I pulled into the driveway at my father's house and drove up behind the hill where the vehicles often hide when rain has not saturated the grass. No car, no truck, no people in sight.
I turned the car around on the hill and set off for the beach, just several 100 meters away.
As I drove in the beach road a familiar truck was perched on the edge of the bank looking out to sea, seaming to pull at an invisible leash that kept it tied to the shore. The truck was similar to almost every other truck in the community but the opened tailgate revealed a pair of rank black sneakers that I knew my father wore around the yard.
I parked the car and headed out across the rocks towards the mouth of the Salmon River where I could just vaguely spot a human figure.
The wind on the beach was brisk disguising the power of the sun as it poured buckets of radiation on me. The tide was high and what little sand peeked out between the rocks sparkled.
I walked up to the lone fisherman on the point who was standing in hip-waders in the river two or three feet deep. At first I wasn't sure if it was him; something didn't seem exactly right and I wasn't positive about the truck although I was pretty sure about the sneakers.
Normally I would have no doubt that it would be my father on the beach; the beach where he grew up, where his father and grandfather had grown up, where I had grown up and where now, my children were growing up. This beach is part of the family DNA. But my father's trips out to the beach were less frequent these days; his knees gave him a lot of trouble and the long walk over rough terrain was difficult if not sometimes impossible for him.
The fisherman looked up and sure enough it was my Da but with so much sunblock on his face that I barely recognized him under the white-wash. I didn't want to disturb my father, I guessed he had gone out to the beach, despite the trouble it may cause him, to be alone. I guessed that the beach acted as a sort of church for him as it did for me-- to either contemplate or forget the worries of the day.
I had come to see him on this day in the hopes of talking to him about his sister who had recently died. I had been away, attending to my grandmother's death and funeral in Massachusetts, when my aunt had died. I had returned on the day after my aunts' funeral.
Since I had been home my dad made some mention about the funeral but not much—I wondered if there was anything more he wanted to say. So here I was waiting to hear whatever might need to be said.
The death of my aunt surely struck my father hard. They were, as the saying goes, Irish twins, less than 12 months apart in age. She had been his playmate for his entire life. When I thought about her death I kept returning to a photograph I had once seen of them playing hide and seek around an apple tree when they were toddlers.
My aunt had been sick with cancer for several years but the end came quickly and unexpectedly. It was just four years ago that my grandmother died. None of us, at that time, would have believed it if we had been told that my aunt would die four years and one month later.
Now there is just my father and his youngest brother. Luckily they are friends, comrades, fishermen-in-arms. You can often find them casting out their lines at the Salmon River bridge located on the road between their two houses which are less than a mile apart.
So I waited for the conversation to start. But it didn't; at least not that one.
Da was fly fishing; hoping for a big trout. There was one already on the beach when I got there—past the point of playing the line, gills no longer trying to breathe in the unfamiliar atmosphere.
After a while a new fly needed to be tied and Da waded ashore. We talked about flys; none of them looked like anything we had ever seen in nature yet the fish went for them greedily. We sat, he tied the fly and the fish started to jump in the river diverting his attention from his knots. The more the fish jumped the harder it was to tie the fly. Finally he got back into the water and we kept an eye out for the fish who now seemed to jumping on the other side of the river.
The closest we got to talking about my aunt was when my father got up from the shoreline in an uncertain fashion—a little wonky in his waders. He said that was how it went when you were getting old then corrected himself and said, “when you are old.” He went on to tell me that his grandson Sam had recently told my father that he, Sam, could never think of Da as old. He was never an old man to Sam and that is a sentiment with which, most people that know my father, would agree.
My father has always been a woodsman, a fisherman, a man who always could and would do hard work. It's been very odd to think of him not being able to do things—for him and for me. The idea that my father is getting old is one I really can not square in my mind with the person that I know him to be and I think he has the same problem. Who is he if he is old? The death of his sister brought this question into sharper relief. A day on the river quietly thinking or not thinking about it; that's how we work these things out.
I stayed on the beach watching fish, birds and my father for several hours. The one thing in life I always want more of is time with my Da.
I started for home with a fish and fresh memories; a perfect afternoon.