Birth­day boy’s trip builds on mem­o­ries

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - Sharon Ran­dall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Hen­der­son, Nev. 89077, or on her web­site:

Some­times the best ad­ven­ture turns out to be a bit more ad­ven­tur­ous than planned.

Weeks be­fore his birth­day, my youngest child de­cided he, his wife and their three chil­dren should cel­e­brate the oc­ca­sion in Yosemite Na­tional Park in California’s Sierra Ne­vada moun­tains.

When the boy was grow­ing up, we camped most ev­ery summer in the glo­ri­ous Yosemite Val­ley. After his dad died, he worked in the park for a year clean­ing camp­grounds and run­ning the ski shop.

It was no sur­prise he wanted to cel­e­brate his big day in the shadow of Half Dome. He invited the whole fam­ily to join him. We all wanted to go, but only one of us could make it.

The day he was born, I looked into his eyes, pressed my face to his neck and felt his tiny fin­gers wrap around my thumb.

I haven’t been with him for ev­ery birth­day, but I wanted to be with him for this one. I wanted to look once again into those eyes, press my face to his neck and feel his big arms wrap around me. Even if it meant I had to drive.

Lodg­ing was lim­ited. The boy and his fam­ily had booked a small cabin. I could stay with them, if some­body slept on the floor. Never mind who.

Tents were avail­able, but I did not want to hunt for a bath­room in the dark and trip over a bear. I’ve done that. Once is enough.

The best op­tion was a sin­gle night at Yosemite Lodge. I took it. Then I booked rooms for the other stops along the way.

From my home in Las Ve­gas, I’d drive in a cir­cle; spend two days get­ting to Yosemite; one night in the park with the boy and his fam­ily; head over Tioga Pass to June Lake for a night; then drive six hours to home.

This drive meant a lot of pit stops, but de­spite what my hus­band says, I’m an ex­cel­lent driver. Once, when I was too young to have bet­ter sense, I drove 10,000 miles around

the coun­try. Never mind why. How hard could this drive be?

I didn’t know about the fire un­til I saw the smoke.

Stop­ping for the night at a ho­tel in Fish Camp, Calif., just south of the park, I asked an at­ten­dant, “Where’s the fire?”

He pointed west. Less than 20 miles away, the town of Mari­posa, Calif., had been evac­u­ated. Power was out in Yosemite Val­ley. I could still en­ter the park from the south. But the west en­trance — on the road my son and his fam­ily had planned to drive — was closed.

I phoned the boy. They knew about the fire, had rerouted south and were al­most in Fish Camp. They stopped at the ho­tel and we had din­ner to­gether.

“I’ll call you in the morn­ing

be­fore you drive in,” my son said. “If the smoke’s too bad, we prob­a­bly shouldn’t stay.”

Then they drove on to the park to check into a dark cabin.

By morn­ing, the fire had dou­bled in size and forced hun­dreds from their homes. But in the park, power was re­stored and the smoke had lifted a bit.

“We’re stay­ing,” said the boy.

“OK,” I said, “I’m on my way.”

Driv­ing to the val­ley, I prayed for the fam­i­lies whose homes were threat­ened by the fire, and for the fire­fight­ers who would risk their lives to save them.

An hour later, sur­rounded by Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls, I sat watch­ing my grand­chil­dren play in the same dirt their dad played in as a boy.

We cel­e­brated his birth­day at din­ner. My 6-year-old grand­son spent that night with me at the lodge. At 5 a.m., he whis­pered, “Nana, wake up! It’s day­light!”

We all met for pan­cakes, then hugged good­byes to get on the road. But first, I looked into my boy’s eyes, pressed my face to his neck and felt his big, smoky arms wrap around me.

Rais­ing a child is an ad­ven­ture filled with wild­fires, road­blocks and end­less ques­tions that can only be an­swered by faith and love and a whole lot of hope.

But it is such a gift to see that child grow up to be some­one you adore, ad­mire and will drive a long way to sit in the dirt and cel­e­brate his birth.

Happy birth­day, sweet boy. I am so glad you were born.

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