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My Dad Knew Smokey Bear

In Memory of Thomas R. Monroe

My Father’s Day Tribute

As my father’s son, growing up, I had no idea that my life might just be a bit different from the other boys around me. It all just seemed so normal. I never gave it a thought.

I mean, didn’t every young boy have a Wanakena graduate Forest Ranger hero for a dad?

Didn’t other boys get to ride side by side with their Forest Ranger father in his red Willys Jeep? Armed with fire rakes & shovels? Stop to pick buckets full of wild strawberries & blueberries? Bump along backwoods dirt roads keeping a watchful eye out for bears? All while making the rounds of their dad’s many fire towers?

Instead of the standard run of the mill water pistol, didn’t other young boys have at their disposal their own arsenal of DEC Indian pumps for complete and utter domination & opponent annihilation during neighborhood water fights?

Didn’t other young boys get to go to school and tell stories about their dad fighting forest fires? Stories so wild that a young boy’s teachers sometimes made concerned phone calls to Mom.

Didn’t other young boys have a whole family of NYSDEC Forest Rangers for uncles?

Wanakena Ranger School
Circa 1961

Weren’t other boys’ dad’s pictures in area newspapers almost every other day?

Didn’t all the other dads have their own office buildings in Ray Brook, Warrensburg and Albany?

Get to cruise lakes in boats with NYSDEC Commissioners?

Rub elbows with Governors?

Go island hopping with Vice-Presidential Candidates?

(OOPS! Somehow Dad got accidentally promoted)

No, I really had no idea growing up that I might somehow be privileged.

Didn’t other kids get to fly with their dads up through Avalanche Pass?

On helicopters with NYSDEC’s Ace?

Weren’t other boys’ fathers charged with taking over for an uncooperative mother nature? Overseeing Olympic snow making operations? Correcting poorly planned traffic flow problems? In general, being tasked by the Governor, “Tom Monroe. I’m putting you in charge. Fix these Goddamned broken Olympics.”

Didn’t other college kids get to spend their summers living and working out of Lake Colden’s Interior Headquarters?

No, it never really began to dawn on me until my late teens, after I had graduated from high school. One experience in particular drove it all home to me.

It was one night in a downtown bar, the Owl’s Nest, I think, where my friends I liked to hang out & shoot pool. It was a pay for play bar room table, fifty cents a game, I think. Winner ran the table, challengers waited their turn & lined up their quarters.

My quarters were next. I stood to insert them in the slot. A burly, bearded man wearing a buffalo plaid shirt & work boots accosted me. “What do you think you’re doing there, Bucksnort? My quarters were next.”

I swallowed hard, gripped my pool cue, and prepared myself for a bar room brawl beat down if I dared protest.

Suddenly, a friendly voice blurted out from behind me, “You got a problem there Monroe?!”

The burly, bearded, buffalo plaid man hesitated. He stood there, pool cue in his hand, looking me up and down.

“Monroe? You Tom Monroe’s son?”

I nodded.

“I’ll step aside for you.”

Without another word I put my quarters in the slot and proceeded to shoot pool.

A true story that I’ll never forget. That’s when I realized the life of privilege I had experienced all those years growing up in the Adirondacks & Saranac Lake as Tom Monroe’s son.

I mean, my dad knew Smokey Bear!

He even made sure Smokey Bear showed up at my birthday parties.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:

Happy Father’s Day


(Author’s Endnote: This story appeared in the 6/17/23 online edition of The Adirondack Almanack.)