A son remembers his father
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