It is, perhaps, the only Star of David in Masonic Cemetery, Redding, California, and it belongs to Pop, Bodie Lyon, 1904–1992. He died of cancer.
Despite the engine roar and *slap, slap, slap* of windshield wipers, there was an overwhelming quiet. The blackness beyond us was illuminated by snowplow lights on whirling snowflakes. The plow heater simmered away. An arc of snow shot from the blower over banks and branches, filling tracks where deer had tiptoed. The snowplow was a luxury vehicle for this kid. Life was luxurious in the 1950s Lassen Park as Pop and I zipped along, clearing the roads lest they become impassible by morning. I was six.
We lived in Mineral. A tiny volcanic caldera town in Northern California—headquarters to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Back in the snowplow. I had a red wool coat, and a white muff made of fur. People don’t use muffs anymore, and nowadays, even I wouldn’t own fur. But I did then. My hands snuggled deep in the fur muff, while Pop and I snuggled deep in the mountains. Yesterday, I saw a red wool coat at the thrift store. Had it smelled of diesel, I’d have bought it.
Those were the warmest winters. The coldest winter of my life was 1991 in Redding. “I bet you don’t remember being cold in Mineral” Pop said over the phone. We laughed that we moved away from the snow to nearly freeze to death in the valley !
Terry Brown's house. During one of our not-cold frozen winters, the Browns’ two story house caught fire. No hydrants. Just frozen hoses … and Pop. He fired up the plow and dispatched a plume of snow over the Browns’ burning house. Snowflakes pummeled the fire monster that ripped at the roof and clawed for air. Soon, the monster hissed and fell down. The Browns, already outside, stood crying. When I think about their icy tears, even to this day, I cry too. I wish I had a picture of that moment. Like in my snapshot gallery of memories, I’m sure folks would stop and say, “Wow! Look at that!"
Did I mention Pop’s big award? I’ll get to that later.
From 1933 to 1968, Pop built National Park roads. I wish I could remember them all—roads through Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Zion National Parks. Those roads were Pop’s careful embroidery. And Lassen Park was Pop’s great escape. Someday, I’ll go and drive on all of Pop’s roads, but there is so little time anymore. So many meaningless and mundane things to do—unlike magical rides in the snowplow.
Now and then, I leaf through the frail black pages of Pop’s photo albums stuffed with sepia-tone photos that fall onto my lap. Ice and tunnels, successes and failures, a finished bridge or a tractor gone over a cliff. I marvel at the antiquity of the Caterpillars, graders and dump trucks, and, of course, Pop and his crew posing with grins and shovels. One photo has a handwritten caption: "Broke down — stuck in canyon two weeks.” I wonder if tourists motorhoming along Wyoming’s Highway 89, gaze up at the Tetons and think of men cutting the road with picks, shovels, and 1930’s bulldozers that went “chicky, chicka, chic-chic-chic.”
Craters of The Moon National Monument, Idaho. They (the vague *they* of my childhood) couldn’t slice through the Craters' near-impermeable sheets of rock. They called Pop. He drove a long, yellow, praying mantis of a grader up onto a flatbed trailer and towed it from Lassen Park to Craters of The Moon. We lived there for five weeks while Pop carved roads through that strangely beautiful black landscape. In 1996, I went there. At night, I saw people leave their tents and campers to sleep on the ground with their fingers submerged in red and black cinder. "I don’t want to leave here.” I told my husband. Perhaps I didn’t want to leave Pop again.
Pop had a little sign on the dash of his 1948 International pickup:
WORK IS LIFE
GOOD WORK IS GOOD LIFE
Oh yes! Pop’s big award—The Meritorious Service Award from the Department of the Interior for all those roads he built.
Cancer certainly ruins everything.
Cancer is wolves lurking the frosted meadows of our lives. During winter of 1965, rabid wolves (they were coyotes, but I called them wolves) attacked the snowplow, which was very unusual and frightening. Pop was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1991. The cancer devoured his strength and brilliance like shingles on the Browns’ burning roof, with nothing cool and white to smother the pain —and left me to ask, where did the wolves come from?
Did I mention Death Valley National Monument? Atom bombs?
Death Valley National Monument. Our bad fortune. Bomb tests were conducted in the Nevada desert in the ‘40s, ’50s and ‘60s, and many park service folk were allowed on-site. The light from atomic blasts was whiter than anything we could imagine. Twenty-six bombs were tested while we were there—some with ominous names like Upshot-Knothole “Dirty” Harry and the 43-kiloton Shot Simon.
It didn’t take long to become sick. Men drove to our house with bright orange medicine. So much iodine and vomiting. Las Vegas. A hospital with metal cribs. Too weak to cry.
Pop demanded a transfer to anywhere! And, we scrambled away from Death Valley and the mushroom clouds. He brought us to Lassen Park in 1953, where life was clean with not so many gamma rays to contend with. Lassen had snowy winters and snowplows and starry nights that were never cold. Stars …
…the Star of David. Below his name is written, “Master Sergeant, United States Army, World War II.” It says nothing of the snowplow or the Meritorious Service Award, Bryce Canyon or the Browns’ house. I need to work on that. Work is life. Good work is good life.https://i.imgur.com/KxMMVDM.jpg
I give Concrete Zipper and RfM permission to use this story any way they like.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/30/2018 01:28AM by kathleen.