some sort offered, enticing the fish to bite and into the frying pan!
Chore number three, and only if the fish weren’t biting, was to mow the lawn in front of the cabin. We do need to keep a respectable appearance. Remember to roll up the garden hoses and try to keep the riding lawnmower from bouncing off the trees and the corner of the cabin. Pop got a kick out of watching the grandkids “learn to drive” and never a harsh word was said when such incidents occurred.
The back of our cabin had long been declared “wildlife habitat area” off limits to mowing ever since the day he and I ran our pointing dogs over “hill and dale” only to find more than 30 quail in an oasis of tall grass behind the cabin upon our return. I don’t know who jumped the highest when they exploded under our feet, him or me?
Wild flowers are starting to get a hold now. Black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, spider wort and the sunflowers all interlaced with the delicate white, frost-pattern of Queen Anne’s lace blossoms are a sight to see. The family favorite is a butterfly milkweed plant about the size of a peach basket that always returns in its orange blaze of glory.
Rule number four–absolutely no “wimp coffee.” Five scoops of coffee to about ten cups of water should about do it, although I think he made his a little stronger.
As time went on, I found it increasingly hard to return to our beloved “wilderness” retreat because the memory of the man who introduced me to the wonders of nature, taught me about hunting and fishing and presented me with my first sporting firearm and bird dog to go with it was just too painful to bear. Dad wouldn’t be there anymore and I just never realized how much I cherished his company.
Pop also taught me about World War II and the horrors of war being a necessary evil needed to preserve our freedom. A lot of good men and women made supreme sacrifices in order for us to enjoy the liberties we have today. Their sacrifices make it possible for us to relax for a weekend at the lake, be at a golf course or perhaps even participate in the Indy 500. Freedom to do whatever suits our fancy. The flag, “God Bless America” and the Pledge of Allegiance were never to be taken lightly at our house.
Dad’s presence lingered everywhere—in the boat, on the water, up in the garden, down at the dock, the Easter egg hunts, working and laughing. The memories of our outdoor experiences will be a part of me and the cabin forever.
Memories. To this day, I still catch a glimpse of a nonexistent roaster of fried chicken on the stove in the kitchen of the cabin. A pan so full the lid wouldn’t fit always awaited my arrival. Dad and I loved chicken. Whenever there was a sale, he was always first in line. Pop’s chicken, bread and butter sandwiches, fried okra, green onions and cold sliced tomatoes made a meal fit for a king; the lake and cabin being our Kingdom. I never gave it much thought on how early he had to get up and commence frying all that chicken.
Closure is something I don’t think I’m fully capable of understanding. Maybe I’m not supposed to. Last October when I shut the cabin up for the winter, a ritual he and I shared for years, I entertained the thought of selling the cabin. Three years had passed and the bewildering feeling of his not being there, ever again, was just too much to bear. My spirits were about as low and dull as the melancholy song of the Harris sparrow that cold, gray, dreary day.
Something happened this Spring that gave me strength, a form of spiritual rejuvenation, I guess, and I decided to keep the cabin. Seeing my niece, a rambunctious seven-year-old, catch fish and answering to her inquisitive imagination concerning our outdoor world probably had as much to do with making this decision as anything. A friend who has a young fish-o-matic son and who helped me fix the cabin’s leaking roof was another reason.
Purple martins have also returned to our houses, the first since Dad’s passing. And, on Memorial Day we watched a pair of bluebirds build a nest in the newly erected box on the front lawn. It now contains four eggs. Life goes on.
The peonies and irises Dad grew behind the cabin especially for “Decoration Day” were splendid this year despite all the wind and rain. I put a couple of tomato plants in the ground next to his flower garden with hopes of catching some of his magic.
Believe it or not, I think I learned what some of those “other things” in life are. A big part of my “lake time” is now spent just watching the birds, puttering around the place and finding solace in having been blessed with such a wonderful family, father and friend.
Dad, thanks for the memories and Happy Father’s Day