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