I’m lucky that I made it to age 26 with four living grandparents. In that regard, I know, I’m luckier than most, not to mention that I have a relationship with each of them. I know all that, but that doesn’t make it smart any less to lose a grandparent.
My Grandpa Gerry—pronounced Gary, which is often how he spelled it to avoid the dreaded “Jerry” pronunciation—passed away last Saturday, incidentally, at the very moment we embarked on a long-awaited climb of Mount Rainier. I wouldn’t find out for another 24 hours.
He was a funny man, my grandpa—not funny-ha-ha, I guess, though he certainly could be. “Hi simply hi,” he’d always say, dispensing with pleasantries. I wouldn’t describe him as warm, not openly, anyway, except perhaps with reference to one of his beloved dogs: the Great Dog Baron, the legendary dachshund who bit six neighborhood children, fortunately for him, in the days when your parents asked why you were bothering the Wullschleger’s dog to begin with; you know he’s mean—my grandpa recalled these days fondly—or Caledonia, a loud-mouthed Sheltie whom my grandma walked and fed and generally cared for but who curled up at the foot of his chair just the same.
When I’d spend the night at their house as a kid, my grandpa would tell me this story, which never ceased to terrify me: If I didn’t eat my vegetables (no gagging faces, please), or take a bath, or go right to bed, the Boo-rang would come for me.
What’s the Boo-rang? I’d ask, though I already knew.
It’s the meanest monster in the world, because it has no asshole.
At six, I wasn’t yet savvy enough to know that constipation could make anyone an asshole, so to speak, but I was sure as shit scared of the Boo-rang, which brings me back to last weekend.
We’d planned to climb Rainier in a single push, so we left Paradise for Camp Muir at 6:00 PM and climbed through the night. Four and a half hours and five thousand feet of elevation later, when we arrived at Muir, the man I generally greeted as Old Fart (“Granddaughters are irreverent and a pain in the ass,” he’d tell me, occasionally using more colorful language) was gone, though of course I couldn’t know it at the time.
We bivvied at Muir for a couple of hours, the three of us huddled under a single sleeping bag, forcing down calories and melting snow for water. At 10,000 feet, Camp Muir is generally sandwiched between two slices of cloud, but tonight there was no cover overhead. No moon, either, so the stars were almost blinding: there’s the Milky Way; oh, look, there’s Cassiopeia.
An hour in, as I shivered to keep warm, I looked up and saw a shooting star.
Eventually, the guides and their clients started to stir, so we roped up and made ready to climb. A few guided parties made it out of Muir before us, illuminating the route with bobbing orbs of white light, rendering the mountain a life-size diorama, a caricature of itself, just like the one at the Longmire Visitor Center, six thousand feet below.
We climbed through the night and were deposited at the top of the Disappointment Cleaver, where we determined that Daniel, our third, didn’t feel well enough to continue. I would have liked to summit, sure, but that wasn’t really the point of this climb, I guess. The mountain will always be there.
Day broke, and Bix and I toasted our first wedding anniversary with a Nalgene of partially frozen glacier water.
The sunrise that morning was, hands-down, the most magnificent I’ve ever seen.
Bix rifled through his pack for a Blue Bag—guess what for—and I felt a pang of jealousy as he made ready to pick up his own shit like you would a dog’s, for I, at that moment, was a Boo-rang.
I thought of my grandpa, then—the existence of the Boo-rang has that effect on me—how he’d been in the hospital all week, how I’d debated canceling this climb altogether, how he’d told me, when I’d visited last Wednesday, to go and send pictures and don’t do anything stupid.
So we’d gone. We’d flown to Seattle and driven to the park and climbed seven thousand feet of rock and ice and snow and here we were, looking at this sunrise that I think, in retrospect, could only have been a gift from my curmudgeonly grandpa.
“Hi simply hi,” I guess he was saying, “Don’t fall down the mountain.”
I’m a lot like him, I suppose. It’s easier for me be caustic than sincere, my temper is fiery and quick to short-circuit, I curse like a sailor when I stub my toe. I could learn a few things from him, too: work ethic, maybe, the kind that keeps you at a job for more than three decades and then compels you volunteer another twenty years after you retire.
A few hours later, I’d turn on my phone and find out the news, but for the moment, I just got to enjoy this incredible sunrise, my icy Boo-rang heart softened a little by the breathtaking view I’d worked so hard to see.