Around this time of year when the late-summer sun bakes my skin and makes my eyes squint from its blaring radiance, I long for the cold, emerald waters of the Yuba River. There is nothing like it. The south fork of this majestic, gold-mined waterway in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California still holds treasures beyond description. For our family, those treasures are tied up in the person who made this river alive for all of us.
Hilary had been going to this sacred branch of the Yuba River ever since she was a child. In her 20s, her dad-- a retired lawyer from San Francisco and a wild-eyed Irish miner at heart -- worked alongside the weathered locals moving granite boulders to build a cabin for his family overlooking the best and prettiest swimming hole on the entire river. Hilary brought her own children there every year of their lives and, as with everything she did, she never kept it all to herself. She always graciously invited her friends (including dogs, of course) to take refuge from the chaos of modern life and float along the deep green pools under lavender-blue skies and tall, fragrant pines waving their branches in joy above the ancient rushing river.
Such magnificence can be found in many natural wonders, but the gifts that Hilary brought to this special place made it spectacular. Everyday was filled with her abundant hospitality, sidesplitting humor, grand storytelling and unpredictable sense of adventure! As soon as you arrived at the cabin, which felt more like a resort with its grand windows filled to the brim with dramatic views of sparkling green water and towering mountains-- Hils would come up from swimming in the river to give instructions about the fridge. She always spent hours cleaning the cabin fridges upon arrival-- which included getting rid of all the junk food and replacing it with Dean & Deluca/Williams-Sonoma condiments, an arsenal of gourmet cheeses, artisan breads, choice meats and dozens of other tantalizing and exotic ingredients. This was complemented with counters-full of local summer fruits for snacking and dessert making. It was awe-inspiring, but once you knew Hils, you understood this was how she was raised and fed and how she wanted to feed and bless others. "If you get hungry you should make a sandwich with this bread-- it's really good-- and this cheese or this one, but don't use this cheese yet... and this mustard I ordered will be great, or this one looks good too... and do not mess up the fridge because it's all in order and it took me hours to clean! But hurry up so you can get in the water!!!"
Hilary poured so much love into everything she did for her family and friends and especially for these times at her dad's cabin to get away from the insanity of life for a few days. Each morning started with, "What should we make for dinner?" I got used to this type of planning after 20+ years of vacations plus living together for 8 precious years. Now I fully appreciate this question at the front end of the day rather than at the eleventh hour! For if Hilary hadn't planned carefully, including ordering meat and specialty foods and gathering recipes from her archives for months, I would never have tasted the magic of many ancient and creative meals. Forget hot dogs and nachos on vacation. From goat cheese tamales with ancho chile sauce to grilled flank steaks with chimichurri to fresh peach and wild blackberry crisp with homemade vanilla ice cream (yes, one of our suitcases included cookbooks and an ice cream maker), the flavors of the Yuba River were always on point. And Hils was always the first to let you know when they weren't!
I could go on for days about the food, for that was one of Hilary's main ways of blessing and honoring others. She gave this gift of carefully prepared food even in her own illness and deep physical pain, even in her broken heartedness over Nathanael; even in her last days. She was always giving. She was always fun and funny! She was always full of imagination and adventure! Even in her darkest pain and sorrow she thought endlessly of others and their welfare. For being ADHD (as she reminded everyone continually), she was the best organizer and most careful planner I've ever met! Not only did she make incredible meal plans for these vacations, she always had a stack of local history books to read to us after dinner so we could learn about the mines, miners and weirdos who populated the area. Some years this was followed up by field trips in sweltering heat to ghost towns and searches for abandoned gold mines sketched out on old, defunct trail maps or according to her childhood memories. Injuries, whining and dehydration were common. On the way to the Lost Falls she entertained us with stories of her out-of-control dad in his army jeep grinding over boulders and making friends with the old drunk miners on the river plus a million other tales. She would also tell us about the annoying ghost in the cabin and how we just had to pray and it would go away. Just what you wanted to hear before lights out! Hilary was the ultimate Girl Scout leader and the Yuba River was the camp we all wanted to sign up for! There isn't enough time to tell ALL the hilarious stories, war stories, and unexpected adventures and miracles we endured and enjoyed on these incredible family vacations put on by the-one-and-only Hilary Parnell Marie Burdick Daggett!
So when the sun sits high and hot at this time of year baking my bones and blazing in my eyes, I long not so much for the crystal clear waters of the Yuba River, but for the person who made this season so special for us. If we never go back there (and I'm not sure I could without her), I rejoice in the gift of these happy memories that delight my soul on this side of eternity. Hilary truly knew how to bless people and her blessing continues as we thank God for the many gifts she was and is to us and to so many everyday. What a saint!
Today we honor this third year of her departure and we look forward to reuniting with all of our loved ones at the river of His delights.
"They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; And You give them to drink of the river of Your delights." Psalm 36:8