••• Monday, February 05, 2007

Last Impressions 

Today I'm home from work on a Snow Day. To be weatherly precise, we're calling it a Wind Chill Day. Currently it's 4 degrees below zero, with a windchill of 20 below; temperatures at which the unprotected faces and minds of children can crystallize and shatter into derma dust, in a matter of minutes.

What better time, then, to reminisce about friendlier, warmer climes?

This here is a picture of us returning from our last boat ride of the summer of 2006.

And let me tell you, it was a fabulous ride. The air was the perfect temperature. The water was like glass. The sunset, fabulous.

And maybe the best thing about this last boat ride of summer, was that I didn't know it was the last ride. I did know that the boat was coming out of the water the next day, to be put into storage. I also knew that there would be a chance for the For Reals last boat ride before that happened.

But I declined on that second last ride. It didn't sound like fun. There would be too much expectation for perfection. I would have been under self-imposed pressure to enjoy the ride to the fullest, but what if I couldn't? What if it was too bumpy or windy or a seagull crapped on my shoulder? It would ruin everything.

And then there would be the sorrow. Who wants to be sad on a boat ride?

Not me.

Nope. I'd already had my perfect last ride, with my perfect cuddle nesting on my lap. :Likely the last cuddle ride ever. She was almost too big then and I remember thinking about it at the time, but had to push the thought away.::

I've thought about this subject quite a bit since that picture was taken. I've wondered, do we really want to know when we're doing Something Wonderful for the last time? A Something we will never be able to reclaim or recreate? Am I a coward for wanting to avoid the tarnish of bittersweet, on a good thing?

In the summer of 1969, I had my very last boat ride with my daddy. Of course, I didn't know it at the time. It took place during my very last vacation with him.

As camping-in-a-tent-for-two-weeks-in-Northern-Michigan vacations go, that last time was perfection. Because we knew better, we always brought our winter coats camping, in July, and that year we never had cause to bring them out of the suitcase. In fact, that vacation was the only time in our family's history, that we had a vacation without rain. Ever.

And daddy had his best fishing year. Ever.

Also on that vacation, I wore bell bottom pants for the first time, to the skating rink. They were blue and white polka dot, in a cotton blend. My mom had made them for me, with a matching cropped jacket with a huge white zipper and ring pull. I thought I was the cat's ass.

What we didn't know at the time we were having the best camping-in-a-tent-for-two-weeks-in-Northern-Michgian ever, was that my father was dying of lung cancer.

Through the rest of that summer, it was mostly business as usual, except for my dad's increasing complaints of lower back pain. He was never much of a "hands on" kind of dad, but that summer, for the first and last time ever, he took my sister and me to the city pool a few evenings, for family swim. He said up front he was doing it to relieve back pain, but we didn't care.

I'll never forget his alarm and resulting chastisement, upon seeing that I plugged my nose when I went under water. ::I was 11 years-old and he didn't know this about me.::, so during the evening swims, he taught me first to hold my breath proper and then how to dive. And even though he wasn't doing all this for us, my sister and I lapped it up.

By the time school started in the fall, daddy had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance twice. Both times he had passed out from the pain in his back.

During one hospital stay, a doctor told him that even though the back pain was likely in his head, it might be good idea to lay off the 3-pack a day habit. Just a few weeks later, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, which had now spread to his back, and liver.

And on February 5, 1970, just a handful of months from our last boat ride together, my daddy died.

And just like the last boat ride of last summer, the memories of perfect weather and perfect fishing and the perfect feeling of a cat's-ass-in-bell-bottoms and the most perfect last boat ride of my family's life as we knew it, have all remained untarnished.

And 37 years later, I wouldn't have it any other way.

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