Monday, September 24, 2012

Some Memories of Dad

My earliest childhood memories of my dad all revolve around the cowboy in him.  I remember one time Christie and I were riding a horse bare back and dad was walking it to water.  When the horse put her head down into the creek Christie and I also leaned forward.  We slid right off that horse’s neck into the water.  I was always a little scared around the horses and cows.  One time dad put me on a horse I didn’t want to ride (I think her name was Mandy) so that the littler girls could ride Dawn, our calm old children’s horse, the horse I considered mine.  Mandy took off with me and ran right under a shed.  The shed hit me at the eyebrow and knocked me back and eventually I fell off.  I was so mad at dad for putting me on that horse and all he wanted was for me to get back on (that minute) and ride up to the house to get mom to take me in for stitches.  Needless to say I didn’t get on that horse for a long time despite his efforts to make me.

He was totally different in teaching his grandchildren to ride horses.  He would barrow ponies from a friend so that the kids would have a good riding experience. He would ensure their safety by walking miles with the lead rope in hand and the kids on the horse following behind.  Just this summer he took Caleb and Colter for their first real ride.  They got to ride at ages 8 and 9 independent of the lead rope up the canyon.  He wanted to take them up a mountainside but luckily Cathie was there to remind him that they were beginners.  Caleb almost always dressed up as a cowboy to go visit Grandma and Grandpa. 

When I was little I wanted to grow up to be a rodeo queen.  I’m sure that came from my dad’s influence.  We lived in Soda Springs until I was almost 9 and I remember riding all the time with dad before he got stressed out with the work of the dairy when we moved to Preston.  We would ride through the Bear River to go and check the cattle.  I also liked riding with him on the first day of deer hunting season each year.  I hoped that he would not even spot a buck.  I didn’t want to deal with any shooting.  I just enjoyed the ride. 

Dad was always a cowboy.  He farmed to try to make a living but horses and cattle are what he loved, not so much farming.  He rode bulls until he was 30.  I remember his last bull ride and the ambulance coming to get him.  I was sitting in the stand with mom and she was not happy with him.  It seemed like he was hurt more often than not when I was a kid.  Of course there was the nerve damage from riding bulls.  I also remember his hand being crushed once from the jack falling on a truck.  I remember him being on disability from a terrible phosphate burn he got working.  I also remember a broken hand from attempting to punch a cow and hitting a metal bar instead. The most traumatic for me was when I was a senior in High School he had tumors growing in his jaw that required his jaw to be removed and replaced with a portion of his hip.  The jaw tumors came as a result of a childhood bus accident where he broke his jaw and femur and spent two months at Primary Children’s Hospital.  To say my dad was accident-prone would be a vast understatement. His hands were very shaky in his later life due to all of those accidents. 

My favorite game to play as a kid was “bucking bull.”  Dad was always the bull.  Christie, Cathie and I would take turns being the cowgirl and the other two girls would be the clowns.  The job of the clowns would be to protect the cowgirl when she fell off of the bull.  Dad taught us to keep our left arm in the air and to say “let em’ out” when we were ready to ride.  He would kick and spin and bunt us with his head.  It was so fun!  With the grandkids he was more like a slow old mare, but it was still fun.

I remember mom and dad organizing a “Ward Rodeo” for a ward party when I was 7 or 8.  (I’m sure it was mostly mom that did the organizing.)  Dad helped me practice barrel racing and pole racing for what seemed like all summer.  We both loved it.  I knew I was going to win.  Just before the rodeo there was some sickness that my horse got and I had to ride the neighbor’s horse with a little colt.  I kicked and kicked but couldn’t get that horse to go.  It was disappointing for me, but dad was still proud of his little cowgirl.

Dad loved taking us to the rodeos.  I am sure that he was the best cheerer in the stand.  I even remember occasionally having him called out by the announcer since he could be heard over the entire crowd.  He was so proud when I was in the Days of 47 Royalty.  We had box seats for the rodeo at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, and that was one event he wouldn’t miss.  I didn’t get to ride into the arena on a horse but I did ride around the arena each night in a convertible, waving and smiling on the jumbotron--it was the next best thing to being a rodeo queen.

One special bond that dad and I had was showing dairy cattle.  He went a smarter route with the other kids and raised beef cattle for the fair so they could make some money, but I was the dairy kid.  He helped me to show a bucket calf each year, and one year I won a registered heifer named Trix for having the most improved project.  Trix had many calves over the years, and I used the money from selling her calves to help pay for college.  He was proud of that heifer and even helped me to show her at black and white days in Richmond.

My dad always had a dog or two.  My childhood dog was named Duchess.  I really loved her, as did dad.  I remember Peppy who was appropriately named and got himself in trouble a few too many times chasing cars.  Usually dad’s dogs were cattle dogs, but there was a time where his best dog was the poodle, Puffy, pictured on top of his car.  Dad wasn’t prejudiced with people or with dogs and took the teasing from his friends as a compliment. 

The dad of my childhood was always working.  He ran a small dairy from the time I was 8 until after I graduated from high school.  He didn’t love the dairy, but he was trying to be a hero to his family by saving his dad’s farm and provide a living for his family.  He worked day and night.  Unfortunately working is what he was really good at, but money management and business were not his strengths.  He did teach us kids how to work though.  In high school my chore days were Saturday and Sunday so I woke up every weekend to feed calves and help with the chores.  I also learned at a young age how to drive tractor and truck. He would put me in the front of his truck to drive, starting before I could even see over the steering wheel.  He would put it in a low gear and I would make a loop around the field while he threw hay off the back of the truck for the cattle.

Dad was an early riser and felt that everyone else should be too.  Of course when I was growing up he would get up at 4:30 to milk cows and would stand on the porch at about 6:00 and yell our names to get us out of bed.  On my chore days he would come to my room and make me sit up before he would leave.  I would sometimes just fold over and I learned to comfortably sleep with my head in my own lap.  When he stopped milking cows he still liked to wake everyone up early.  He would sometimes try to let us sleep but his allergies would force him into the bathroom snorting and sneezing.  He also wanted everyone to eat breakfast while it was hot and by golly he wanted it early. 

Dad always wanted nice things for his kids.  Now that I think about it, I drove a very nice car in high school and he drove a junker.  He was willing to sacrifice his own comfort for the comfort of his family.  I’ll never forget sitting in the front yard one afternoon when a truck with a four-wheeler in the back slowed down.  Dad started teasing the young man before the boy could speak saying “you can just drop the four-wheeler off here.”  The boy said, “I’m looking for the home of Neil Owen.”  Keith and Cathie had bought that very four-wheeler for my dad.  We were all touched.  I loved witnessing dad receive a nice gift from his children, as he had sacrificed all that he might have had for us.

For about ten years my parents organized the Idaho State Dutch Oven Cook Off.  (My mom did the organizing and my dad did the manual labor that day.)  He wasn’t a gourmet cook like the contestants, but he could make a mean pot of Dutch oven potatoes.  We girls always fought with him about putting too much bacon grease, butter, and cheese in them, but they sure did taste good.  He would sneak in the fats knowing what made them taste good or prepare a pan for his girls and a pan for everyone else.

I don’t remember dad going on vacation with us while I was growing up except a couple of times to Disneyland.  Vacations stressed him out.  He didn’t have the money to travel, and he thought home was the greatest place on earth.  When I was in college we did go to Hawaii.  He was very upset about going over Christmas.  He didn’t want to miss out on his responsibilities with Santa so he filled his carry-on with candy canes and passed them out as we traveled.  It took him until about the last day to relax and start “hanging loose.”  He did catch on to the joy of traveling a little more in his 50s.  He had fun playing with the grandkids on vacation.

There was one form of play that my dad was really good at and that was snowmobiling.  He never owned a decent snowmobile, but he was so good at running those sleds.  My mom tells me that as a child I would ride on the snowmobile with him yelling “slow down Neil” the whole time.  I can believe it because I felt the same way and yelled very similar things when I rode with him as an adult. 

My favorite family tradition was our annual ski night.  Dad spent 364 days a year hating that ski party, but the day of the party he was on cloud nine.  He loved hanging out in the lodge with all of his friends.  He loved catcalling people from the ski lift.  We teased him about not being a very good skier.  His poles were always flying in every direction, but he supported us in learning to ski.  He provided food that mom spent weeks preparing for hundreds of our friends over the years at the ski party.  That party just won’t be the same without him greeting every person with his loud voice and some joke that endeared people to him.

My dad was Santa’s best helper.  He loved helping Santa and spreading Christmas joy!  Dad didn’t like that Caleb figured out that he was Santa’s helper at a young age, but it was the most awesome thing to Caleb.  Instead of sending letters to the North Pole all we needed to do was give them to Grandpa because he was a close personal friend with the big man up north.  In fact Caleb is hoping that he will be able to take over dad’s position with Santa some day.  Dad liked to drop in on families and with names and details about their lives convince them of the reality of Santa.  I will always believe in Santa because there is no way my parents could have afforded the nice Christmases we were given.

My dad began working at the USU Central Heating Plant about 15 years ago when I was a junior at USU.  He worked nights so I would take my dates to go and visit him, and I would walk the half block from my apartment to his work in the evenings just to visit.  It was during that time that I became close to my dad and even started calling him Papa. I will treasure the times that we spent visiting in the old boiler plant on Old Main Hill.  The grandkids liked to visit dad at work and go for walks down the tunnels or better yet go for rides on the “golf cart” in the tunnels.  He had a list of blogs he would check every day at work and he often left comments. He also enjoyed being on Facebook for the past year and always had a comment.

Dad was known for always being happy and easy going.  He had a reputation for being able to B.S. with anyone.  He could talk for hours.  When Josh asked dad for my hand in marriage dad was leery to answer.  He spent three hours stalling and beating around the bush.  Finally he said “so long as you make her happy.”  Josh jumped up and said, “I’ll take that as a yes.”  Dad didn’t ever want to part with his girls. 

Dad was gruff with the grandkids, but he really loved them.  He liked to snort and “bah” at them and make other animal noises.  He was so loud they didn’t know how to take it.  The last time I talked to him he called to tell me how cute Cara was.  She had gone over to our new neighbor’s house, who is also a friend of dad’s, and introduced herself.  He was proud of her for being so friendly. 

I will miss having my dad participate in Priesthood ordinances.  He isn’t what I would consider a really religious man, but he had a very strong testimony of the divinity of God and of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He almost always bore his testimony when his family was gathered for baby blessings.  He wanted us to all know that he knew the Church was true.

Oh dad, you died 30 years too early!  You were just getting the hang of spending quality time with your family rather than working all of the time.  We had many memories yet to make.  I will always treasure the good times we had.  Thank you!

Dads Funeral

I took Cara and Johnny with me to my parents on the Friday night that dad died.  My whole family was in a state of shock.  I was warm but slightly shivering for 2 days.  That first night was one of many tears and much talking.  Most of the family saw dad’s body earlier in the day, but I waited for Christie and went in to the mortuary at about 9:00 pm and saw him.  He looked really good, but dead.  Even seeing him I couldn’t believe it was real.

We wrote his obituary that first night.  I mostly dictated and mom typed.  We wanted to meet the deadline of getting it in the Sunday paper.  We added a little humor in honor of dad.  He always read the obituary’s at work and I think he would have approved of his.  It read as follows:
“Neil Gregory Owen at age 58, took his last ride Friday morning, September 14, 2012 while on the cattle drive up Worm Creek Canyon. He died from injuries due to a horse that is now for sale. His dog never left his side until he was taken off the mountain.
“Neil loved life. He was always “shootin' the bull” with everyone. As a dry farmer and dairy farmer he watched the weather very closely. He worked at USU Central Energy Plant for the past 15 years and loves his many friends there. He also loved his associations' as a counselor in the Legacy Branch. Many will miss him; Santa now has an opening for a new helper.
 “As a Preston High School graduate he spent most of his life in Preston with the exception of two years as a missionary in Tennessee and ten years in Soda Springs Idaho.
“Neil is survived by his wife, Iva, of 36 years, as well as 5 children whom he was so proud of. Carrie (Josh) Kirk of Providence; Christie Owen of Centerville; Cathie (Keith) Coombs of Chugiak AK; Cody (Stephanie) Owen in Limbo; Connie (Colby) Law of Smithfield and12 grandchildren. He is also survived by his siblings Robert (Judy) Owen, Preston; Anna (Gordon) Barlow, Lewiston; William (Marta) Owen, Texas; and Scott (Kelli) Owen, Weston. He was preceded in death by his parents Clarence and Odessa.
“Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. in the Preston North Stake Center, 310 N. State, Preston, Idaho with Bishop Tom Madsen conducting. Friends may call Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. at Webb Funeral Home, 1005 South 800 East, Preston, Idaho and Wednesday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. at the stake center. Interment will be in the Franklin Idaho Cemetery.” 
Cara was so cute while we spent the weekend at Grandmas.  She took care of Danny, her 3 year old cousin, and herself.  She was thoughtful and compassionate.  She went to bed with mom that first night at about midnight.  They visited and she tried to give mom hope that Grandpa “might come back.”  She told Grandma that she was really worried about Aunt Chris because her face was really red and really white and that she didn’t look like herself.  When my mom couldn’t stop crying Cara kept telling her to breath.  Eventually mom got up and we didn’t even try to sleep until 4 AM.  I couldn’t stop crying at 6:30 so with two hours of sleep I started another exhausting day. 

Planning the funeral was enjoyable for me.  Since my dad was different we wanted his funeral to be different.  The opening song was his favorite hymn, Because I Have Been Given Much.  He would often cry when it was sung.  We asked one of his best friends, Marty Mickelson, who is also a cowboy poet to share a poem.  He ended up sharing a few parts of poems that were favorites of dads or about dad.  Then dad’s older brother Bill shared a few memories about dad’s childhood.  The rest song was a country song, One More Day, sung by one of my dear friends, Sabrina Woodland.

The bulk of the program was myself and each of my siblings sharing some memories.  We all wanted to say a tribute to our dad.  Following was the script to my talk:
“I know my dad was a “good guy,” but I had no idea the number of lives he has touched.  Our house has been a constant flow of people who loved him and stories of service he had provided with no thought of personal gratification.  We have been overwhelmed and uplifted by all who come with swollen eyes because their time on earth has been made better because they knew my dad.  I love him and I will miss him. 
“I know he is frustrated right now that he doesn’t have a body. He would want to talk to every person in this room.  He would give them a hard time about something and then he would cheer their day in some way.  He would tell you a story about one of his grandkids or about his dog and update you on the weather.
“I will miss his silly little calls to tell me how much water they got at the house from the last rainstorm and wondering if we got about the same.  (I had no idea.)  I will miss his comments on my blog and I face book just expressing his love.  It took a lot of years for him to learn to say “I love you,” but he had become so good at it over the last little while.  His comment before hanging up the phone had become “I love you more.” 
“The mornings are so quiet at my parents house without dad there.  I just keep waiting for the door to close, and for him to start yelling for everyone to get up and have some eggs and then force us to eat them even if we didn’t want any.  He would maybe try to be quiet for a few hours, which would be impossible for him with his cowboy boots on the squeaky floor and his stuffy nose from allergies.  He would be out and in and back out again before the rest of us were even going.
“He loved life, and he loved people.  He NEVER complained.  He not only did what needed to be done, but he did it with a willing heart.  He thought he was the richest man in the world even though he didn’t have two dimes to rub together.  He always had a dream truck.  This summer it was a dooly truck sitting in the ford lot, when we would drive by he would tell me that his truck hadn’t sold yet.  Even though he didn’t have his truck he was rich because he had the mountains, and the cattle, and his horses and his family.  Most of all he was rich because he had the perfect attitude and a life full of friends.
“One of his friends from high school, Helen Crockett Jensen, commented on facebook,  When I recently saw Neil at our 40 year class reunion, my first thought was, "Here is a guy who is very content with his life." Still had the same smile. So pleasant and genuinely kind to everyone. The world needs more Neils.” Another one of his classmates, DeAnne Hess commented, “Neil never met anyone he didn't look for the best in. I Never heard him engage in idle or destructive gossip. I don't think he had an enemy, and his circle of friends included everyone he knew. Honest, Sincere, dependable and kind. The world is a better place because he was here....and that big "silly crooked smile" will be missed as much as those big ol' "Bear Paw" hand shakes.”
“Another friend from his mission commented, Just days ago, I was talking with Neil and he was his fun self. Neil has been an inspiration to me since he was an ELDER, here in Nashville, Tennessee, during the 70's. Neil was not just a wonderful conveyer of what he believed in, he was an amazing man. He became a member of our family. My sons adored him and Neil loved them. Many ELDERS came to our home, however, Neil has always remained in our life. I CANNOT BELIEVE I HAVE LOST MY FAVORITE BROTHER.....MY MENTOR........The ONE that helped my understanding of GOD.....
“Elder Maxwell taught, “We grieve, sometimes terribly, but we grieve with hope and faith in Jesus Christ and in the reality of the resurrection.
“When I went to the spot where he died and learned of the details I thought that his death was a reward to him for the wonderful life he has lived.  He died on a beautiful mountain with his boots on.  Even though he was in the canyon miles from home it was the perfect spot where he could see the house and the valley.  He lay on his back between a couple of small bushes.  He had his dog by his side.  He was doing what he loved, riding horses and chasing cattle.  He would round up anyone’s cattle because it gave him the excuse to get on his horse and go for a ride. 
“My aunt Anna has told us that he was living on borrowed time.  He had survived so many near death experiences and accidents that I guess we can count our blessings that we were privileged to know him for the 58 years that he was alive.  I feel privileged that I will always call Neil Owen my dad.  I have a testimony that the details of this life are all part of a bigger plan, and that someday I will see my dad again.”
The closing song was also a country song, “Angels Among Us”.  It was very touching and was song by another friend of mine and my parents, Debbie Griffeth.  Everything about the program was perfect to me.  The prayers were given by his son-in-law Colby and special nephew, Lampee.  There was a wonderful mixture of laughter and tears in his program. The program cover was special because it is a picture Josh took of a sunset from the spot Dad died.  

One difficult part of planning was choosing Paul Bears.  My dad had so many family members who he loved.  We decided to have one person from each of his siblings families as well as his son, son-in-laws, and one nephew on my mom’s side of the family.  Rather than have him ride in the traditional hearse we put him in the back of one of the trucks he had been recently admiring.  He always wanted a nice truck!  My mom drove and the five of us kids rode with her.  I think he would have appreciated going in a truck. 

We decided to burry him in Franklin, Idaho.  My parents own two plots in Tremonton by my moms parents, and I didn’t think burying him anywhere else would be discussed.  When mom opened it up for discussion we children all wanted him closer so we could stop by a little easier.  His Grandpa owned a bunch of plots near his parents in Franklin and we were able to use two of them.  It also made it a little easier to transport him. 

We took him from the church in Preston to the church in Franklin in the truck and then moved him over to a horse drawn hearse.  It was a beautiful team of horses driven by Brody the boy who found dad.  Everything came together so perfectly.  After the dedication of the grave by Cody we invited all in attendance to write a farewell message on dad’s casket using markers.  We went back to the church for lunch where they had planned for 150 people and every chair was full and there wasn’t a bit of leftovers.  Everything went beautifully. 

Friends and family flew in and drove from all over the west to be with us to honor my dad.  It was an amazing tribute.  The viewing was scheduled to begin at 6:00 on Tuesday night, but people began arriving at 5:00.  By 5:30 there was a line out the door.  I was so honored and touched to have the support of my friends who made sacrifices to be there.  We used every tip the morticians gave us to keep the line moving quickly and after 4 hours of greeting people we estimate based on the sign-in that there were over 500 people that came through. 

There was a similar showing on Wednesday for the funeral.  It is overwhelming and touching to me that so many people came to give their last respects and in so doing showed love and support to my family and me. I think this has been one of the most physically and emotionally exhausting weeks of my entire life.  I am so grateful for a testimony of the plan of salvation, for temple covenants, and to know that families can be together forever.  I am sure it is harder without that knowledge although it is hard to imagine how it could be harder.  I do feel the love and support of my friends and family and the piece and comfort of prayers being offered on my behalf and I am so thankful for that. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

What happened?

One of many tender mercies is that my dad was in great spirits the morning that he died. Dad had spent the prior afternoon picking green beans and snapping them and made my mom can them that morning.  They worked together canning while dad anxiously awaited the arrival of the other cowboys to go round up cattle.  He rides horse at least once a week, but he loves it and the excitement of riding with someone never grew old to him.  He was pacing the floor as he waited.  He even shaved a put on clone.  Mom teased him that he was stinky and suggested that he was really going to meet a girl not to go out on the range gathering cattle.  My parent’s house is just a short distance from where the range begins so he waited for two horse trailers to pass so he would have friends to ride with.  He hugged my mom from the back, gave her a kiss on the neck and he was off. 

If this concept of “round-up” is unfamiliar to you let me explain.  A few hundred passes are owned by local cattlemen for their cows to go on the government owned mountain range each summer.  In the fall the cattle are all mixed up and must be found and brought in for the winter.  The cowboys designate a time to work together to bring them all in.  Round up is one of my dads favorite things.  He loves his association with the cowboys and he loves the work.  (There were older cowboys that came through the line with tears streaming down their faces wondering how they would get their cattle rounded up without the help of Neil.)  He carried much more than his share of the weight.  He loved it. 

That morning my mom asked my dad to ride her horse, a calmer palomino, but he had been riding Captain trying to get him ready to sale.  My dad breads his horses to be high strung because that made them good cattle horses.  Sure, people had a hard time staying on them, but those high-strung horses “walked out” and know how to get the job done.  At about 10:00 AM he was on a beautiful mountaintop called the school section and he suggested to the three other cowboys he was with that he could go down one side and they could go down the other.  Blake Smith, his 11-year-old son, Brody, and Ryan Hall split from him.  Blake said dad’s horse had an arch in his back and his tail was up as Neil gave it a firm kick and separated from the group. 

When my dad didn’t meet up with the others at the bottom of the hill they didn’t think a thing of it.  They figured he had found a herd of cattle and that he had headed back to the coral with them.  It wasn’t until they got back to the coral and realized he wasn’t there that they began to worry.  Blake and Brody trotted back to the base of the mountain.  They stopped to give their horses a rest and Brody said, “Dad, lets say a prayer that we can find Neil.”  They went up to where they last saw him and only 1-2 minutes from where they separated they found his hat.  They were yelling his name and his dog Mia came “yapping” from a “wash” (a nature made ditch).  As soon as Mia saw that they saw her she went running back to my dad’s side. 

His hat was about 100 yards from where they found him.  His head was at a slight downward incline so he didn’t look good.  It was about 1:00 that they called 911 (they were on the mountaintop so they could get cell phone reception) and search and rescue was dispatched to come get him off of the mountain.  Blake got permission to move him and put dad’s head in his lap.  Blake took off his hat and shaded dad with it until the rescue team arrived.  

This is a picture of Blake tearfully showing us the spot where dad had died.  It is a couple of miles from home, but you could see the home place from there as well as a beautiful view of the mountains with the leaves changing.  A few weeks earlier dad had told a neighbor, on a ride, that he was going to die with this cowboy boots on. That he did, in a spot where he could overlook the things that he loved most. 

We will never know exactly what happened. (The dog was the only one there and she’s not talking.)  We do know that it was an accident. Based mostly on the fact that his left rib cage was broken right at his heart.  One of those broken ribs probably pierced his heart or spleen.  It looks as if he didn’t struggle.  He was lying on his back with his arms out.  It appears as if he died where he landed.  We assume that he was either kicked on his way down or stepped on by the horse.  Although he had no external bruising.  This can only be explained by the mortician by the fact that he was wearing his garments.  With his hat so far away and his glasses also found about 3 feet away we can assume the horse was giving him trouble, either it bolted or was bucking and when it got to the wash it turned or stopped suddenly causing him to fall off. 

I find some peace in knowing that dad died doing what he loved to do.  He died in a beautiful spot and he will never suffer from old age.  My dad loved life so much!  I know that if he were given the choice he would have stayed on earth with us, but if he had to leave I am glad that he died on the mountains that he loved.  I am glad that he was with friends so that he could be found very quickly, and I am grateful that he didn’t lay there alone.  He and Mia have always been special to each other. I am sure he was comforted by the presence of his dog.