I hadn’t thought of my childhood for a long time, not until I saw that abandoned gas station that spurred memories into my brain with such clarity. I drove by the gas station on my way to New York from Maine. There were two pumpless gas islands, a small service only building, a one bay garage, and shrubs growing everywhere. I don’t know what company the gas station used to be, but it didn’t matter. The grocery bag blowing across the lot was like me: a ghost floating through memories of a dream. My father had owned a gas station much like it. We lived in the one bedroom apartment upstairs. My mom had died. My dad was now dead, too, but at the time he had been very much alive. He said I was what kept him that way, what kept that sparkle in his eye, what kept life in his life. Unlike many fathers I hear about, he showed it too. Though I grew up in town, we spent every free moment a few miles away in a small cabin by the Delaware River. Mostly, we fished, but really, we did much more than that. I grew up, while he sat back and enjoyed every minute of being a father.
One day, we fished near a dam. The dam was in a stream that ran off the River, and created a large pool about 500 yards across. Past the dam was a small waterfall that created another, smaller pool. I liked to fish at the top. I don’t know what it is about still water, but I prefer it to running, turbulent water. I fished at the top, before the dam. My dad always started there with me, but would often make his way to the bottom of the falls. He said fish liked to hide in deeper spots there, under the currents. I didn’t care so much about fish at that age. I was always distracted by the environment. On that day, I noticed a beaver dam on the other side of the pool. I watched a mother loon, followed by her babies. I continued to fish, but was careful where I cast. I didn’t want to disturb her. I didn’t want her to leave. I enjoyed watching the interaction between mother and offspring. It was intriguing, especially since I had grown up without maternal contact. I also didn’t want to scare her. Loons can be aggressive when their young are threatened. But the Loon is not what I should have worried about. A half-hour after I started fishing, the beaver came out of the dam. The Loon left. Still, I continued to cast. Over the next fifteen minutes, the beaver made its way closer and closer. I began to get concerned because not only were beavers aggressive when protecting their homes, but they also had more to work with in terms of defense and aggression. The beaver got fairly close: maybe 15 yards. I was nervous, but curious too. I could see the beaver’s small head, saw it slap its flat tail on the water. Needless to say, I did not cast again. My dad came over the fall then. With him there, I was not so worried about harm. The beaver must have weighed his chances and decided to stay back and simply watch us instead of making war. He watched us. We watched him. This went on for 20 minutes before the beaver dove underwater, tail last, and disappeared.
My dad was my hero, my only role model. I had no grandparents, no mother, no brothers or sisters. I had my father. We did everything together, but it seems my entire memories center around fishing. I guess just because we went so often. Sometimes we would just grab our gear and walk through the woods looking for a brook. Fall was the most beautiful. Maybe because of the trees, maybe because we knew it would be months before we could fish again. I loved the sound of twigs snapping and leaves crunching under our feet. His steps were loud and crushing, mine tiny and sharp. Although we were such outdoorsy people, I have to admit, I hated, and still hate, certain types of bugs. There are the normal biting ones: ants, mosquitoes and blackflies. There’s the pain invoking ones: hornets, bees, spiders. But then there are the ones that are meanest and grossest of all: parasites. In that area, parasites mean tics. Ugh, yuck, gross, nasty. I only got one on me once, and it didn’t even bite me, but that’s just because Dad saved me. I was walking ahead of him one day while we were out looking for a brook. He saw the tic on my shirt. He told me to stop and quickly brushed it off. I’m so glad I didn’t see it. I don’t know if he ever knew how much that simple act meant to me. I don’t know if he knew how much he meant to me. I’ll never know.
I remember coming to the cabin one day. It was the end of the summer after my senior year of high school, a week before I was to leave for college. I was going to meet him there for our last weekend together. We were going to fish all weekend. I thought it was odd that he wasn’t there, but figured he had to be around somewhere and would come back eventually. I put my keys on the hook by the door. I searched the fridge for a snack, but the fridge was empty. I had this strange urge to have a snack my dad and I had shared when I was really little. I didn’t really like it, but I guess memories and sharing make things taste better. He used to peel potatoes, cut them up, salt them, and eat them raw. It was like extra crunchy French fries. I figured it would be a good snack to remember him and remember our last weekend together. But after cutting and salting the potatoes, the phone rang. It was a doctor from the hospital. I didn’t understand. The call was about my dad. My dad hadn’t been sick and I said so. The doctor didn’t understand my confusion. He said my dad had been suffering from late stage cancer for years. He didn’t know how Dad had lasted this long. The only explanation he could give was that Dad had said he had something to finish. He must have been finished because he was dead. I hung up the phone. I sat by the counter in complete shock. Not ready to cry, I reached up and grabbed a handful of the potatoes and began to eat them.