I am a very fortunate man. I have been surrounded by beautiful women all of my life.
Grandma Matthews was elegant, statuesque, and striking. My mother could be six hours into a day filled with baking and cleaning and laundry and still look like a model. In a silk dress and one of those big hats she liked, she was Jackie Kennedy’s long lost sister.
And then there are those eight sisters, the ones that allowed me to grow up tolerant, flexible, and in tune with the female spirit, long before the women’s liberation movement had roasted its first brassiere. Those eight sisters are all bastions of compassion, kindness, generosity, brilliance, and a beauty that is both physical and spiritual.
I also was blessed to marry a beautiful woman and raise two daughters who could be magazine cover girls if they were not so busy conquering the world with their smarts and their work ethic. Some days, I observe their love for their family, their grace and awareness, and their willingness to help those less fortunate, and I think God was a little too good to me.
But no life exists without trials, and we had an extremely difficult one when we lost our little Caitlyn. She would have been 19 years old on Thursday, but technically March 6 is not her birthday because it was far too silent when she came into the world.
The doctor said it was just too soon, and she was too frail, too tiny, and too weak to survive. There was no medical explanation, no one to sue, and no one to blame, but in our sorrow none of that ever crossed our minds. We just lost an angel that we never really had.
We got to hold her for a few minutes and see that those tiny fingernails were perfect, those eyelashes were flawless, and her little face was another one of the Lord’s works of beauty.
They say you can’t miss what you never had, but they are wrong. You can miss a lot. I probably don’t miss the headaches I’d have right now with yet another strong-willed, independent teenaged daughter, but at least I’d be experienced at dealing with the drama, whether real or manufactured.
By now, I expect Caitlyn would be about ready to turn that corner in her life — and you parents know the one I mean.
Kids start out needing you for everything as infants, then as toddlers and adolescents they think you are so smart and invincible and can do just about anything. At about 14 or so, someone sneaks into your house at night and exchanges them for a sometimes challenging, sometimes defiant, and always questioning teenager who now wonders if you know anything at all, because they are convinced your taste in music come from the ’70s, your political views from the ’60s, and your wardrobe from the ’50s.
Even with that, I’m convinced that Caitlyn would have been a compilation of all the things that make her mother, her sisters, her aunts, her grandmas, and her great-grandmothers such treasures. Brains and beauty, a kind heart, a thirst for knowledge, and a fierce loyalty to family and faith — that would have described my third daughter.
Those 19 years since I held her in my hands before giving her back to God, those went by in a blur, but I still miss her. I do miss that first camping trip we never got to take, when I would have rocked her to sleep sitting next to the fire, because Caitlyn just needed reassured that the sounds of the woods at night were not threatening at all, but instead very soothing.
I miss that scream she would have let out the first time she lifted that cane pole and there was a blue gill flopping around on the end of the line. I miss the summer nights when we would have stretched out flat on our backs next to the pond and taken in the full panorama of a star-filled sky as only the dark of the country can allow it to be displayed.
I miss her learning to climb trees and always wanting to push a little higher than her dad allowed, and I miss loading up her chickens to take to the fair, and shaking my head as she called each one of them by name. I miss the thousands of things we never did.
So it is torture to read of the many instances of children being abused and of the deaths of kids who are neglected, exploited, or abandoned. It is impossible to comprehend, except in a world gone mad.
Those parents have the opportunity to build a snowman with those children, or go for a walk in the park and let them hear the squeak that snow makes when crushed under your boots, or let them see the tracks critters leave, or just feed the birds. Through the window that is a child’s imagination, every experience can become a treasured memory.
If you have been blessed with a child, cherish that precious gift. Play in the snow with them, take a drive by the river and show them the masses of ice, and when the weather improves, let them explore the woods, wander through the zoo at their pace, or build a bird house together. And take them fishing or camping or skipping stones or flying a kite, or just walk around the block with your hand in theirs, and not clutching a smart phone. Those experiences will be priceless, based simply on who you were with at the time.
On a recent relatively mild winter day, I passed a dad pulling his little daughter through one of the metroparks on a plastic sled. He did not look all that happy, and he barked at her a couple of times about sitting still. He was probably relieved when that outing ended, but I’m certain that eventually he’ll realize that was probably one of the best times of his life. And he’ll miss those days.
Ohio native stands 41st in Iditarod
TAKOTNA, Alaska — Ohio native Matt Failor was in 41st place in the 2014 Iditarod after completing his mandatory 24-hour layover here on Thursday.
Failor, an Ohio State graduate whose parents are from the Toledo area, was slowed by maintenance issues with his sled. He lost his brake on the rugged terrain, but found a replacement from a fellow musher who had to drop out of the race.
Failor is headed for the Ophir checkpoint, which is 352 miles from the start of the 975-mile race. You can follow Failor’s progress at Iditarod.com, and becoming an insider at that site will allow you to access a GPS tracker and follow the mushers live.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.