Today would have been my Dad’s, aka Neil’s, 82nd birthday. But before I go any further, I should explain why I (and everyone else) called Neil by his first name. See, when he married my mom, my sisters were 11 and 15, so they naturally called him Neil as their stepdad. Then when I came along, like with many other things, I followed their lead.
An equally big reason for Universal Neil was that he was not into pet names. Period. My mom, his mom, neighbor kids, dogs, cats horses and grandchildren all called him Neil. Apparently, I tried calling him “Daddy Boy” for a short stint when I was two, but that didn’t take.
So, Neil it was. For everyone. Forever.
Neil passed away about ten months ago, and was honestly gone several years before, lost in the crazy haze of Alzheimer’s. Mostly, I find joy in his memory instead of sadness because he was such a kind, quietly funny, honest man.
Actually, honest is an understatement. If there was a rule, Neil followed it. If there wasn’t, he made one. His moral compass was so strong, it reset other moral compasses in his general area. So in honor of his birthday, here is my favorite story of the man who once built a perfect, small scale replica of a spiral staircase before he actually constructed the real thing.
But that’s another story, maybe for next year’s birthday. This one is about hay.
When we had horses on our property, Neil would drive over Snoqualmie Pass to Cle Elum, a farming town, to get hay. He went to get it himself for two reasons – Neil knew the guy who sold the hay, and most importantly, Neil was frugal and it saved money over having it delivered.
So about every six months, Neil woud make the trip over. He’d leave first thing in the morning, drive the 1 ½ hours to Cle Elum with the Ford F-250 pickup truck and an empty 2-horse trailer In tow, load up the truck bed and the trailer to full capacity, and then drive back home. The elaborate system of tarps and bungie cords to secure the hay was always strong enough to keep those bales in place through gale force winds or an invasion of alien hay snatchers, and he never lost a single one. He also usually unloaded the whole two-ish tons of hay in the same day. One of the many reasons why the man still had six pack abs into his late 70’s.
On one of these trips, Neil really loaded up- probably more than he should have, but he wanted to make that tank of gas earn its keep! Driving back home, about a mile from our exit, Neil saw the weigh station coming up alongside I-90. The weigh station, I should add, where commercial long-haul truckers are required to pull off and weigh their loads.
So, little old Neil, in his Ford F-250 and 2-horse trailer loaded down with fresh timothy hay, puts on his blinker and pulls off at the weigh station, coasting his truck and trailer right onto the scales. Of course, the weight of the hay far exceeded the gross vehicle weight allowed on the truck and trailer. So the state patrolman came out of his shack, surveyed the situation and happily wrote Neil a hefty ticket.
I have to believe that story is told at State Patrol gatherings and Elks lodges around the greater Seattle area to this day.
Neil got home, madder than hell that he had gotten a fine. My mom pointed out that those scales aren’t even intended for personal vehicles, but Neil would have none of it.
“IT SAID WEIGH STATION OPEN!” he argued with his signature flared nostrils and emphatic hand gestures.
“WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?!? JUST DRIVE RIGHT BY?”
That was my dad. Hard working, exacting, generous of his time. And so damn honest, he pulled himself over and gave himself a ticket.
I love you Neil. Happy Birthday.