By Mike Vaughan
Mama and Daddy ate mostly southern vegetables boiled. Daddy loved peppers — especially Tabasco Sauce. He quit salt and most meat years ago. They swam daily for 50 years. Together, they lived for him to become a centenarian veterinarian.
They kept their houses and yards clean — tools maintained and put up. They chose the most beautiful homes and land for aspiring young scientists to roam in all God’s glory.
They lived frugally beneath their means. They did not envy others who, as Daddy said, “Certainly know how to indulge themselves.” He often remarked, “There is dignity in labor.”
They went to church on Sunday. The backpack and canoe trips started early. Our family of five enjoyed hiking and paddling together in the wildernesses of North America. Our trips included ascents of Katahdin, Rainier, Whitney, Gros Morne in Newfoundland, Sangre de Cristo, Big Frog in Cohutta and Mount Marcy.
We took the first whitewater canoeing class offered by Auburn Continuing Education and that grew into years of avid paddling. We had to purchase our first red Blue Hole Canoe when we wrapped an Adventure Sports one around a boulder on Hatchett Creek.
When hiking, Daddy would say, “Keep your boots dressed, wash your wool socks in mountain streams, you have two pair, take care of your feet, avoid blisters.” We were issued one tin cup, one water bottle, one sleeping bag, one mountain tent, one bedroll, matches, dehydrated food, dehydrated Lipton Tea, one pack of saltine crackers, one block of cheese and one poncho. He would advise, “We have miles and miles and days to go to reach these summits. Stick together — don’t leave any member of the family behind. As we approach the summit, wait… we will go together. Keep the family together.”
The breaks along the trail were times when we would stop and take the weight off our backs — either shuck the backpack or prop it on a rock and leave it on. We would watch Daddy pull out his pocketknife and slice cheese. He would always serve us first. We would wash down the cheese and crackers with tea. He would pull out his Audubon Wildflower Guide and point out the plants we were walking past. He’d take pictures with his plaid stamp Kodak.
Bronze USGS discs marked the summits and recorded elevations. To stare down at those markers as a family was our reward. It was all downhill from there.
Post-retirement, it was their sail boats HMS Ethel and Pretty Lady. My father and my mother sailing together, alone on Perdido Bay. On the bay, they reflected on 66 years of togetherness. Mama said, “This is my home. I grew up in Mobile.” Her attachment to Mobile included the blackouts — sirens of possible air raids during the Second World War. She once mused, “We survived that, and this is our reward. A house on the bluff — Red Bluff — overlooking Soldier Creek and Perdido Bay.”
Not long ago Daddy told me that he always wanted to “get back to the High Country.”
You reached the summit… sail on… we love you.