They were not my words, nor my memories, but they took me back to places with my own father and misted my eyes. Father’s Day is Sunday. Mother’s Day is in May, appropriate for the renewal of life so abundant in that spring season. Father’s Day is in June, summer’s early ripening, a time when I spent some glorious days with my Dad.
“I wrote a story once, years ago,” the man said.
We were standing in his place of business, a shop in Platte County that grew up around his craft in stages that bespoke of decades. It has a wonderful timelessness to it, not new, not too old. Memories of a father are the same. He knew my craft is writer, and that I had often written about the outdoors. We had talked about fishing.
June was a good fishing month for my father and me. There was my boyhood trip to a farmer’s 15-acre lake, riding in a boat at sunset moved from dusk to night. We cast floating Lucky 13 wooden lures toward the place where the weeds met open water along the shoreline. Hungry largemouth bass lurked there looking for frogs, minnows and bugs. They were “hitting topwater” in angler lingo. Explosive splashes as they attacked the lure set the heart pounding, when you are only in that moment, in that time and place, immersed in nature, but sharing that now with your father, who you love.
In June came float trips on a river in another county. The water temperature was just right. Warm enough to swim and wade in during breaks in the fishing, but cool relief from afternoon sun. And most importantly in that month, we also took family vacations camping at a lake in the Ozarks with swimming, fishing, watching, learning and love.
All this and memories of other seasons came back to me in that shop.
Weeks had gone by. I was back on different business. He mentioned again, “I wrote a story myself a long time ago.” This time he asked, “would you like to read it?” Of course I would.
He handed me a small brown notepad with lined paper, two inches wide by three inches tall. The writing was faded, I could not tell if it was by pencil or pen. The penmanship was very neat and orderly. I began to read. Words that began something like this:
“I am sitting by the tree, my Remington nylon .22 across my knee…”
Trees are shared places in memories of fathers and the children they took afield. A firearm reminds one about serious business about life and food, and the peering into nature, noticing things you had not planned to see as well as what you’re looking for. Surprise and wonder, success and failure, rise and fall of sun and moon, they color the memories.
So I read on in his story. His words from the heart took father and son to rivers, lakes, hillsides. In the end, in essence, he sat by the tree with the .22 alone, but not feeling alone. His father’s death had robbed him of someone to help dress the squirrels or filet the fish. But he could not shake the feeling that his father is always with him afield, a presence still with him.
Living life is about going forward. So we do not think all the time about our fathers who have gone on to the next place before us. But when we do, when words on a little notepad bring back the memories suddenly and in full force, the sweetness triggers missing someone so strongly in the moment, yet such gratitude for all that makes you miss them.
“You are the first person I’ve ever shown this to,” the man said.
So I am not naming him. I did not ask his permission. His writing was personal and private, though very well written.
I hope I’ve given my children some memories they treasure. Many fathers wonder if they’ve done enough. We wish for chances to do more.
What a good thing in these hyper-modern times to have a Father’s and Mother’s Day. They give us an excuse to fire up barbecue grills, get a phone call or a visit, slow down, and remember when.
The sharing of words about a father written on a little notepad is something I now remember, too.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.