Today, March 18, us kids remember our dad’s birthday.
It was on our dad’s birthday, eight years ago, that my brother and I rowed our regular four-miler on American Lake. It was only our fifth time together in the double racing shell.
Down the course we weaved among buoys and small islands, hugging the shoreline, doing our best to avoid the ‘sweepers’ – branches that protrude out over the water threatening to sweep you out of your boat – and at the bend to return home I checked my stopwatch.
We were at record pace.
More about what happened on the way back in a moment.
Though he’s been gone now for twenty years, still us three kids typically gather on this day to eat baloney sandwiches on white bread and drink Green River soda pop, our annual dinner that dad thought so nourishing or at least something to grab given he was ever on the go: building boats, building lives, taking us kids on hikes through the Olympics or Cascades; coaching baseball; leading Cub Scouts; teaching the soldier stationed here from Louisiana that no, his thick-as-his-thumb Marlin pole would not work at dad’s boathouse to catch American Lake Kokanee.
Not gonna happen.
What did happen in our lives though, despite the fact that the menu often called for baloney sandwiches (again), spreads out, over, through and drips from the pages of my mental scrapbook like the mustard I’ll slather liberally over both halves of the cheap white bread that is my brother’s responsibility to bring.
Probably even get some on my chin.
The day after his dad died, popular speaker and writer Charles Swindol reflected on the treasures his father had given him as recorded in his book “Man to Man,” (pp.366, 367):
“Last night I realized I had him to thank for my deep love for America. And for knowing how to tenderly care for my wife. And for laughing at impossibilities. And for some of the habits I have picked up, like approaching people with a positive spirit rather than a negative one, staying with a task until it is finished, taking good care of my personal belongings, keeping my shoes shined, speaking up rather than mumbling, respecting authority, and standing alone (if necessary) in support of my personal convictions rather than giving in to more popular opinions. For these things I am deeply indebted to the man who raised me.”
For these things I am likewise deeply indebted to the man who raised me.
Baloney sandwiches do not reflect poorly on how we kids were raised. We weren’t poor, far from it. We were, in fact, rich. Filthy rich. For the legacy ledger – the only balance sheet that matters – shows us children today deep in debt.
To the memories of our dad.
I’m no longer surrounded by those physical mementos of dad’s handiwork at Bill’s Boathouse on American Lake. The boathouse and everything in it was destroyed by fire, April 3, 2022. Suspected arson. Suspect never found.
Then, dad and mom’s fingerprints were everywhere. Now, just memories. Only memories.
This particular day, now eight years ago on our dad’s birthday, exhausted, having given the last 50 strokes everything we had, my brother and I let the racing shell run out of steam while we gasped for breath.
I checked my watch.
That day, Dad’s birthday, we’d established a new memory – a new course record, set by his two sons.
And for lunch?