“You remind me of our Grandpa Ed,” said Axel, looking over at Ray, the grey-haired driver of the tour bus. “You tell good stories.”
“Well, maybe that’s because I am a Grandpa,” responded Ray.
When he picked us up at Two Dog Flats earlier that morning, Ray had given my 7-year-old twins the position of honor, riding shotgun in the historic, red, open-topped tour bus, wrapped in a single seat belt.
Ray had just told the story of the Indian maiden and the Indian warrior who were so deeply in love that they chose to become geese and live together on Goose Island in the middle of St Mary’s Lake rather than be separated by their families, who were from warring tribes.
“It’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet, isn’t it?” observed Axel.
“Do you like Shakespeare, then?” asked Ray.
“We like good stories,” answered Ryder, exchanging a look of mutual understanding with his twin brother.
The glaciers that gave this national park its name were reflected in the mirrored surface of the lake as the mist lifted off of the high peaks in the distance. In the side-view mirror of the bus, I could see the boys’ faces cloud over as Axel said, “Our Grandpa Ed is in heaven now, though. He died on New Year’s Day.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that,” Ray responded, “but sometimes we grandpas just have to move on.”
“Not right now, though, right, Ray? You’re driving!” called out a man at the back of the bus.
The boys smiled, and Ray said, “You know, I’ve always thought that heaven is a lot like this.” He gestured up at the majestic peaks above us, at the sun shining through scattered clouds onto waterfalls cascading down green slopes. “Except there would be donut trees. And I could go fishing every morning instead of doing the breakfast dishes.”
“You couldn’t eat the fish, though,” countered Axel. “The fish would just keep coming back to life because it’s heaven.”
“That’s right,” added Ryder. “Our dogs Skye and Dakota and our guinea pig Ruben who died this year are all up in heaven with Grandpa Ed.”
“If you boys like animals, you should keep your eyes peeled today for mountain goats, big horn sheep, moose, wolves, bears …”
“We saw 3 bears on one hike in Canada a few days ago,” called out Ryder.
“Seriously?” said Ray gamely.
“Yeah, but they didn’t bother us,” said Axel. “The next day, Mom got some bear spray.”
“Perfect timing,” laughed Ray.
“Our dad is doing a 10-day bike ride, from Banff in Canada along the Continental Divide to Whitefish, Montana,” said Axel.
“So we get to go camping with our mom,” added Ryder.
“Do you think we talk too much?” asked Axel seriously. “Some people say we talk too much.”
“But we make a lot of friends by talking,” said Ryder.
“You guys just go right on talking to people,” said Ray. “That’s how you learn all the really good stories.”
“I miss Grandpa Ed,” said Ryder then.
“I think he’s probably happy in heaven because we’re thinking about him and talking about him,” declared Axel.
“I think you’re right,” agreed Ray.
The boys’ faces brightened again, as Ray shifted into a lower gear and we moved slowly toward the top of Going To The Sun Road.