Ben's dad, James Francis, died nearly 30 years ago, and I never had the pleasure of meeting him or Ben's mother, Alice (or Winky).
But Ben tells stories about growing up with his parents and brother Jay. There was the time Ben spit at the dinner table and with one swift back-hand landed on the floor several feet away.
Jim wasn't yet appreciating Ben's budding woodworking skills when Ben, at the age of five, drilled holes in the nice hardwood floor behind the couch. But Jim did take him when he went to a friend's pattern-making shop to build home furniture. Ben handed his father tools, and was allowed to use some of them. Ben reports that they were never discouraged from trying new skills, but encouraged to do them right. Ben still has furniture he or his dad made.
The family spent countless hours on the family sailboat. Instead of a yard, they had low-maintenance ivy, spending time on the boat instead of the yard like we do now. As I write, Ben is making trellises for the tomato plants. I would have a hard time giving up the vegetable garden, but could go for the sailing.
But the best story about Ben's dad served us well this weekend when we went camping with our friends Norm and Sue.
Saturday morning we ate a delicious breakfast of fried potatoes and eggs, which I prepared. Then it was decided that we would head further up the canyon to collect firewood. Norm is a reincarnation of Daniel Boone. He loves to forage for wood, split it, build fires, and then brew coffee and cook over an open fire. Ben and Sue like to watch Norm work with the fire while I cook.
After breakfast we piled into Ben's truck, Taz in her kennel sniffing the wind as we drove. We went three and a half miles up into the mountains from our campground, mostly on a well-traveled road. We turned up a dirt road and went less than a quarter of a mile before we saw more wood than we could possibly haul. There we disembarked and foraged for wood while Taz ran off some energy.
When the truck was loaded with wood and it was time to go, Taz wouldn't come. We called, got in the truck and drove away, waited for her, tried to grab her as she went flying by, but to no avail. She was playing us big time and I was getting mad. To make matters worse, a storm of jeeps started up the hill towards us. There were at least 15 of them, and Taz decided to herd jeeps, running in and out of them as they drove by us in a dust cloud.
Finally, she decided she had had enough and came running toward me. But sensing my vibe, she ran happily and innocently to Sue, who wouldn't scold her.
Into the kennel she went. Into the truck we went. After a few lurches down the hill, the truck died and wouldn't start again. Ben fiddled with it for 20 minutes before we decided to start walking back to the campground. It was a lovely walk by the river to our right and basalt cliffs to our left, wildflowers nestled in rock crevices and at the bottom of the rock face. We were in hysterics part of the way realizing we looked like foreign tourists. I had my long-lens camera, my purse! and a jacket around my waist. Sue had her purse as well.
After a mile, my feet hurt (as they are wont to do) and I decided I wasn't up for another two miles of walking. Just then, a young couple emerged from the woods and upon hearing of our travails, offered me a ride to our car so that I could come back and pick up the other three.
Long story short, the guys spent the next eight hours rounding up a mechanic, finding out what part they needed, driving to Yakima to pick up the part (1 hour each way) and then finding out the part didn't work (because the mechanic was trouble-shooting), and needed a different part, which had to be ordered and wouldn't arrive until Tuesday.
Sue and I sat at camp all afternoon, napping, reading, talking, eating and playing with the naughty dog. Eventually the guys returned in good spirits, especially Ben, who seemed to think it was a lark. Norm set to chopping wood.
Then Ben told us a story about his dad. His mother was in the hospital because she had a stillborn child. Cooking duties fell to Jim to take care of two small boys. Jim liked soft-boiled eggs and was cooking some for the three of them. When he dished them up, they were not soft- but hard-boiled. He looked at them, and setting the tone for the rest of Ben's life, said, "Just the way I like them."
Car troubles, runaway dogs, are blips on the radar screen of life. It's not a big deal. If Ben had to replace his truck, that might have been a bigger deal, but still not a tragedy in the large scheme of things.
We laughed throughout the evening about all the events of the day, becoming sillier and sillier about all the things that were "just the way we like it," from broken trucks to coffee grounds in the coffee. We awoke Sunday to a beautiful still morning and dubbed our wooded campground the "church of just the way we like it," thanking James for the long-ago inspiration he passed on to his son.