Sunday, May 1, 2011

Remembering My Father

It’s been 4 years since my dad passed away—on April 26, 2007, on his and mom’s wedding anniversary. For this particular blog installment I want to honor him and repeat the words I spoke at his memorial service (May 4, 2007). Following those memories, I am adding the tribute I wrote about him for one of our local farm newspapers.
A Few Thoughts About My Father..
Growing up as a preacher's daughter was a unique though sometimes challenging blessing. A preacher's family in a sense includes his whole parish, and Dad was a very caring and busy shepherd for his flock. Yet I don't think that any of us kids felt deprived or that he didn't have time for us. We always knew that we were loved.

Love is the greatest gift that my dad gave me. It wasn't always spoken, but I always knew it was there. I knew that he loved me, encouraged me, wanted the best for me, and this helped me through the awkward years of growing up and beyond.
Dad touched the lives of many people, and he certainly touched mine and made a huge difference in my life. I could always count on his wisdom and fairness, his love and understanding. He was patient and kind, and a great teacher. He always took time to answer questions, or to help a struggling young person come up with his or her own answers to the toughest questions of life. He always had advice, for anyone who sought it, and he also encouraged us kids to sort things out and come to good decisions. My family will probably always remember some of his little sayings, like "Do the wise thing.” “Do your best and leave the rest." He gave us many snippets of wisdom to live by.

When I went to college I was timid and shy, and still struggling with some of the major questions of life and faith--and very, very homesick for the ranch, my horses, my family. Long distance phone calls were expensive, so we wrote lots of letters. His letters of advice and encouragement had so much wit and wisdom that I often shared them with my roommates. I still have those letters. After college he and I considered collaborating on a book we were going to call "Dear Daughter, Dear Dad". But that was one of countless projects and great ideas that we never quite got around to doing.
A wonderful gift my father gave me was the example he set, in his own life--an example that helped me as I began my own journey. His faith and trust in a heavenly Father who loves us all, and loves us unconditionally, has made the most difference in my life. Dad's preaching and teaching always pointed out that Jesus came into this world to tell people about God's love for us--to open our hearts and lives to that Love. Jesus' parables portraying God as a loving, forgiving father was something I could easily relate to, thanks to my wonderful Dad, in whose love I was confident.
This concept, of God as a loving father, made sense to me. If God was anything like a father, who always wants the best for his children, then God must indeed love us very much. Dad was a wonderful example of the wisdom and love a father can have, and since I could always trust my own father, I early on developed a trust and an awesome respect for the One who loves us most. In my early struggles to learn about God and to try to figure out what I believed--about life, love, death and all the big unknowns in this world--Dad's simple faith and common-sense theology helped shape the direction my steps took in that early part of my journey. Indeed, this was the most precious gift my dad gave me, and I am ever grateful.
Dad had a long and fruitful life, a beautiful life--doing a wide variety of things and touching people in all kinds of situations. He was a very unique and special person. And even though I miss him greatly, I am comforted by the faith he had, and by my own.
The life of someone we love always seems to end too soon; we want to keep them with us forever. There are lots more things I'd like to have said to Dad, or done with my Dad, that I'll never get to say or do. But because of that love and faith he nurtured in me, I know that this is not the end of our very special relationship. He still loves me. Our father-daughter bond and friendship is not over. He still knows I love him.
Love is always there, even when everything else in this life fades away. There is nothing stronger than love. This is God's greatest gift to ALL his children. Dad, you showed me this by your own faith, your own examples, and now, even though I'll miss you horribly--and grieve very deeply for my loss--I am also confident and joyful, and at peace with the fact that you are now enjoying the full warmth of our Father's love... and probably swapping stories and jokes with a lot of old friends and all the angels.

Tribute to my Dad (a remembrance written in May 2007)
Most of the stories, articles and columns that I write are about horses or cattle—a spin-off from my lifelong love of these animals. This interest and love began early, when I was a small child. This interest grew into a desire to be a rancher and spend the rest of my life working with horses and cattle. Much of the credit for the direction my life has taken must go to my father, Don Ian Smith. Dad passed away April 26, at age 88. I will miss him greatly, but I will always be grateful for the influences he had on my life.
Dad grew up on a farm near Rupert, Idaho, where he drove teams of horses to help his father in the fields. He started farm work at a young age, coming home after school and giving his father a break by harrowing the ground his father had spent all day plowing with a 3-horse hitch. By then the horses were tired and easy for a small child to handle. He was proud to be able to help his father, and he enjoyed working with the horses.
Growing up during the Depression, he learned the value of hard work and innovation. He did many kinds of jobs to work his way through college (Willamette University at Salem, Oregon). He and a friend spent one summer in the East as tree surgeons, making enough money to pay for their next year's tuition.
He met the love of his life, Betty Moser, at Willamette, and they were married in a little church near Seattle, Washington. Dad did his graduate work in Evanston, Illinois--to become a Methodist minister. I was born in February 1944 while Dad was serving a student church in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois.

My folks moved back to Idaho when I was 4 months old; Dad served as pastor of the federated Methodist-Presbyterian church in Salmon for a couple years, and then served a Methodist church in Burley, Idaho. During those years at Burley, he took care of the family farm at Rupert and I often went out there with him (when I was 3 and 4 years old) to check on the steers he'd bought to graze the ditch-banks. I clearly remember the steers--and the electric fence I was warned not to touch. Those 6 steers summered well, and when Dad sold them he made enough profit on that venture to buy mom her first automatic washing machine.
[photo – me at age 4 on fence, on Rupert farm]

My fascination with cattle began in those years; I loved to go with my Dad to check on his steers. Also, my little brother and I stayed with a farm family on several occasions when our folks went to church conferences, and I loved to sit in the hay manger feeding the milk cows.
Dad came back to Salmon in 1950 to build a Methodist church, and I started first grade. I'd wanted a horse from the time I could walk, toddling around with a stick horse. My favorite toy was a little stuffed horse named Shorshay (my baby word for "horsie"). That little cloth horse soon became threadbare from being loved and lugged around everywhere I went.
When I was in third grade my dream came true. We got a horse, and Dad bought a small acreage up Withington Creek--where we lived for 2 summers--and we had a place to keep the horse. Then he started buying the adjoining ranch. Unlike most Methodist ministers who move every few years to serve different churches, Dad put down roots and spent 18 years at Salmon. I was grateful for this--being able to have my own horses, and starting my own small herd of cows (for college money) by working on the ranch. Irrigating, digging post-holes, riding range--these were tasks I thoroughly enjoyed. I wanted to spend the rest of my life involved with livestock.

Dad was also instrumental in my becoming a writer. As a child I was shy--often at a loss for words when talking to people. I had trouble expressing myself vocally, but I could put the words on paper. Because I loved horses, I often wrote long, rambling stories about them. When I was 12, Dad suggested I write a shorter story, and he helped me send it to Trails for Juniors, the Methodist Sunday School paper. It was accepted and published, and I received $10 for it. After realizing I could actually earn money for something I loved to do, I wrote more stories--first for children's magazines and then for horse and cattle publications. By the time I went to college I'd sold dozens of articles, and my writing helped pay my way through college.
I went to University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, and graduated in 1966, but during those years I was terribly homesick for the ranch. I didn't want to live in a city. When Lynn and I were married we spent our first summer on a dairy farm at Gooding, Idaho, then came back to Salmon--where we'd both grown up--to start ranching in 1967. We eventually purchased my parents’ small ranch and the adjoining one.

Dad's love of the land (and of horses and cattle) was a big factor in shaping my life, and his understanding and appreciation for rural people helped shape his ministry. Though he later served several other churches and built a very large church in Boise where he served for 14 years, a part of him was always rooted in the land. The simple wisdom and practicality of his faith shone through in all of his sermons and writings; his inspirational books (By the River of No Return, Wild Rivers and Mountain Trails, Sagebrush Seed, The Open Gate) have been very popular because they are very down-to-earth and many people can relate to the stories he tells and the message within them. When he finally retired for the third time, after serving several small churches that had no pastor, he and mom came back to Salmon in 2001 to spend the rest of their years among old friends and the mountains they loved.

Dad, you'll be greatly missed. But I want to say thank you for your wisdom, advice, and for providing an opportunity for me to travel a path that I have truly loved. I couldn't have done it without you.