In the midst of all the memories that have crumbled and faded with the years, a few stand like crystals, perfectly preserved and shining like the moment they were created. One of mine is the first time I saw the Mississippi River. I was nine and the oldest of three squirming around the back seat of our blue and white DeSoto. “Sit up, kids, and look out the windows,” said my Dad, “we are about to cross the Mississippi River.” I sat up on my knees as the high iron bridge rumbled beneath us and when I could see that enormous expanse of murky water spreading below, it felt like the world just stopped. When we finally reached the other side and were deposited into a different state, I spun around to watch it go and then exploded into a dozen questions, all trying to be asked at once. Where does it go? Where did it come from? How far is that? Why is it that color? Can we go closer and see it? Dad did his best to answer and then said, “OK, listen carefully and I will teach you to spell its name.”

And so it happened that for the remaining miles of that trip, I chanted endlessly, “M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I.” (I thought for years that my clever Dad made that up!) In all the years since then, with every crossing of the great River, I hear that in my head and smile. I lost my Dad 23 years ago when he was just 65, but I treasure this link between Dad and the River.

As Father’s Day approaches, other random memories of Dad have been surfacing and I’d like to share a few…

  •  He loved a good joke – he would latch onto one and tell it until he had completed the  rounds of everyone he knew!
  •  April Fools’ Day might have been his favorite holiday. I’m sure he started planning weeks in advance. He got me good many times, but my crowning achievement was when I emptied the sugar bowl and replaced it with salt and he put a couple of big honkin’ spoonsful on his cereal!
  • There were Daddy-Daughter dances when I got a new dress and he bought me a corsage and I knew he was the handsomest Dad and the best dancer there!
  • There were countless weekends at the lake learning to water ski and then teaching every other friend interested with Dad patiently circling around to try once more to get that newbie up. The funniest of all was a family friend who tried to learn as an adult and just couldn’t manage to get her butt out of the water. After one especially looong attempt, she yelled so it echoed across the lake, “All Right! I’ve now had a 50-yard douche and I am DONE!”  I thought my Dad would fall out of the boat he laughed so hard!
  • There were family vacations with all of us layered in a pop-up camper and everyone trying to fall asleep before Dad did because he snored like a buzz saw – and no one ever succeeded!
  • There were the really bumpy times between us when he was a bullheaded German and I was a headstrong 15-year-old, certain that the love of my life was a boy he didn’t like. We were each immovably anchored in our stubbornness and clashed like a couple of mountain goats.
  • There was the indescribable expression on his face when I placed his first grandchild in his arms. That was as close as I ever came to seeing him cry.
  • There is the way he adored my mother, always calling her “the most beautiful woman alive” and showing us daily the depth of human love that is possible.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! You live on in the hearts of all who knew and loved you!

And to all you fathers out there – Happy Father’s Day!

And to the great Mississippi River that the Native people of the Ojibwe tribe named Misi-ziibi, which is often translated as “Father of Waters,” – happy Father’s Day to you too!

I would LOVE it if you would take a minute and think about your Dad or your own experience of being a Dad, or the father of your children or the Father of Waters or anything else this stirs in you and share it with us. This blog is at its best when it is a conversation between us all!            Thanks!  Gayle

Wesley Edwin Freyer 1924 - 1990 My Dad

Wesley Edwin Freyer
1924 – 1990
My Dad

About Gayle Harper

Travel Photographer and Writer
This entry was posted in Father of Waters, Father's Day and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to FOR OUR FATHERS

  1. Marilyn Freyer says:

    ok….you got me;t even see the damn computer screen.

  2. Jaretta Beard says:

    Thanks you Gayle.

  3. Julie says:

    How wonderful. It sounds like you Dad was really a great person. I love my Dad and send him my love for father’s day, but I can not think of one kind generous wise moment such as you tell. All fathers teach us things but in different ways.


    • Gayle Harper says:

      Julie, thank you for writing and being so honest. I agree completely – our teachers come in all forms and we learn from them no matter how it looks. What I know, because you are my friend, is that however it happened you have a big, beautiful, generous heart and you know VERY well how to give and receive love! Love, Gayle

  4. alejandra massei says:

    Sweetest post ever, Gayle!!! I feel so lucky I still have my father in this world! Lots of memories came to me as I read you…thank you!
    By the way, which state were u crossing to and from, the first time u saw the Mississippi.
    I still remember my first time crossing the River. I admit I was not as young as u were ( I was 28!) And was travelling from Illinois to Iowa. Can u believe I wanted to stop to sink my feet in it, to feel it. I wondered how it felt, what color the water was and …was it cold? I had studied main rivers around the world at school; and I knew partially the importance of the Mississippi in USA economy but the sight captivated me. From that time on my husband Pablo and I have tried to meet the Mississippi every time we visited the States, I can tell you we are both in love with the Mighty River.
    As always I ve loved your post, a special one for a rainy fall Sunday in Argentina

    • Gayle Harper says:

      Alejandra, thank you! It’s wonderful that you are so far away that its fall there and summer is just beginning here and yet we are connected through the wonder of this digital age and of the River itself. You have been with me through this blog since the journey first began and you are my friend as well! I hope we can meet in person someday.
      I can’t remember where it was that we crossed the Mississippi that first time nor where we were headed, I only remember the River. Thank you so much for writing – and give your Dad a hug from me!

  5. Mary says:

    I very much enjoyed, For Our Fathers, Gayle, so very touching. I too, had a strong, kind and loving father. We buried my father, Leslie Larson, on Fathers Day in June of 1987, and I miss him so much. Thanks for the happy tears you gave me, and I am sure many others. God Bless all our fathers spirits, and I look forward to the day I fish with him again, in Heaven. Terry Larson, at the beginning of the Mississippi river. See you downriver, Dad.

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