Mor­pheme

A son re­mem­bers his fa­ther

Powder - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Phil Tom­lin­son

Chris­tine and I have a gear room where ev­ery­thing is care­fully or­dered by use: quick draws, be­lay de­vices, shov­els, probes, pickets, skins, you name it. Look­ing at that wall, you’d be for­given if you didn’t no­tice a soli­tary glove hang­ing off on the bot­tom left.

To me, it’s the most im­por­tant thing in the room. Grow­ing up, my par­ents were pretty fru­gal. Es­pe­cially Dad. The deal was that if we wanted some­thing new or fancy, we paid for it our­selves. I was one of the first among my friends to get a job (at a ski shop) and just about ev­ery penny I earned went into ski gear, in­clud­ing my first pair of new skis.

By the time I joined ski pa­trol at 18, I was more or less buy­ing all my own gear. Staff dis­counts and liv­ing with my par­ents meant that I could buy what­ever I thought made sense.

Some gear Dad un­der­stood, some he didn’t. He half-jok­ingly called me an id­iot over more than a cou­ple of pur­chases—even with those staff dis­counts.

When I was 19, I bought a set of Mar­mot Ul­ti­mate Ski Gloves. They cost $200 a lot of years ago. They were the most ex­pen­sive gloves you could buy at the shop. In fact, I bought two pairs. I would wear one pair while the other dried from the day be­fore.

Dad more or less lost his mind. It didn’t mat­ter that I bought them with my own cash. In his eyes, it was an in­ex­cus­ably stupid pur­chase.

Un­til then, the gloves we had were the cheapest pair avail­able. They were sweaty and cold at the same time. You ba­si­cally had to be­lieve you were hold­ing a pole be­cause you sure couldn’t feel them be­neath the atro­cious de­sign and ma­te­ri­als. Dad never both­ered to even try on the good stuff.

Then one day, while we were ski­ing to­gether, he for­got his gloves and bor­rowed one of my fancy pairs.

At lunch that day, he qui­etly ad­mit­ted that they were the most com­fort­able pair of gloves he’d ever tried. He could feel his poles. His hands were warm and dry. He could see the shal­low marks from haul­ing snow fences—a pa­trol duty that would have shred­ded his cheap gloves.

The next time I came home, Dad had a nice set of new gloves. Not the same—a cou­ple of mod­els down from mine—but worlds dif­fer­ent than his prior bar­gain-bin pur­chases.

Still, he asked if he could bor­row my spare set of ex­pen­sive gloves. He stopped giv­ing me a hard time about them.

So be­gan a pat­tern: I would come home to ski with Dad and he would bor­row my spare gloves. When I quit pa­trolling and went off to col­lege, I no­ticed one set found its way into Dad’s gear bag pe­ri­od­i­cally. We never re­ally dis­cussed it. I didn’t need two pairs when I was study­ing most of the time.

One evening while I was away at school, I got a phone call from a neigh­bor.

Dad had been out ski­ing that day. They thought he’d had a heart at­tack. Dad was gone.

My world broke.

Even­tu­ally, we found out that Dad had fallen while ski­ing and bro­ken a rib. That busted rib piv­oted around and shred­ded his aorta. He bled out in­ter­nally al­most in­stantly. He was 58 years old.

The coro­ner said that if he hadn’t seen it, he wouldn’t have be­lieved it.

Mom was out of town. My brother was at an­other col­lege. Dad’s body was in a town near his usual ski re­sort. There was a lot of co­or­di­na­tion to do. Ev­ery­one around us ral­lied. My fam­ily re­turned home to des­per­ately try and make sense of things.

When the fu­neral par­lor brought Dad’s body home, they in­cluded a box of his pos­ses­sions from the hos­pi­tal: wal­let, keys, some cloth­ing that hadn’t been cut off by paramedics.

At the bot­tom of the box was a sin­gle glove. He’d stolen my gloves again. That pair of gloves he’d given me such a hard time about. In the fu­tile fight to re­vive him, one glove had been lost. My glove. The re­main­ing one, sit­ting in the bot­tom of that box, that was Dad’s glove.

It’s been 13 years. I still miss Dad a lot. I used to miss him in a way that felt ex­cru­ci­at­ingly raw. Now I only think about him a cou­ple of times a week.

I’m not in col­lege any more. I’m not a ski pa­troller. But my love of ski­ing has never been stronger. I built my life around ski­ing. Ski­ing is what makes me happy. Dad gave me that. Phil Tom­lin­son climbs and skis his home moun­tains of West­ern Canada and be­yond with his cam­era and notepad in tow.

Photo: Steve Ogle

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