My father loved the ocean. He grew up a stone's throw from it and spend his childhood years on it. During his six years in the British Royal Navy during WW2, he sailed all over Europe, North Africa and along the coasts of Canada and the U.S. I could probably write for days about his participation in the war and the places he has been. That’s not really what this rather short story is about. What’s just as close to my heart though is the time we spent together on the Atlantic Ocean a few miles from our community.
When my father was not in his boat on the ocean he was probably home building them. We always had a boat, approximately eighteen feet long, that was powered by an outboard motor. As a young boy, I was introduced to handling the boat at about the age of twelve. Before that, there were many trips but I was deemed too young to be responsible for the boats navigation. By the age of twelve however, my father wanted to get me used to the feel of the motor and was concerned that, should anything happen to him while we were away fishing, then at least I could navigate us back to safety. The fact that this was something I needed to learn as I became older and transitioned into adulthood anyway was yet another reason for my early boating experiences.
Each morning that we went fishing, which was most every day of the summer when the weather was fair, except for Sundays, we would rise early in the morning, before daylight, around 5 am, prepare lunch, have breakfast and then off we would go.
By the time we got close to the place where we would fish, the dawn would be beginning to break and then with that little bit of first light that indicates the sun approaching over the horizon, we would align our position with certain features of the land to put us on the right ‘mark.’
Our location, or mark, on the ocean was determined by the land. There were certain physical features of the rocky shoreline that would have to ‘line-up.’ For example, a distinguishable cliff along the shoreline would line up with a rock formation further inland. The information for these marks have been passed down from generation to generation and were used by our forefathers who, through trial and error, found the shallow places along the coastline where, apparently, codfish frequented and were their eating habitats.
It was here, on these ‘marks’, that we would begin our day, lazily drifting along the ocean as the sun made its glorious and grand entrance with impeccable timing. As the sun rose over the ocean, the smell of the salt-sea air filled my lungs and, in retrospect, my very soul. In the quiet solitude of the early summer mornings, we would use lines as long as 300- 400 feet with a shiny lead hook on the end called a jigger that was used as a lure.
There I was, safely floating on the tranquil ocean listening to stories about his life with the navy from a time when the ocean was fraught with dangers of every magnitude. The irony was not lost on either of us. Although my father did record in later years his memoirs about his WW2 experiences, most of what he wrote was already familiar to me because of our fishing expeditions.
My father was highly sensitive and, I believe with all my heart, deeply empathic in every sense of the word. His love for people, animals, nature and the ocean knew no bounds. He would often find himself unable to finish a story about his war experiences and found himself lost in the moments; the present moment and the war moment. I sometimes think he hovered between moments here and there, experiencing the now in one moment and then lost in the past moment that was often too difficult to express.
Through it all, he was a great and wonderful man, husband, father, grandfather, etc. My pride and love for him is boundless, like the endless sea upon which we drifted. Of all the kind things he did for his friends and family, for his country and the world as a whole as he joined forces with millions to eradicate Hitler’s hate from the world, of all the suffering, of all the trials, of the many trips to the post office to retrieve mail for friends who were too sick to get out and do it themselves, of all the times he shovelled their driveways and walkways and wanted nothing in return, of all the fish he caught and gave away to friends and family, of all the support he gave to his family in every way, shape and form, I keep thinking of snails!
That’s right! Snails! He once confessed to me his love for all life; of all creatures great and small. He told me about one of his early morning walks where he was walking through the community, and he saw some snails that had taken advantage of the early morning dew to help facilitate their trip across the pavement, as snails like to do. By the time my father came across them, it was dry pavement and the snails had set up house and was, presumably, fast asleep.
Being the caring, sensitive human being that he was, my father picked them all up and placed them off to the side in a grassy garden for fear that when the traffic started they would become squished. Imagine! Compassion for a snail! This man’s heart is bigger than the sky. No, I didn’t make a mistake and insert ‘is’ for ‘was.’ His heart, his essence, the energy that he exuded cannot die. How can kindness, empathy and compassion die? It is part of the fabric that makes this world a wonderful place. The things that we do and say in this life have a ripple effect and become part of the collective whole. It stays here and, if our actions and words are good and kind, it serves to tip the balance in loves favour.
Imagine a world that is vibrating to the energy of love and kindness. If only all people would have this kind of compassion and sensitivity and value for people and all life in general, what a wonderful difference it would make.
It is no wonder I reflect often on the impact my father has made on my life. I think of him every day and am often
transported back in time; hovering between moments. One moment I am here in the now and so very appreciative, the next I am bouncing on the ocean, the sun casting long shadows along the restless sea of a boat with two people giddy with anticipation of what the days catch might be.
The gentle waves play with our shadows as we talk and laugh and share a simple lunch and form a bond that will outlive Time itself. They say every picture tells a thousand words. While this is so very true, a poem then must be the product of thousands of days; of stories of triumph, disasters and every emotion that life allows us to feel as we live, love, laugh and cry.
My father left here a few years ago, but sometimes, especially when I am near the ocean or the grassy meadows where he walked and picked berries, I feel his presence. I don’t just remember him in those moments, I feel him; there is a difference. The following simple poem, Reflections, is a snippet of lives lived, bonds forged and fish caught. I am glad he got to read this before his passing.
I skipped a stone this morning
And, to ease my tired mind,
I peered beneath the diamond waves
And wandered back through time.
‘Twas of a place not long ago,
This tiny grain of time,
Scattered like a sandstorm
Through the desert of my mind.
The memories revived in me
From twenty years did come
Flooding back to wash away
Today’s labours undone.
The years we gave to fishing
Are among my greatest treasures.
The value of life’s experience:
A worth beyond measure.
The ties that bind are not forged
from gifts that you can see;
But, from smiles and laughs and lots of love
To last an eternity.
A thousand years are not enough
To show how much it meant,
And, embedded in my mind forever,
It was certainly time well spent.
I skipped a stone this morning
And wandered back through time.
Funny how a restless sea
Can ease a tired mind.