My dad was a curator of mischievous ventures.
He taught me the value of “smart pills”, how to tell off people “to piss up a rope”, to hide one’s true feeling by saying he was “fine
as frog’s air” or “fair to middlin’” but always never to take yourself too seriously.
Dad accepted dares, especially from his two daughters, to see people’s reactions and well, to experience life. His favorite dare was putting catsup on ice cream, faking eating one’s vomit, and picking up roadkill “for anatomical research reasons.”
Having a healthy curiosity about anatomy myself, I respected his curiosity. I mean, you’re talking to a girl who used to stare at her chicken wings as a kid to understand how wings worked.
But Dad was on a mission – to build a jackalope, but not any rinky-dinky sort. He wanted a large one. He never did anything small, case in point, like the trebuchet he built in our backyard, to see how far he could fling a clay pigeon.
He studied anatomy books, videos, and animal corpses. He built fiberglass prototypes, skinned dead animals, and made casts for “mass” productions. It’s New Mexico – jackalopes would sell.
That year, my husband (then boyfriend) invited us to his home state of Alaska, a bullet point on my father’s bucket list. My father-in-law, a former lieutenant colonel, collected yard gnomes, and my dad wanted to make a good impression. After all, Dad was fulfilling one of his dreams of flyfishing in Alaska. His thank you gift had to be good.
We lived in Seattle, WA at the time, and my dad still lived in Albuquerque, NM, where I grew up. Dad flew to Seattle to join us for the rest of the flight to Anchorage. He arrived with his usual minimalist luggage – and a 4 ft high crate. Oh dear god, I thought, what has he done.
- Dad, what’s in the crate?
- Oh this. Oh don’t mind this. It’s for David in Alaska.
- Yea, but what is it?
- You’ll see.
My husband didn’t know what to make of it either as we rolled this crate through Sea-Tac.
We stood in line to check our luggage. We heard a woman and her adult daughter comment on the stickers on the crate – FRAGILE. STAND UPRIGHT.
- Excuse me, sir, can I ask what’s in the crate?
My dad winked at me. Oh, shit – The Trickster has arrived.
- Oh this, this here is a jackalope.
Oh dear god.
Their eyes widened with excitement.
- Yep, really. Bagged it myself.
Dad didn’t lie, but he did excel at stretching the truth. I’m sure he bagged a part of the jackalope – off the side of the road.
The mother chimed in.
- I thought they were a myth.
- Nope, caught this one just out on the mesa near my house. Tricky suckers. Bigger ears, you know so that they can hear ya. They’re real, all right. See for yourself.
There was a little gap in the crate – not much to see anything. The daughter leaned in to see, just as Dad playfully kicked the crate.
- Oh my god, is it still alive?
- Why no, it’s as good as dead.
The daughter leaned toward her mom.
- See Mom! I TOLD YOU they were real.
We approached the counter.
- Are you checking in, sir?
- Yes, please.
- Anything fragile in the um, crate?
- Fragile but secure, as long as you don’t throw the critter around.
- May I ask what’s in the crate?
- Greetings from New Mexico – he boasted with great flurry and pride.
We arrived in Anchorage to meet David, my father-in-law. At first glance, David can appear more serious than humorous. He’s a phenomenal storyteller with a funny bone, but most of the time, he remains serious. He’s stoically tall and regimented to the minute – a product of his military career.
Today was the first time our families would meet: his lieutenant colonel father and my trickster father. I held my breath.
- Well, hello there Mr. Sipler. Glad to make your acquaintance. (actual words.)
- It’s Ed, and the pleasure is all mine.
- Well, um, what do you have here?
- Well, sir (Dad was also in the military), this here is for you. Your son says you are a fan of yard art, and well, I wanted to give you a piece of New Mexico ingenuity.
David grabbed his crowbar to open the crate.
Inside was a 4 ft tall Jackalope with brilliant eyes, long ears, and horns. It was adorable and, thankfully, without the roadkill hair, I imagined it would have.
- What happened to the fur, dad? - I whispered to my dad.
- It stunk. – he whispered back.
David looked very serious. We held our breath. Then a huge smile formed on David’s face. He howled with laughter.
- Hey Kay, come out here and take a look at this!
My dad explained -
- The best thing is it’s weatherproof. I used special bonding glue and covering for the snow. You can use it outside, so it shouldn’t fall apart.
David lifted to christen his new ornament.
- Then he shall be named Bondo.
His wife, Kay, came out of the house.
- Oh, for heaven’s sake, what is that?
- It’s Bondo.
David placed it under a large pine tree, looming over the other more miniature yard gnomes. He extended his hand to my father.
- Ed, welcome to the family. I really appreciate the gift.
Ed and David bonded (no pun intended) that wonderful week, each similar sharing stories of their childhoods, their military years, their love of Alaska, and of course, fishing. I’ve never seen my dad so happy, so fulfilled.
Dad continued to stoke my creative fires, encouraging me to pull the thread of any curiosity I had to explore. He upped the anty when at 67, he decided to pursue another lifelong dream, to be an actor. Not to be outdone, this inspired me to return to writing and to learn screenwriting finally.
His jackalope inspired the Jouska Road production company logo to tribute to my dad's storytelling spirit.
Dad is gone, now almost five years, but his spirit is still alive. Nearly 20 years later, after he arrived in Anchorage, Bondo still stands under that pine tree, nary a scratch, standing as a snow marker for the Anchorage winters, as a reminder to laugh at life as often as possible, and that one is never too old to learn a new trick.