Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day, 2010

My father, Charles A Repenning - World Famous Paleontologist and WWII Hero - (at least according to the Denver Post) requested in his will that he be cremated and suggested that his ashes be either thrown off the California Coast to sift down among his beloved Elephant Seals or encased in plastic key chains and sold as souvenirs at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's annual meeting.  He suggested that this latter method was probably the only way we, his offspring, were going to make any money off his demise.

Knowing how opinionated, controversial and downright cranky the old guy was, I have my doubts as to how much money his remains would net us even if the key chains were gold plated.

The former idea, however, has a lot of merit.  The elephant seals that come ashore on California's beaches are extremely crabby beasts.  Off shore there is a party going on that is the elephant seal version of Spring Break on Florida beaches.  The guys who come ashore are the ones who can't find a partner in the mating game.  Dumping his mortal remains out among a bunch of sex-starved, grumpy males just seems so right. They were kindred spirits, so to speak.  I could add details, but won't.

However, 5 1/2 years after his murder, his ashes are still in my Chicago garage.  I haven't been able to arrange or afford a trip to California to dump him.

This morning we woke to discover that Veteran's Day was going to be beautiful.  Warm, sunny and fall colors everywhere.  It just doesn't get better.  And Charley wanted to get out into nature, but had an errand to do in Oak Park.  I suddenly remembered that the park where my Dad spent his childhood was a couple blocks from the place Charley had to go.  Somehow it just seemed TIME.  So while Charley did his thing, Sam and I walked over to the park.  I've been there a couple of times in the last 5 years, thinking about Dad.  This park has a few animals in cages: a red fox, a coyote, some birds of prey.  It had the same animals, apparently, 70+ years ago when my Dad was riding his bike to this park.  This is where he learned to love nature and rocks.  He and his best friend spent every spare moment in this place getting really dirty and I think it is still pretty much like it was then.  Sam and I walked around a bit and then we found a pretty remote place beside a fallen tree.

I opened the urn I had purchased for Dad and poured out his ashes.  The urn is made of a single piece of agate.  I figured, while waiting to get thrown off a cliff, he'd be happier encased in a rock like that than in the plastic box the funeral home put him in.  I had forgotten, but I also had put in a fossil mouse jaw and some of his dog's hair.  I poked those in among his ashes.  We sat there in the sunshine a little bit and thought about Dad as a little boy - full of wonder and curiosity.  Dad had come a full circle back to innocence, back to the place where he was happy before the war, before disillusionment and disappointment and bitterness.  Instead of letting him drift among rejected suitors, I laid him to rest in a place of possibility and wonder and I gave him fossils and dog hair.  He's with the places and things he loved most in the world.

 And I felt more peaceful than I have felt in 5 1/2 years.

Rest in peace, you old goat.  I love you.


  1. Lovely. . . sounds like your bright idea took you to a moment in life that you will cherish.