Monday, October 19, 2009
FFF #6 - The Canoe
"You know Javier, poets say that in the spring a young man's thoughts turn to love, but I think they're wrong. It doesn't matter what season it is, young men are always horny. Love has nothing to do with it."
Pop looked at his son standing at the other end of the over turned canoe. Javier didn't say anything, but he was grinning. Hearing his ole man spout off about being horny made him laugh. He remembered the days when talk like that would make him blush.
"Pop, give me a break. Joshua is only seven. His thoughts are about baseball, riding his bike, and video games. Old farts like you are supposed to have forgotten about horny and such nonsense. Grab the end of the canoe and let's hit the road."
Pop grabbed his end of the canoe silently and they headed up the hill to the pick up. Instead of working with the rough terrain, the narrow footpath that led to the parking area fought it's way to the top. Hiking it with nothing in hand was difficult. Hiking it with a 16 foot cedar strip canoe was dangerous. Half way up Javier's foot slipped.
That day played through Pop's head one more time as he stood in front of the stove lifting the edge of a pancake from the griddle to see if it was ready to add to the growing pile on the plate next to the stove. He remembered his son's last day on the planet like it was yesterday not two years ago. At least now he did not fall into a weeping crumpled heap unable to function at all. But the deep ache his soul had replaced it with some days seemed worse. He often wondered how it was possible to hold so much grief and still make it through the day.
To say Javier had been the light of Pop's life was not enough. The stress of Javier's birth had killed Pop's life companion. The woman he had loved since elementary school had left him a widower and a brand new father without a clue. Christ, he had not even gone to Lamaze classes with Julie. His truck driving job at the time kept him out 6 days of every 7. And now he was in charge of an infant.
Remembering the early days with Javier made the pain of his recent death diminish. Pop smiled as he ran through all the mistakes he made as he hamfisted his way through those first years. The backwards diapers. Finding out just how weak his stomach was regarding baby puke, baby shit, baby fluids. And finally the day he walked in Javier's room to see his smiling son buck naked in his crib waving around his shitty diaper like a lasso and poop spread out on the walls, pictures, and the closet door. No matter how he felt when he remembered this memory, re-running it through his mind always made him smile.
Pop flipped the pancake. His smile faded. He was back in the here and now. And now he had to get Joshua's ass in gear so they could go visit his parents graves. He had no desire to go. But he had promised Joshua a day of fishing and remembrance. Joshua wanted to lay flowers on the graves.
"Joshua! Get your ass out of bed boy. Let's go, let's go. Pancakes this morning!"
From the narrow hallway that lead into the kitchen, "Okay Pop! Don't yell. I'm up and almost........." Joshua came skittering into the kitchen and slipped as his sock covered feet hit the linoleum. Pop's heart stopped as he watched the last living relative he had fall backwards and slam to the floor on his back.
Pop dropped the flipper and lurched towards Joshua. On his back, all Joshua could do was hold his eyes open. For some reason he couldn't catch his breath. He began to flop and make that anguishing sound of someone desperately trying to find some air. Any air. Once, twice, Joshua inhaled but there was nothing. Just as Pop got to him, the third attempt brought him relief. With a huge gasp Joshua caught his breath and Pop relaxed.
"Jesus H Christ Josh, I told you about running in the house!" Pop turned away from Joshua as his hands began to shake and he thought, "I can't lose another loved one. Not again."
"I'm okay Pop."
"Well stand up and let me check out that noggin. Sounded like it took a shot. Maybe oughta check the floor for damage while we are at it. Whata ya think?"
Pop ran his hands over Josh's head. Josh had a nice bump starting to grow. Immediately Pop was drawn back two years when he did the same thing to Javier's head. It was no big thing either of them thought. Little did they know, Javier would not live through the night. Pop shook off the memory.
"Ah, you're okay ya little rascal. Sit down and have some pancakes. Big day today." He tousled Josh's hair and reminded himself to check Josh in another hour and every hour for the next 24.
Joshua sat at the kitchen table. He was a scrawny kid, his head and shoulders just topping the table. Pop had tried to get him to use the booster seat, but Joshua insisted he was a big boy now. Booster seats were for babies. Having learned to pick the battles he wanted to wage, Pop let it go. If the kid was happy to sit eye level with his grub, so what. Pop set a plate down in front of Joshua and then set himself one.
They both concentrated on their breakfast. Joshua was hungry and Pop was reflective. His appetite seemed to be fading as the years stacked up. He ate, but did so only because he knew he needed to. Food really brought him no pleasure anymore. He laid down his fork, wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt.
"Josh? I know I said we would go fishing today, but I thought we might change things around some today."
"How's That Pop?" Joshua still had a mouthful of food and when he said "Pop". Some half chewed pancake spurted from his mouth.
"Jesus Josh, what did I say about talking with your mouth full?"
Josh sat there with his fork standing up on the table, his lips pursed out from pancake overload and just looked at Pop. His chewing action became more animated, followed closely with an exaggerated swallowing motion. Looking at his fork, he said, "Well Pop, you shouldn't ask me a question when my mouth is full."
Pop almost spit up his orange juice. "Yes Josh, you may have a point." Pop looked at his grandson. He was not one to draw family resemblances when there were none. But Josh was looking more and more like he did when he was a young man. Josh really did not favor either Javier or Susan. But he seemed to be growing into a Pop look alike. "Poor Kid", he thought.
"So Pop." Joshua was now holding his fork up high and looking at it again. "What are you going to change about today? We're still going fishing right? And go to Mom and Dad's grave?"
"Yes Josh, we'll do both. But first I thought we might spend some time in the Garage fixing........."
"The Canoe?" Josh started butt jumping in his seat. His head bobbed up and down. "Oh boy Pop, the canoe. Please, please, please."
"Yes, the canoe. Only because I am tired of hearing about it. And besides, we should either fix it or get rid of it. If you are done fiddle fartin around, why don't you head upstairs and get dressed. I'll be in the garage."
Joshua moved the fork so that he was staring at Pop through it. He grinned and let it fall to his plate with a clatter. His earlier fall forgotten, he jumped off his chair and tore out of the kitchen. Pop started to yell, but with a shrug, smiled. Damn near impossible to yell at an empty room and get any results. He grabbed his hat and headed outside to the garage.
The cedar strip canoe hung from the ceiling joists in the garage. Pop had not been able to bring himself to touch it since the day of Javier's accident. When Javier slipped carrying it, the canoe had been damaged as it followed Javier down the hill. Mostly superficial damage he thought, but it had been two years since he looked at it. They would have to pull it down to find out.
Pop stood under the canoe. Two years later he still had trouble understanding how that day had played out. Tragedies like this never piled up on one family with such vengeance. Javier had bounced off a couple of rocks but had seemed okay. They hauled the canoe home. Javier told Pop to wake him up around 4:00PM . He was going to lay down, his head hurt. Susan was flying in from her business trip and Javier wanted to be fresh when he picked her up. At 4:00 PM , Pop was unable to wake up Javier. His breathing was almost nonexistent. Pop called 9-1-1. While they were headed to the small hospital in town, Susan's plane went down. Wind shear they later concluded. But Pop did not find out until after hours of watching his son die.
The canoe always brought back that day in vivid detail. Pop always asked himself why he put himself through this. Just burn the canoe, bust it up. sell it. But he could not. He and Javier had spent many hours planning and then building that canoe. Every piece and part of it had their fingerprints on it. They had used it every summer for 18 years. That canoe was as much a part of their family as they were. One day Pop hoped, Joshua would use it with his son.
"Pop, why are you crying?"
Pop turned suddenly. He quickly wiped his eyes with his sleeve. He just looked at Joshua and said nothing.
"It's Mom and Dad huh?"
"Yes Josh, it's your mom and dad. I miss them terribly."
"Me too Pop." Joshua was crying now also. "Pop, we don't have to fix the canoe. Let's just go fishin. You know, it's too bad we couldn't have sent them off on one of the , uh, you know the guys with horns on their helmets. When one of them dies, they send them off in a burning boat. The canoe would have been perfect, huh Pop?"
Pop grabbed Joshua and picked him up to eye level. "Son", Pop had never called Josh that, "Son, out of the mouths of babes." He set Joshua down. "Here help me with the canoe. We're going to "fix it" alright."
A couple of days later in the "Stuckey News", a small article about vandals and the local cemetery popped up on the bottom fold of the front page. It seems Albert Simmons, the caretaker, found the burned out shell of what appeared to be a well made cedar strip canoe draped over two headstones at the back of the cemetery. All he had to say was, "At least they didn't knock over any more headstones." Police are investigating.
So goes my effort this week. See ya............
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