Today we buried my father. Ernest John Becker was an amazing, yet humble man. He was a leader in the Spokane community, serving on many civic, Gonzaga University, and church boards. He was the managing partner at the biggest accounting firm in the city. Yet, at least with his kids, he didn’t talk about these things. To us kids, he was just Dad.
Dad grew up in Colton, Washington, a small farming community near Pullman. Actually, he grew up on a farm several miles outside Colton. He was one of 14 children. The farm was at the base of Bald Butte, a rounded chunk of bedrock sticking several hundred feet above the rolling hills of the Palouse. Several years ago, I talked with Dad about his life, and he said that Bald Butte was his favorite place. It held great memories for him of growing up on the farm, and he still liked to visit the Palouse and Bald Butte when he got the chance.
He eventually left the farm, joining the Army and serving in the Korean War. He didn’t talk much about those days, at least to me or my siblings. After three years in the Army, he returned to Washington and attended Gonzaga University, earning a degree in accounting. About that time, he married my mother, and together they started their own large family. I am one of seven children; the oldest boy, third oldest overall.
Over the past week, all of us shared photos of Dad. I have all the old slides that Mom and Dad shot from the late 1950s through the 1980s. I went through several hundred, and scanned quite a few to share with my brothers and sisters. One brother made photo collages for the reception after the service; I made a slide show of Dad’s life. There were several shots of Dad proudly holding his first baby son back in 1959 and 60, and I couldn’t help but think today, that now I was carrying him as one of the pall bearers.
I suppose I got my love of photography from him. While growing up, whenever we took a trip, Dad had his camera out, taking photos of the family and the scenery. I don’t know when he got his first camera, I never had the chance to ask, but I did scan one photo of Dad as a young man, perhaps 20 years old, camera in hand. My mother also took a lot of photos, so perhaps I came to photography from both sides.
Dad also bestowed his love of nature on me (and my siblings). Every year he’d load up the station wagon and hitch up the tent trailer, and off the nine of us would go to explore the American west. I remember trips to Glacier National Park, the Oregon coast, Arches National Park, Yellowstone, the west coast of Vancouver Island, and southern California.
He loved to travel. A few years after my mother died, Dad met and fell in love with my stepmom, Anita. There eight years ago, when Dad was 81 years old. Together they discovered the wonders of Europe and Hawaii during multiple trips. In between the trips, they enjoyed life in Spokane. It was wonderful to see him so happy in his later years.
I’m like him in so many ways – the photography, love of nature and travel, quiet by nature – and I must have been told 20 times today at the funeral that I look just like him. Which is good, I guess, since I think he was a handsome man. Perhaps you agree? The photo above is one I took about two years ago, at Bald Butte in fact. It was probably the last time he was there. The one below is his high-school portrait – then the year he left the farm and Bald Butte behind to make his way in the world.
He died about two weeks ago, and I still have a hard time believing he is gone. He was the very definition of a good man – humble, loyal, steadfast, smart, and generous. And while, perhaps, a little bit of him lives on in me, in my memories and my genes; I will miss him. Rest in peace Dad.
If you are a regular follower of my blog, you know that Tanya and I are animal lovers. For years we loved our Newfoundland, Carson, and our two cats, Patch and Sugar. In June 2013, we lost Sugar to cancer. Later in that year, Carson passed away as well. Last Saturday, it was Patch’s turn. While Carson and Sugar both died of natural causes, Patch was struck by a car as he was crossing the street to come see me as when I came home from shooting a wedding. As he lay stricken in the street, I petted him, hardly containing my tears, and called Tanya, who had just left the house on an errand. She was able to get back home in a few minutes, and we were glad we could be there comforting Patch in his final moments.
Patch was the best cat I’ve ever known. He was loved by everyone in the neighborhood. My neighbor across the street, Brad, who confesses to not liking cats, told me yesterday that even he loved Patch. Patch was about as friendly as a cat can get. He loved being around people, any people. We often heard stories about how he freely wander into other people’s houses. Before we moved to Tacoma, we had a neighbor who left his door open and a bowl of cat food in his dining room just because he like to have Patch come in to visit (he later stopped this after opossums came in for the food). We often thought we would lose Patch someday because he would visit someone we didn’t know and they might adopt him (he didn’t wear a collar – it was impossible to keep one on him for more than about 2 hours). Besides investigation other people’s houses, he would also jump into cars if someone left a door open. One of Tanya’s favorite Patch stories describes how she once answered the door for a repairman and as they were talking, she saw Patch checking out the cab of the repairman’s truck from the inside.
Patch was totally at ease with dogs, probably from growing up with Carson (they were best buddies, often sleeping together). But Patch was not against taunting dogs for his own amusement. He liked to prance back and forth on a neighbor’s lower roof, just outside their living room windows, and drive their inside dog crazy. Though he didn’t seem to care one way or the other about Nahla, our new Newfoundland, he did act as if to approve having a dog in the house again when we brought her home last year.
Patch had the loudest purr of any cat I’ve known. In fact he was a purr machine – just about anything would set off his purrs. He’d walk into a room, see me or Tanya and start purring immediately. A small treat, a quick pet, even a look from across a room, all set him purring.
He was also a toucher. If I was to sit down next to him, he’d usually stretch out a paw to touch my arm or leg. He’d often go lay down by Carson and reach over and place a paw on Carson’s leg or foot. When I read a book in bed, he’d lay on my chest, but always reach a paw up to touch me on the upper chest or neck where the bedclothes didn’t cover.
After Sugar and Carson died, Tanya and I brought home Nahla and a new kitten, Tuck. Replacement pets if you will, though they really aren’t. Now with Patch gone, we may get another new cat (it is clear that Tuck misses Patch as well). But there will certainly be no replacing Patch.
The car that hit Patch didn’t even slow down. I feel sorry for such callous, uncaring people. They had to have known they hit something. But I’m not bitter. Patch was 16 ears old and had a great life. He was my good friend, and I miss him dearly.
Goodbye Patch; I hope you have fun with Carson wherever dogs and cats go in the afterlife, and be nice to your sister too.
I’m taking a break from my series of posts on the Southwest to talk about a good man,Tanya’s father, Eugene Suryan, Gene passed away from last Monday after a valiant fight against pancreatic cancer. He will be missed and be fondly remembered by his bride of 55 years (and Tanya’s mother), Maxine, as well as his five children, seven grandchildren, and indeed, all who knew him.
Gene grew up in Anacortes, Washington, son of immigrants from Croatia. His father, Little Joe, like so many Croatian men who moved to Washington, was a fisherman. In his youth, Gene occasionally worked on his dad’s boat, and spent a summer working at a salmon cannery in Alaska, but he didn’t catch the fishing gene (sorry Gene, couldn’t resist the pun). He went to Washington State University majoring in business. After a stint in the Army, he became a banker.
He loved mechanical things, especially cars, and particularly American cars. Gene was also the biggest news junkie I ever knew. He subscribed to several weekly news magazine, and I think he wore out his TV remote buttons tuning between the local news stations and CNN.
I’m not much of a car guy – to me, a car is just basic transportation. But I do keep up on the news, though I must admit, when I knew Gene was coming over, I’d bone up on the latest news so we’d always had something to talk about. He loved to discuss the world’s problems and offer suggestions on how to fix them. But sometimes he was stumped, and I will always remember the quizzical look he’d get on his face, slightly grinning and cocking his head sideways when I’d ask him about some particular issue when he didn’t have a good answer. Then he would always say, “that’s a good question Joe!” and laugh.
Gene was also one of the happiest men I’ve ever known, and he was so enthusiastic about everything – be it a glass of wine, a good-looking car, or just coming to visit at our house. Through the years of having Tanya’s parents over, I don’t know how many of Gene’s crushing bear hugs I survived. He always had a smile and was truly happy to met anyone (though the bear hugs he saved for family). He adored our cat, Patch, and Patch likely to sit on his lap. Which is quite funny, because Patch typically only comes up to visitors who don’t like cats or are allergic to them (how Patch knows this, I don’t know, but he does).
As I went through my photo collection looking for a picture of Gene to use with this post, I sadly found I didn’t have very many pictures of him, and even fewer of just him without other people in the shot. Tanya has repeatedly told me to take more family photos, and I have been lazy and not done so, thinking there is always more time. In Gene’s case, I no longer have that time. So let this be a warning to you photographers out there – take those family photos while you can, you never know when the opportunity will no longer be there.
Goodbye Gene. I miss you.