The other day I celebrated my Mother’s birthday. Today I get to celebrate my Dad’s. There are few people in our lives who are more influential than our parents, and we have no control over who they will be. What a blessing I was given in being born to Fred Mossman. The person I am and the life I have been able to live is immeasurably due to having a wonderful father.
Steve was holding Madeleine a few days ago and said, “It will be just like Sarah and Fred, Maddie…you and me.” I had to correct him that there will never be another Fred….although I have no doubt Madeleine will hold Steve in the same regard I hold me Dad. The picture above is one of my favorites…my Dad holding Zachary just a few days after he was born.
If our impression of our Heavenly Father is tied intricately to our earthly Father, I again have been blessed. My Dad messed up over the years, as we all have, but more than anything the thought of him conjures up impressions of integrity, compassion and strength. I’ve often been told that I am just like Fred (some who knew us both well used to call me a little Fredericka!), partly due to my love for animals and photography…but also because I’ve always been my Father’s Daughter.
A few years ago, for his 70’th birthday we collected thoughts from people who knew my Dad well. There were some great thoughts in there…talking about his love of hunting or his integrity, or his sense of humor. They talked of a man who has lived a somewhat ordinary life, but found adventure in that life. He has taught us all so many lessons, and I think the story my brother Grant wrote for that collection is one of the best. I thought I’d post it here in honor of Dad’s birthday.
Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you.
On a rainy day one late spring, my Dad and I drove from The Brazos on a new route (through the Chama Land and Cattle Company) that would take us to Chama directly. Having not driven the route himself, the cowboy from our ranch had given us rather vague second hand directions from Frank Sims. The day was cool and wet as I recall.
I remember the cowboy wishing us good luck- as though were setting off on an uncharted route to an exotic destination, a journey towards which he may have felt unequal. I sensed respect coming from the cowboy towards my Dad, for the ambition and self assurance to attempt such a trek. I remember watching the cowboy watching us. He closed the old, little used-gate behind us, as the suburban crawled down the neglected road.
By dead reckoning, we traveled along the road for many miles, past meadows, streams and woods. The landscape of this adventure was more beautiful than any I had seen before- more real, more vibrant because it was a part of this journey over unknown lands to a possibly mythical or legendary destination. We had no knowledge of what we would encounter; only the suggested landmarks the cowboy told us to watch for.
Soon the road began to disappear before us, and turned into only the faint impression of what we believed was a track made by travelers before us. We back tracked a few times when the route reached a dead end, but steadily moved ahead. My Dad displayed elegance in maneuvering the lumbering GMC through the tight woods, up and down rocky slopes and flowing streams. With each successful surmounting of a challenge I felt that we were taking strides that no one had ever taken before- it seemed we were the first to conquer these difficulties, and all others surely would have turned back long ago.
Eventually we came to a rough and deep ravine with no apparent route around it. We made several unsuccessful attempts to cross; despite winching, and digging, and what seemed like hours of trying different approaches we finally stopped. I feared this would be the insurmountable barrier to our reaching the elusive goal of an alternate route to the fabled destination of Chama. I was terrified, as I was sure that even if we could get back through all of the obstacles we had once so narrowly escaped, there was no way that we would find our way back to the safety of The Brazos!
We left the truck and set out on foot to survey the area. My Dad covered the ground effortlessly, taking giant strides; I struggled to keep up, climbing over rocks and pushing through the bushes and trees. We climbed hills and crossed numerous valleys until my Dad spotted just the peak he wanted. He helped me to the summit, and just as my Dad had expected, before us rolled out the vast expanse of Chama itself, nestled into the slope of the hill side. It gleamed in the sunshine of civilization that appeared to shine only on it, as we stood on the peak in the cloud covered wilderness of the unknown. It was so close, and all we had to do was get the truck through this maze of sharp assents and deep valleys which I had just had so much trouble crossing on foot!
As we returned to the truck, my Dad produced wood planks as if from the earth below us. We carefully laid the planks across the ravine and supported them with rocks and branches. My Dad then gave me the critical assignment of watching to be sure that the tires did not fall off the planks as he drove across. I remember him telling me how important this was, as he would not be able to see the planks from the cab. I accepted this task with all the earnestness and attention I could muster, and helped to get the massive truck across the expanse.
As I watched the truck pass over, one of the planks started to slip- I yelled a warning to my Dad, who instantly realized that the plank would give if he did not race the truck across. The truck roared and leapt across the ravine to the safety of the other side, but in doing so, the plank became wedged between the rear axle and the frame, bracing itself rigidly against the leaf spring. I was shocked, and immediately succumbed to the impending dread that we would never make it to the safety of the shimmering city just over the hill. What were we to do? As soon as we overcame one crisis, the Gods of this darkening wilderness threw new barriers at us. My Dad was there, though, comforting me in this moment of tragedy, confident that we would get through. He assessed the situation, and explained that it was a very simple problem.
I was skeptical that a simple solution could be found to this enigmatic enemy that had so far prevented our progress to safety. My Dad, though, displayed his ever-present even temperament, and set to work with a bent hacksaw blade. I helped where my small frame and limited strength could; the day was growing cold, and I recall that the sky seemed to be threatening rain as our next obstacle. In time, though, we freed the plank and were on our way. We crossed several meadows, and even a few fences. I realized that the grass was more like that of the lower elevations- we were getting down out of this wilderness! We found a gate on a fence, and then a road! We passed a cabin, then came to a gravel road, and then to a highway! We had made it! We had crossed this unknown land with just our skill and perseverance; we had not turned back, but pressed on. Our reward was ahead of us- Chama, and the twinkling lights of the Dairy Queen!
I look back on this trip as a formative event in my life. I was only a child when it took place, but I took quite a bit away from it. I learned that my Dad could find a way out of any difficulty by using what he had before him. I also learned that there is a reward in the act of achieving what you set out to do. I experienced what it really meant to not give up. On this trip my Dad also taught me about not leaving tracks on other peoples land, to fix fences you have to drive through better than they were when you let them down, and to open me eyes and see that often the solution to a problem may be hidden in the grass at my feet. As I got older, I realized that this drive was not as desperate a journey as I remember it being, and that we were never in any real danger- much of it was only my over active imagination. I have made many journeys since then that were much riskier. None of this, though, can change this journey’s significance or importance to me. Thanks, Dad, for this trip, and all the others.