It was the perfect 60th birthday gift.
I was sitting on a rock overlooking Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Thursday soaking in what was before me.
But the stunning beauty of the sparkling reservoir guarded by soaring granite outcroppings accented by the sheer power of water cascading down the remaining 1,400-foot drop of Wampa Falls left unburied by water backed up by O’Shaugnessey Dam wasn’t what was tugging at my heart. It was an incredible young lady by the name of Ashley Greer.
Ashley came into my life shortly after I fell in love while hiking with her Nana on the Mist Trail out of Yosemite Valley 23 years ago this April 14.
Less than three months later I had an instant family including a 1-year-old granddaughter by the name of Ashley.
Ashley is the one who helped me develop a life-long disdain for purple and green dinosaurs. If I hear Barney’s signature “I Love You Song” one more time I’m sure I’ll go utterly mad. The only thing worse than hearing Barney’s voice singing those lines over and over again for at least two dozen times a day for the good part of nine months would be the soundtrack of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World after All.” The sentiments aren’t the issue, just the musical jingles that should be banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention that outlawed cruel and unusual punishment.
Ashley, however, was madly in love with Barney. When we bought her Barney pajamas for her second Halloween little did we know she’d insist on wearing them at least once a day through Easter.
Given my unconventional work schedule and commitments that her mother and Nana had, I spent the good part of a year hanging with Ashley from 8 a.m. to mid-afternoon on weekdays.
That meant the morning breakfast ritual that included sweet peas that she would pick out of her bowl and fling to the ground one-by-one as she accented each toss with a giggle that only a 1-year-old can muster. It took a month before Nana set me straight. I wasn’t feeding Ashley as much as I was entertaining her. While she eventually would eat the peas and other selections, Nana noted that Ashley’s wild giggles started every time I patiently picked up each thrown pea and placed it back on the tray of her baby chair. Ashley was immensely enjoying teaching her Papa how to fetch.
It also meant weekly trips to Wal-Mart. Every Wednesday I’d strap Ashley into her car seat behind me in my Chevy S10 Blazer. Then between my chatting and the serenade of the rolling car on pavement the Sand Man would catch up with Ashley somewhere on East Highway and our home on West Ripon Road. Once the S-10 Blazer was parked, I’d retrieve a slumbering Ashley from her car seat, place her in a cart where she’d rest her sleepy head on my arm as I pushed her toward my destiny — a well-meaning Wal-Mart greeter.
No matter how many times I’d ask the greeter not to, she’d see Ashley, comment on the little angel and then — like clockwork — peel off a happy face sticker and place it on Ashley’s arm. Without fail this managed to bring Ashley out of her slumber as a not-too-happy camper.
Ashley would also accompany me to group exercise classes at the then Manteca Racquetball & Health Club. The rule with childcare is you had to change the diapers when the need arose.
I was summoned one day as class was going on for a diaper change. I departed the class without grabbing my glasses. Anyone who knows me understands my vision without glasses is not exactly what one would call optimum. I changed Ashley’s diaper, went back to class, and then when it was over we went home where a few hours later Nana arrived from work.
A couple hours later I got a call at the Bulletin. Cynthia was laughing hysterically as was Ashley’s mother in the background. I had put on Ashley’s disposable diaper inside out and reversed and managed to fasten it.
Both of them tried to repeat my feat and couldn’t. They even got friends — seasoned mothers — to try it but couldn’t make it work.
So there we were on Thursday, Papa and a 23-year-old Ashley killing time while taking in the sun in the confines of the Sierra’s crown jewel — Yosemite National Park.
The ride up was a surprise. She had unplugged from her i-Pod and was talking a mile a minute. She continued to do so through the hike, dinner, and the ride back.
It was sweet music to my ears.
The conversation was all over the map.
I have this thing that started with my grandmother that as an adult I don’t accept birthday gifts. What I do is buy gifts for others. It sounds backwards unless you heard my Grandmother Edna Towle — who raised eight kids and ran a working cattle ranch on her own after being deserted by her husband at the depth of the Great Depression — explain that it is a way of reminding yourself how lucky you have it. Life is the ultimate gift and we should thank those who make that gift all the more sweet.
Ashley may not have realized it but she managed to get me to break my rule Thursday. Her gift of spending my 60th hiking and hanging with me was one of my best days ever.
And on that list of best days has been time I have spent with her siblings — Ryan and Katelyn.
Who needs any gifts when you’ve got grandkids?
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.