Memories of My Dad

My dad passed away on October 15 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. At his memorial service, I shared these memories of him. I put them here on this blog so that those who couldn’t be there could also learn about what a great dad he was. – Eric

In some ways it’s hard to know what to say about my dad. I’m supposed to be sharing my memories, but given his disease, the word “memory” takes on a different connotation. How can we talk about memories when his own memories were lost? And when his memories were lost, his family’s memories of him changed, as he himself did.

So today I don’t want to remember the way he was after the disease ravaged his mind, because that wasn’t him. I want to remember the dad that did a great job raising his two children and had a lot of fun along the way.

While I was reflecting on my memories, I came to the realization that my dad was a “cool dad.” On sitcoms, the standard trope is that kids are always embarrassed to be around their father, and cringe when he tries to hang out with them and their friends. But in my dad’s case, I don’t think that was true at all.

When I was in elementary school, he came in to give a career day presentation, talking about his profession as a commercial artist. I remember feeling very proud, because the other kids loved his presentation. He wasn’t talking about boring adult jobs – he was able to draw things for a living! And all of his pictures that he brought in to show were quite impressive both to the class and to me, with their precise lines and accurate renderings of real objects. It was also pretty cool to see his work out in the real world, whether it be in the newspaper or on the album cover of this little local bluegrass band named the Dixie Chicks.

Since he was self-employed, he was able to serve as a chaperone on many of my field trips. Rather than be annoyed that he was around, I was happy, because I thought it was fun to spend time with him, and I thought my classmates did too. His goofy sense of humor helped him fit right in. The most impressive example of this was when he came on a multi-day trip to Big Bend, driving a van full of rowdy teenage boys all the way out to West Texas. Those of you who have been to Big Bend know how far that is from here, so that was quite a feat!

My dad also helped lead the youth group at our church for many years, and here also his affable style was a great fit for the group. In our many Sunday night sessions, we became quite a bonded group, led by his caring and friendly style, with a lot of laughs mixed in. I also have very fond memories of the two of us driving back from those youth group meetings, listening to the “Beyond Bows and Arrows” radio show of Native American music which we both found fascinating.

On a hike with the youth group

We shared a lot of inside jokes as well. Every morning, we would both read the Mark Trail comic strip and then laugh at the unintentional irony of the adventures those characters got into. Also every morning, my dad would drive me to the bus stop for my bus into school. We would always listen to the Musers on the Ticket, and their fake characters and other hijinks would be a constant source of jokes between the two of us. My dad and I listened to the Ticket from basically its beginning as a station, and would go every year to the first night of Ticketstock to get the free t-shirt and see the hosts. I still listen to the Ticket today even in Denver, and get a smile on my face when I hear something that I know would have made my dad laugh.

Matching Ticketstock t-shirts

My dad wasn’t the cool dad just because he was funny – I was also in awe of his bike riding habit. As often as he could, he would go out riding with his friends, and pretty serious distances too. I was impressed if I could just make it around White Rock Lake, and he was able to do rides like a 100 mile ride in the summer heat of Wichita Falls, all without complaining about the difficulty!

He was also a brave dad – he beat prostate cancer when I was in college. I remember visiting him in the hospital, where he didn’t ever want to make a big deal out of it. And then, as he recovered, we spent the summer catching up on old seasons of The Sopranos together, back before binge-watching was a thing.

He was a natural at getting to know people around him. When he was self-employed, I would visit him at his office occasionally, and often on Fridays he and his officemate would go out to the hamburger restaurant Chips for lunch. Going to Chips with him felt like we were going to visit with his group of friends – he and the cashier called each other “Cookie” and would exchange the same coupon back and forth each visit. He got to know one of the cooks well enough to learn about his family back home – which had a nice benefit for me, because whenever I ordered a grilled cheese, it would come to me as a double decker because they knew I was Steve’s son.

When I would visit him at his last job at Central Market, again it was like he was friends with everyone in the store. When we walked with him through the store, he would be greeted warmly by people from every department. He even became friends with the Sudanese refugees who helped bring the carts in.

Dad made the chalkboard lettering and art

After he retired from Central Market in 2009, he came out to Colorado to join me and Della on a raft trip with her family. On this trip, the two of us shared a tent, and one night, after a few beers, he confided in me the fears about what was happening to him – “my brain is turning to mush” was how he put it. So when I think about his passing, I am not sad for him, because I know the fear and confusion I heard in his words that night has now gone for him. What I mourn for is that so many people will not have a chance to get to know the Steve that I knew growing up, including his grandchildren. So I hope all of those here who have those memories will help keep them alive.

My dad’s favorite movie was undoubtedly “Dances with Wolves.” When I was young, we would watch it together at least once a year. Even as his disease progressed, one of the best ways that caregivers could calm him down was to pop in the dvd of “Dances with Wolves” and play it on repeat. In the final scenes of the movie, the main character has to leave the tribe that he has come to know as his family due to circumstances outside of his control. As he leaves, a member of the tribe shouts from a hilltop at him “Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?” I think that my dad’s passing is kind of like this. Circumstances out of his control caused him to have to ride away from us sooner than he would have liked, and with a sense of sadness. As he rides away into the next life, I am shouting after him “Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?” And I think, now that his mind is once again clear, he knows and remembers that all of us were, and will always be, his friend.

Slowing Down in Kotor, Montenegro

Our next stop after Dubrovnik was the town of Kotor in the relatively new nation of Montenegro. Kotor is the main town on the Bay of Kotor, a giant inlet on the Adriatic Sea. After moving so quickly through Croatia with Della’s family, we decided to slow down in Kotor and ended up staying six nights!

Where We Stayed

Apartments Samardzic – Part of the reason why we decided to stay in Kotor for so long was because we really enjoyed our space in this apartment. We had a nice queen-sized bed, a good bathroom, a kitchenette, a big living room, and our favorite feature: a view over the bay. We spent most of our afternoons just relaxing the in the living room, looking out over the bay and catching up on things. The hosts live right next door, and were always very kind whenever we had a question.

What We Did

Honestly, not too much. Even though we stayed in Kotor for many days, a lot of our time was spent catchng up on the blog and reading books. We did try to do a little sightseeing most of the days. So, we did do these activities:

Explore Old Town – The Old Town of Kotor is known for being small but also like a maze. We spent a few different days trying to get lost in its different alleyways. We never got completely lost, but we did find a lot of picturesque little corners. We also found a lot of cute cats!

Climb the City Walls – Kotor has a very impressive defense system. Not only does it have thick walls to protect from attacks from the sea, it also has a series of walls running up the hill behind the Old Town that protect from attacks by land. Today, you can pay a small fee to hike up the old walls all the way to a fort at the very top. We took advantage of this one evening, and had great views over the bay as the sun set.

Day Trip to Perast – On one of the days in town, we also decided to take a day trip to the another interesting town near the mouth of the bay called Perast. There wasn’t too much going on there, but we enjoyed a lazy afternoon admiring its Venetian architecture and exploring its sights.

Zumba Classes – See our separate post.

Got Eric’s Hair Cut – It hadn’t been cut since before we left on our trip. As fun as it would have been to see him in a ponytail, he felt it was time. We asked around and heard that a place in Old Town would do it for a reasonable price. One evening we headed over there, and he got the exact cut he wanted in less than ten minutes!

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Where We Ate

Our Apartment  – For as much as we enjoyed Kotor, its one downside was a lack of cheap, non-touristy restaurants. So, for every night except one, we cooked dinner in our apartment! We found a nice grocery store (in the same fancy shopping mall as the Zumba classes), so we were able to vary the menu each night. We were also able to get a local beer or wine each night for pretty cheap.

Pizzeria Sara – The one exception to our cooking at home was the night we climbed the City Walls – all of those stairs made us pretty hungry! So instead of figuring out what to cook, we decided to eat some pizza. We both tried to get pizzas with a little bit of local flair – Della had a topping of local ham, and Eric had some prosciutto.

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Our table had a nice view on the square in front of the cathedral

Final Thoughts

We may not have done as much sightseeing during our week in Kotor as we had done other weeks, but we really enjoyed the chance to relax and recuperate. The few activities we did do were fun, and Kotor is definitely high on our list of places we have enjoyed visiting!

King’s Landing, Westeros… er… Dubrovnik, Croatia

After we said goodbye to Della’s parents in Mostar, we returned to Dubrovnik. We needed to return our rental car there, but we also wanted to spend just a little bit more time in the “Jewel of the Adriatic” before heading on.

As we crossed over the border from Bosnia-Herzegovina, we decided to take advantage of the fact that we had our own wheels to take a visit to the top of Mount Srđ. Normally you have to pay to take a cable car up, but driving up is free. We followed the narrow windy road up the mountain and got great views down over the city.

For our two nights in Dubrovnik, we stayed in an apartment that was a little cheaper than the place we stayed with Wayne and Peggy on our first trip through the city. It wasn’t too far of a distance from the Old Town, but the biggest downside was that all of the distance was straight up a hill. At one point we counted and we had 421 steps just to get there! We did enjoy the nice views from the terrace though.

Catching the sunset from the stairs near our place

Catching the sunset from the stairs near our place

Catching up on the blog on the patio

Catching up on the blog on the patio

We didn’t have much of a sightseeing plan during our time in Dubrovnik, since we had seen the biggest sights on our first trip through. We were planning to take it easy… but then we heard that Game of Thrones was actively filming! So, we spent most of our time scoping out the the sets and trying to figure out what was going on.

By the time we got down to Old Town on the first night, it was dark enough that filming had wrapped up, we we were able to find the leftovers from a set that looked like it was going to be a marketplace of some kind. The amount of detail put into the tables and chairs was pretty impressive. We were also surprised to see that they were using real produce and bread!

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Those seemed to be real items of produce

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On day two, we knew there were two locations rumored to be active. When we tried to go to the first one, it seemed like they were in the middle of filming, because security guards were blocking all of the different alleys leading to a certain area.

We think there as filming going on up there

We think there as filming going on up there

At the second site though, they were still setting up for what looked to be a massive scene. There were gates up and security to prevent us from passing, but they didn’t seem to mind us taking pictures. We spotted banners with the Baratheon and Lannister sigils, banners with the Tyrell sigil and a litter that with Baratheon/Lannister sigils engraved on it.

Probably the most fascinating thing to note was all of the work that was being put into converting a modern street into something that looks period appropriate. There were people painting over drain pipes and electrical wires, people covering awnings with fabric, and people adding a vegetation-covered trellis to a terrace.

We even got to eavesdrop on a discussion of the next day’s filming! We were sitting on a part of the staircase that hadn’t been roped off, and we noticed that a lot of people with crew badges were suddenly gathered around. Then, one of them called a meeting to order and started to discuss how to position the cameras. We got to hear where Cersei and the High Sparrow will be standing. They planned for how to shoot how Cersei would walk down the stairs right where we were standing. They planned to shoot a lot of the walking from behind with a double doing the walking. We have different opinions about what this scene will be. Della heard something about a shift being removed, which when combined with the discussion of a double indicates one scene that book readers will know… but Eric isn’t so sure.

We lingered around for quite a while, and spotted some of the actors in the process. We saw a few extras walk by in costume, but most exciting for us was seeing two of the main actors. The first one we saw was Aidan Gillen, who plays Peytr Baelish (a.k.a Littlefinger). He was in costume, walking quickly away under an umbrella, but we did get a good view when he turned and smiled in our general direction. That was pretty exciting, so we thought we were done for the day. But then, when we least expected it, we were sitting on a fountain and we suddenly looked up and saw a lady in a blue hoodie walking towards us a few feet away. It took a second to realize that it was Lena Headey, who places Cersei. Her hoodie slipped off and we saw that she was wearing her blonde wig, but she was not in costume beyond that. She quickly moved on so we weren’t able to get a good picture.

We felt like we had been pretty successful in seeing the different Game of Thrones sights, so to cap off our time in Dubrovnik and Croatia, we went to one of the Buza bars. It is just outside of the city walls, perched over the sea – the perfect place to watch the sun set!

The sun sets on our time in Dubrovnik and Croatia

The sun sets on our time in Dubrovnik and Croatia

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The second half of our time with Della’s parents was spent in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This country has been through some tumultuous times in recent history, but currently is quite welcoming to visitors. However, tensions still remain from the war. Still, we quite enjoyed our time getting to know this area just a little bit better.

Driving Through Republika Srpska

As we did on our trip through Croatia and Slovenia, we decided to rent a car. The first leg of our trip involved driving from Dubrovnik in Croatia to Sarajevo, the capital of the country. This drive actually provided our first glimpse into the interesting politics of the region. We knew that we were in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but we saw signs for the “Republka Srpska” and plenty of flags that looked like the Serbian flag. It turns out that the Republic of Srpska is a separate entity within the country that is composed mostly of ethnic Serbs. They have their own government and are culturally much more similar to Serbia (Cyrillic was much more commonly used), but it is still part of the same country.

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A sign in Cyrillic and the flag of the Republic of Srpska

Sarajevo

We spent three nights and two full days sightseeing in the very interesting city of Sarajevo. This city is in the other main political entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The majority of the residents in this part of the country are ethnically Bosniaks, which means that they are mostly Muslim (as a holdover from the long occupation by the Ottoman Empire), Therefore, you see a lot of mosques around. We even had the chance to visit the inside of one of the most important mosques in the city, the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque. However, Sarajevo has always been a place where the different cultures mix, so we also saw Serbian Orthodox churches and a Catholic Cathedral (for the Croats).

The Ottoman influence is definitely also felt in the architecture of the Old Town. The core of Old Town, called Baščaršija, looks and feels like a Turkish bazaar. We wandered through the narrow alleyways and took in the sights and smells (and sampled some cheap food!). Leaving this part of Old Town, you immediately see another culture that influenced Sarajevo: the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Another stretch of the Old Town feels a little like Vienna. There is an interesting spot within Old Town where you can clearly see the shift between the two styles.

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The “Eastern” side of Sarajevo. Note the ottoman feel

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The “western” side of Sarajevo. Note the Austro-Hungarian feel

The Austro-Hungarian occupation led to another event that Sarajevo is famous for: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, an event which set off a chain of events that led to World War I. There is a small museum at the assassination site that we spent some time visiting.

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The monument no longer exists. However, the sign marks the spot where the shot that began the chain of events leading WWI was fired.

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A reproduction of the Archduke and his wife in the small museum.

After immersing ourselves in the older history of the city, we knew that it was time to learn more about the recent war.We paid a visit to a moving and disturbing exhibit called Gallery 11/07/95 – a series of exhibits that attempt to explain some of the tragedies of the way, mainly the genocide at Srebrenica. Our guide gave us a brief overview of what happened there. It’s hard to give a concise explanation in this space, but the gist of it is that over 8000 Bosniak people in the town, mostly males, were killed and dumped into mass graves by the approaching Army of Republika Srpska, even though the town was supposedly under UN protection. We walked through the photo gallery, watched a documentary, and also listened to the stories of some individuals who were affected.

The gallery also included a small display and a documentary on the siege of Sarajevo. We vaguely remembered that Sarajevo was in the news when we were kids, but I don’t think we realized the scope of what the town went through. It was under siege for almost four years, which is the longest siege in modern history. The residents had to live in constant fear of being attacked by snipers in the hills surrounding the valley that the city sits in. The documentary, called Miss Sarajevo, was shot during the siege and showed the resilience of the residents in the face of this (and was later turned into a U2 song). It is extremely moving and worth a watch. (If you do watch the documentary, and you should… its linked in the previous sentences… and you find yourself as taken with the young girl in the beginning and the end as we were, here is a video of what she was doing in 2009!)

After leaving the museum, we went and walked through the downtown core which was the home of “Sniper Alley,” one of the areas that was most vulnerable during the siege. You could still see a lot of old damage, such as destroyed buildings and grenade and bullet scars, but at the same time, the city has also repaired and rebuilt many sites.

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Sniper scars in the buildings

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Monument to the children who died during the siege

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A “Sarajevo Rose” A grenade blast memorialized with red resin

Even with all this tragedy in the city, we still found our time there enjoyable. People are friendly and the food was interesting, cheap, and easy to find. Sarajevo has had a lot of bad things happen in the past, but we felt perfectly safe visiting in the present. We didn’t get a chance to talk to too many locals about the war, but the ones we did talk to said that they hoped to move forward as a united nation. However, they also made it clear that many in the older generations do not feel the same way, and the same ethnic tensions remain. It is clearly hard to forgive other ethnic groups for the terror everyone went through.

Mostar

After our time in Sarajevo, we spent one more day in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the town of Mostar. This town provided another interesting glimpse into the complex fabric that is Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was the site of major battles during the war, but this time between the Croats and Bosniaks (as oppose to the more Serb/Bosniak conflict in Sarajevo). Even though they have rebuilt since the war, you can still see many damaged buildings, and also damaged relations: there is a clear geographic divide between the Croats and their Catholic churches on one side of the city and the Bosniaks and their mosques on the other side of the city.

The big attraction in Mostar is the famous Old Bridge. It was originally built during the Ottoman era, and was an architectural marvel of its time. Unfortunately, the original bridge was destroyed during the war. However, post-war, multiple sources chipped in and the bridge was rebuilt in the same manner as it had been previously, once again spanning the Neretva River. One interesting tradition that has regained popularity is that locals will collect tips and then dive off of the bridge into the river far below.

On our last night in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and our last night together as a group of four for a while, we ate dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the bridge. As the sun went down, we were serenaded by multiple calls to prayer from the mosques in the area. It was a fitting end to our fascinating trip through this interesting nation.

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The lovely bridge at sunset from our dinner table

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Sunset over the mosque across the river

Dalmation Coast, Croatia

This is a guest post by Peggy, Della’s mom, who joined us, along with Wayne, for 14 days in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia Herzegovina.

After finishing up at Plitvice Lakes National Park, we headed directly to the coast. Our first stop was Zadar. This was high on Della and Eric’s list because Zadar is home to Maraska, a maker of slivovitz. We didn’t find a brewery tour but we did find the equivalent of an outlet store. We bought several small bottles. Peg’s favorite was Orahovac, made of green walnut.

Zadar is famous for its sunsets and we were not disappointed. It’s really nice sitting on the sea wall listening to the eerie but somewhat repetitive sounds of the sea organ. Embedded pipes in the sea wall produce the sound. We were a little disappointed by the Salute to the Sun but maybe it wasn’t quite dark enough to fully appreciate its virtues. It reminded us of water fountains, like the one in front of Denver’s natural history museum. Instead of randomly shooting water it randomly produces lights in the pavement. (Editor’s Note: We tried to take videos of the Sea Organ and Salute to the Sun but neither came out great). In the morning, Della and Wayne took a quick swim on the more sheltered side of town.

Then we were off to Split. The main attraction here is Diocletian’s palace, built for the retirement of the emperor of the Roman empire around 300 AD. There are an interesting mix of original roman structures and other houses and shops built during the next several centuries after villagers moved inside the walls following the Slavic invasion in 700 AD.

In both Zadar and Split we had excellent airbnbs in fairly ugly high rise Tito era buildings, but with modern interiors. We think both cities warranted longer stays.

The view from our highrise during a rainstorm

The view from our highrise during a rainstorm

The next day we drove to Dubrovnik. We had a bit of a snafu when our airbnb canceled at the last minute due to a roof leak. Our host helped us find something else, though not quite as nice. We also had a snafu with the rental car. The office was closed so we left the car and hoped for the best. It all turned out OK.

Dubrovnik is a beautiful walled city which oozes charm.  But it was packed with tourists and felt a teeny bit like Disney world. Or perhaps the set for a film. Which indeed it was. We missed Game of Thrones filming by a couple of days!  We spent 2 days in Dubrovnik. We enjoyed walking the wall and also swimming in a cool lagoon.

While everywhere we went in Croatia had great natural beauty and grand historic sites, there is also ample evidence of the recent ugly past and the damage from the Yugoslav wars. The area around Plivice had been home to many Serbs, placed there by the Austrians to serve as a first line of defense against the Ottomons.  You could see many abandoned homes.  And of course Dubrovnik was subject to a siege, although the war stories in Croatia paled in comparison to those we heard later in Bosnia.