Sunday, June 9, 2013


My Dad had a trailer.

Not just any trailer. The bottom half of an old Jeep.

I can't remember my childhood without the presence of this trailer, which he lovingly (and constantly) restored.  He painted it a cheery red, built custom wooden sides and a removable back. 

Growing up, it feels like just about every fall and spring weekend I'd be bouncing around in the back of the trailer as we bumped through the land surrounding our house doing yard work, a wild grin on my face.  Riding in the red trailer was a treat.

It came with us camping, fishing, canoeing.  It was packed with kids or bikes or beach gear, pulled behind a never-ending series of Jeeps. 

Two years ago  my Dad died suddenly from an infection.  He had had his spleen removed seven years earlier because of cancer, but had been in remission and otherwise healthy since the surgery.  On June 11, 2011 he woke up feverish, and was in the hospital just a couple of hours later fighting a losing battle with sepsis, because he no longer had his spleen.  It all happened so fast.  One night he was healthy, happy and very much alive.  By the end of the next day he was gone.

I'm still struggling to wrap my head around his physical absence in our lives.  I think I always will.

His spirit is everywhere, though. 

Very early this morning I cradled a cup of steaming coffee in my hands as I watched my husband putter in our driveway with the red trailer; it now resides with us. I don't say it's ours, because it doesn't feel like ours. It feels like we're simply the next caretakers, my husband pouring as many hours as my Dad did into it, polishing the tires, patching up rust, painting faded spots. 

We were heading to the PMC Kids Ride for Cancer.  Greta and Finn sponsored a team that raised over $1,000 for Dana Farber's Jimmy Fund.  The sun was just peeking over the treetops, sending sparkling rays through the dissipating early morning mist. 

I could practically see my Dad standing there, baseball cap planted firmly on his head, fanny pack full of all the gear we'd need for the ride strapped around his waist (first aid kit, map, band-aids, bug spray, mole skin, sunscreen) and nodding with approval as Steve strapped down the bikes and the kids piled in the car.

We arrived at the beautiful park where the ride was held, jostled into helmets, filled water bottles, and secured our riding tags.

The kids were bubbly, excited, chattering a mile a minute.  The day was spectacular - after a couple days of torrential downpours and steaming hot weather, the day was clear, warm and sunny.  Everyone was smiling, happy to be outside on a gorgeous day raising money and awareness for such a worthy cause.

Finn looked heavenward, sporting his Dartmouth tee shirt (my Dad's - and my - Alma Mater) and mohawk helmet with pride:

We named their team "Team Going Strong" in memory of my father (my maiden name is Strong) and in honor of my remission.   A team shot pre-race:

Team Going Strong

They lined up in their designated groups - the boys riding the one mile "Crusader" loop, and the girls riding the 4 mile "Challenger" loop:

One by one, they pushed off, each wearing a huge grin. 

Cancer makes families feel so powerless, but today?  Today was all about hope.  And empowerment.  These kids knew they were making a difference, and it showed in their faces.

Afterward they played games for little plastic prizes, ate free ice cream, bounced in the jumpy house - a celebration full of chocolatey smiles, painted faces and laughter.

A good day.  A great day.

As the kids played, I quietly slipped away to the pinwheel garden.  Riders could make pinwheels honoring people - surviving and not - who had fought cancer.  The bright pedals spun in the sunshine. 

With a silent prayer, I added my Dad's pinwheel to the garden.   The kids called him PopPop, after the funny sound he made with his mouth that made them laugh:

There was also a pedal for me, currently - and oh so gratefully - in remission from cancer.

My Dad gave tirelessly to all the communities he served: charities, schools, towns and churches.  He dedicated much of his time to helping make this world a better place for all people, especially those less fortunate than he was.

This is his strongest legacy to us all - this message of hope and giving of ourselves.  Today, his spirit lives on in my family - my children - as we celebrated life and honored those who have come before.

I miss you, Dad.  Every day. You are so very loved.


  1. Hope walks -
    in wards reeking of rubbing alcohol and latex gloves
    in treatment rooms through feeding tubes
    in parks marking memories of warriors past and present
    in hushed halls and at soccer games
    in scrawled notes of encouragement
    in gymnasiums and pools in everyday life
    in words and experiences and hugs shared
    in the mirror Every Single Day
    in the presence of those unseen
    in step with those who remember and
    in so many more ways
    in every moment
    Hope walks.

  2. Your dad lives on ... in the red trailer... in his words remembered... but especially in and through you. "My Dad gave tirelessly to all the communities he served." To me... that sounds like Ellie!

    Also, nice poem, Judy Gillis.

  3. Beautiful tribute to your Dad and your amazing life, Ellie. Love, Dawn.

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