I lost my dear father one year ago this past March and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and either cry or smile (usually both at the same time.) Summer is here and sweet memories of moments that we spent together gently float into my mind like conversations with old friends.
When I was a teenager, my dad insisted that our entire family spend ten days together fishing in northern Maine. My mother had the arduous task of coralling two teens, one preadolescent and my youngest brother together and convince us that the trip was going to be a fun.We moaned the entire five hour trip up to Maine from the back of the station wagon. My father allowed us one stop so that we could visit the gas station restroom and drive through MacDonald’s. He knew that the cheeseburger would put us in better moods. The first 24 hours were always rough because we kids argued a lot. The truth is, we simply weren’t used to being together in a cabin without television or phones.
By the third day, the tussling lessened and something miraculous happened. My older brother and I chatted about friends as we hiked through the woods to the hidden ponds we fished and my youngest sister chimed in on occasion. Even my brother, who was ten years younger than the oldest asked to help carry our fly rods. A lovely rythm in the four of us siblings emerged somewhere around the fifth day. I don’t remember my folks reprimanding us about fighting; I remember my dad simply telling us that today we were fishing again. First we would collect our gear, then hike a mile or so through the woods, grab a canoe and float on a pond deep in the Maine woods. Since my mother didn’t like fishing, she carried her needlpoint along and would find a soft spot on the shore and sew for hours. Usually I sat in a canoe with my father. I was eager to learn to fly fish well and I thought of him as the best instructor. Besides, one time my older brother cast his rod from the rear of the canoe forward and the line and hook wrapped itself around my neck. No more fishing in the same canoe with him, I reasoned.
Each summer growing up, we carried out the same routine. We grumbled about going, we ate at the same MacDonald’s and my mother carried her needlepoint. She never complained. Each of the first days we fought but by the end of the trip, none of us kids wanted to leave. Why? I wondered. Was it the smell of my father’s pipe, the jaunts through the Maine woods, the noise of hearing my dad’s breathing from the back of a canoe? I don’t know. It was all of it. It was being. Together. Listening to each other’s whispers across the pond as we tried not to scare the fish. It was the egg salad my mother packed. It was the fly line around my neck. I think we never wanted to leave because we discovered the Us of being a family. We were there alone, noticed not by peers or family friends, but by a stray moose, a rising trout or by nothing at all. We were with each other, figuring out life, living next to one another.
How grateful I am that my father made us leave our lives for ten days each summer and do somthing which felt so boring at the time. Because it was only in those moments that we really learned how much we loved being together. Thank you for that gift, Dad.