Wednesday, March 11, 2009

David Baker (1941-2009)

My Father-in-law passed away three days ago..I'm profoundly saddened, sick over it and simply still cannot believe it. He was a salt-of-the-earth goof-ball and I loved him and miss him already and can't believe I'll never see him again.

He had back pain just after the new year and an MRI revealed that he had a metastatic tumor that was spreading rapidly. My poor wife was the one who told horrifying?! Less than eight weeks later he died in Exeter hospital surrounded by his family and friends. I just can't wrap my head around how quickly is all transpired..all of this.

Five of my favorite David Baker memories:

1) In 1998 I bought an engagement ring and decided I was going to ask Alison Baker to marry me just after the new year..and in the tradition of courtship, I was going to ask her father David for permission to marry his daughter. At that time I worked as a chainsaw sculptor, carving bears and eagles on Cape Cod, it was a very cool job. My plan was to trade one of my carved bears for his daughter. David had a great sense of humor and was a woodsman and I knew he would appreciate it. I snuck the bear into his basement and the exchange went something like this:
Me (standing next to the bear trying not to laugh): In the tradition of the pioneers who traded skins, furs and pelts for the Indian chiefs daughters, I would like to trade you this fine wooden bear for one of your squaws.
David: which one?
Me: The medicine women (Alison was in medical school at the time)
David: I'll give you Kristen (Alison's twin sister)

2) David came to visit Alison and I when we lived in Philly and he was bragging about his artistic ability and how he was going to switch careers and become an artist. He wanted an honest critique of his art and showed me a stick figure drawing of a bird. I played along and gave a rave review and agreed that he should switch careers and hang up the fifty years he worked as a fire fighter and sell his tree service that he owned since 1967. We had a brief chuckle, he flew back to New Hampshire and I never gave any more thought to the stick bird. A few days later as I poured a bowl of cereal for myself a piece of paper with a stick bird drawing on it fell into my bowl. Dave tucked it in the box before he left..I phoned him, we had another chuckle, I thought it was over. The next day Alison was reading a book and a stick bird came out of one of the pages..another one was found wedged between the stacked dinner plates..another in my sock drawer, underwear drawer, several shirt and coat pockets, shoes, utensil drawer, cups, mugs, countless books, etc..we would find them weeks, months and even years later. The last was about two years ago wedged in the pages of another book. The later we would find them the funnier it became.."Oh my God, Alison, I found another stick bird, the man is nuts". He later revealed he thinks he made over a hundred of them and spent hours making them. I've never more looked forward to finding another one.

3) The day we moved back from Philly, David was so happy to have Alison home in new Hampshire again..he spent a large part of the summer mowing the words, "WELCOME HOME ALISON" in a grass field behind his house. It was about a football field long..not kidding.

July, 2003: Alison standing in the middle of the "Welcome Home Alison" field. David had lifted me in his bucket truck to take this photo.

4) Blueberry picking in his secret spots...I had only picked blueberries on mountainsides prior and didn't realize his secret spot was chest deep in a blueberry bog..great fun though..we got gallons.

5) Target shooting competitions in Davids woods..the targets were bear bottles and he would sometimes call me asking to help him make targets. He was a better shot than I was and I suspected he would would sometimes dog it and lose on purpose to make me feel good..I didn't care, I just genuinely enjoyed his company and being with him.

I miss you David.


Cara said...

I'm so sorry for you and Alison and all of us who are left behind to feel the losses.

Todd Bonita said...

Thanks Cara, it's important to remember them in life.
hope you're well,

Elizabeth A Patterson said...

What a wonderful tribute, Todd. It made me smile, and shed a tear. My condolences to you and your family.

Todd Bonita said...

Thank you Liz, much apreciated. All my best to you.

Candy Barr said...

Beautiful memories and lovely painting tribute to a wonderful friend and father. How great you did move back to NH that period!

Todd Bonita said...

Thanks Candy,
I'm grateful for the time I had with him..he was so much a true New Hampshire man too, I'm glad I got to share it with him.

Mike Corcoran said...

Take care Todd,

You honor him with sharing these absolutely wonderful stories.

Hang in there.


Todd Bonita said...

Good to hear from you, thanks so much. I've been hearing stories about him all week from his friends and warms me to know all these stories keep his memory alive. He touched a lot of people.

All my best to you Mike,

Anonymous said...

Todd, Thank you. Two men in my life I dearly loved. My father and David Baker. Why David Baker? I can't begin to explain. All I know is that all the time I spent with Dave be it a few monents or several hours I knew I would hear the some of the same stories over again. I knew that telling of these stories was important to Dave and some how it was just as important for me to hear them. I looked forward to every second. My father was a Dep Chief of my home town fire dept. and he would tell the same jokes over and over. Both men were alot alike in my eyes. I have a book called Wildfire Loose (the week maine burned) by Joyce Butler that my dad had. I have placed in that book things that remind me of my dad. It now holds Dave Baker memories as well.

Lastly Todd, I am a Christian. And I know I well see him again. I know this for two reasons. First, though David did not attended church, he lead a very Christian life. He lead his life in and for the service of others. For people he knew and those he didn't. Second, he has to be in heaven. Because if he went to that other place he'd be just the man to put the fires out. Brice Guile

Todd Bonita said...


What I would give to hear one more of his hunting, firefighting or tree cutting stories...I love your metaphor of David putting out fires down there. I don't think there is any question where he is right now..his life was all about's really remarkable when you think about him and how much giving and serving was really his life style. He makes you want to be a better person and give more of yourself..even pastor Thomas said "I'm not worthy" and told the girls he was jealous after hearing them speak about their dad at the service. We were so fortunate to have had the short time we did with that great man Brice.
All the best to you my friend,

Mona Diane Conner said...

I'm very sorry for the loss of your father-in-law Todd. What a wonderful tribute you have written, and it's a sensitively drawn beautiful portrait of him here as well. I loved hearing these stories, and what it says about David Baker's sense of humor! And yours too. Both huge!

It reminds me in some ways of my Dad who passed in April '07. Dad also fought fires in his youth as a smoke jumper in Washington state.

Thank you too for the lovely compliment on my blog and art.

Todd Bonita said...


Thank you for your warm compliments..I'm sorry to hear about your fathers passing in '07, I'm sure not a day goes by that you don't think of him. David also fought fires in Washington state in his youth. He was part of the NH forest fire fighters and flew out west several times in his youth. His wife Wendy tells me he fought fires in Oregon, California, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana and those huge Yellowstone fires in the seventies. I wonder if David and your father crossed paths at one time. All my best to you Mona,

Mona Diane Conner said...

Todd, What a nice thought, and thanks for posting me on this. Is your father alive, BTW?

Alison's family and yours must have been so proud of David's stellar career as a firefighter! It might be worth mentioning as an idea for you too, that one of the memorial gifts that touched our family the most, was when a friend of my sister's donated a tree to the national forest in Washington state in Dad's memory.

As a result of our conversation about this, I also made a small post on Dad's smokejumping days (1948-50) when you have time to check it out (on both blogs).