(I have written about what’s going on with my father here. I wasn’t sure why I wrote the post below and still am not sure, but it is what it is.)
We rode up through the mountains and then through the forests to the lake. James’s son Kelly and I sat in the back of James’s El Camino. You and James sat up front driving and talking about whatever men talk about with wind bellowing in the windows and country music blaring through the speakers.
The lake revealed itself curve by curve, glimmering through the trees. A burst of reflected sunlight here, there a gray green slice of waves.
Then we were at the main lodge to check in. Kelly and I walked idly around the lobby, picking at brochures. I’d just begun driving. Kelly was 12. We’d played off and on for years when you and mom got together with James and Linda but I felt like I was saddled with amusing this kid. I wasn’t very good at it. I was 16. Too old for this.
You flirted with the older round women behind the check-in desk and I watched a master work. Your pale green eyes and devil’s smile. Both women giggled and nodded and seeing them so charmed I realized how much I didn’t know about my father.
Shopping at the convenience store on the state highway before we arrived, you’d bought nothing but garbage junk food and I thought, this is how men eat when no one is around to frown at them.
We loaded into the cabin, you and James on one side, Kelly and I on the other. I stared at the lake through the windows. Beyond the rolling water, the rock faces rising to the trees. But for you and James and your beer-fueled laughter, it was the quietest place I’d been in a while.
Before we headed out with our rods and tackles we ate Ho-Hos and Twinkies and RC Cola, and you didn’t say a word about how fat I’d been as a boy or about worrying I might get there again and I loved you for it.
Under the white sun we floated and for a son whose father is a legendary talker it is perhaps remarkable that I remember nothing of any of our conversation. I know with our red hair and pale skins we burned. We burned, and we didn’t catch any fish.
Time has shuffled memory’s deck of cards–blown it apart and lost a few, really–and I can’t quite recall the order of the rest of our trip. So here is what I do remember:
- We docked to gas up the boat and buy a few supplies and Kelly and I wandered the dock. It was like an outpost in another country. I couldn’t see any roads on the land around it. It was as if the smell of the entire lake had been concentrated there.
- At some point I examined the fishing license you’d gotten me. My birthday was 2 years and 2 days off–11/5/1965. I never knew if you’d made me older on purpose, some game law, but I never asked you, either.
- Neither you nor James ever caught a fish. Kelly and I caught 3 a piece. You wanted to show me how to clean and filet them and I watched, but I couldn’t do it. I could never do those sorts of things. By the time I was 16, I felt like you’d finally come to a truce with that. You and James fried the fish and we all ate and it was better than I thought it would be.
The thing I remember most clearly was how we took the boat out at night.
It was cool for a Tennessee summer. We dropped the fishing lines in the water where they drifted unbitten.
Eventually we fell silent.
I was 16. Kelly, at 12, was just the right age for fishing trips with Dad. Me, I was too old, too easily bored for this.
Yet I remember sitting silent in that boat at night on a quiet lake better than anything.
I was never going to be too old to drift there and watch the stars with my father.