Sunday 23 Oct 2016

The Vineyard with Dad
AJ Robinson

Many nights, I dream of my father. It always starts the same, morning, the start of summer on Martha's Vineyard and Dad and I were having breakfast. The summer stretched before us, and we had such plans! There's plenty of time to do everything on our list.

We made an odd pair. I'd been a late-life baby for him; a re-affirmation of an old saying. "Snow on the roof doesn't mean there ain't fire in the furnace."

We spent time at the beach, with friends and family. Nick and Heidi, my oldest nephew and niece, loved going to "Second Bridge," with my Dad and I, to jump off, into the water. The three of us kids would spend hours swimming and jumping.

I'm sure you've seen "Second Bridge." It was featured in the movie "Jaws." Dad didn't look so good in a swimsuit. His diet and sedentary lifestyle resulted in him being out of shape. Yeah, round is a shape, but it's hardly healthy for an older man.

Evenings we'd play cards or take in a movie. Wednesday night sings at the Tabernacle were always fun, as were the potluck suppers. Yet, Dad's drinking was often the cause of embarrassment in public and pain in private. A broken bottle draws blood so very easily, and some words leave deep wounds that never truly heal. Still, the good days outnumbered the bad, and, no matter what the pains, I always forgave. Such is the resilience of a child's love.

Midway through the summer, we got ice cream at the Diary Queen, in Edgartown. It was the only "chain" restaurant on the Island. The old timers said it blew over from the Mainland, one day, during a Nor'easter. The ice cream tasted so good, they decided to let it stay. Going to Edgartown always got Dad onto the subject of Chappaquiddick.

"That darn Teddy Kennedy! I knew him when he was a little crook here in Massachusetts, now he's a big crook in Washington. Old Joe paid everyone off and he got a free walk on that Mary Jo business."

I rolled my eyes. "Yes, 'Bertie,' you've told me and told me and told me [that story]!"

We laughed. "Bertie" was our private joke. That was King Edward's nickname, what his mother, Queen Victoria, called him. And, the poor man was a grandfather before ascending the throne. Well, Dad felt like him: a grandfather before he took over as patriarch of the family.

Then we headed "Up Island," into the hilly area. Up and down we went, through Chilmark, the artsy town; passed West Tisbury, the working area, and out to Aquinnah, home to the rolling clay cliffs.

We spent a lot of time working on the cottage. Dad knew carpentry, plumbing and general handyman stuff. So, we fixed the bathroom, put a new roof over the bedroom and painted the porch. None of it ever seemed like work. It wasn't just that Dad made me feel like an important part of the job, it was his stories.

Oh, did Dad have stories! Some were sad: making the decision to have his beloved dog Brownie put down. Even after all those years, his voice still cracked with sadness as he told that one. Yet, he felt it important that I hear it. As he said: "Everyone needs to see puppies born and a faithful, old dog put to sleep. We all need to see the cycles of life."

Then there were the stories of his youth. Dating, sneaking a camera into the burlesque shows, and biking across Europe. There were the funny family stories, his job as a pastry cook in Miami, enlisting in the Army, his war stories, and, of course, meeting Mom.

Then there was sailing. To say that Dad liked to sail is akin to saying I like to breathe! If there's no ocean in Heaven, Dad's not staying. Never was he happier than when we were out on the water, sunshine above, wind at our backs and waves lapping against the hull.

It never mattered where we were sailing to: Cuttyhunk, Nantucket, Edgartown, the beach or all the way around the island. Yeah, sailing to the beach took a lot longer than just driving there, but that wasn't the point. The destination meant nothing; it was the journey we lived for! And Dad lived for his boat, the Silvana, named after my Mother. You could honestly say that Dad had six kids: five sons and a "daughter," his beloved boat.

Yet, over dinner at Giordano's on our last night, we shared a pizza and lamented how much more we'd hoped to do. We'd squeeze out one more shared memory. We went to the old movie house, the Second Story Cinema. We got in cheap there: one senior, one child. They were showing "Excalibur" and the place was known for its "audience participation." When Arthur approached Lancelot on the bridge, someone behind us shouted out, in a gravelly voice: "What is your name?"

We all laughed.

Later, when Arthur went to find Guinevere, a woman called out: "Spank me!" And when Mordred ran Arthur through with his spear, I said: "T'is but a scratch."

Yeah, a good end to the summer.

Next day, I drove us down to the ferry. Dad sat next to me, happy and content. He said he was proud of all I'd accomplished. That means a lot for a son, hearing that from his father. Pulling up to the Captain, I held onto our ticket. I didn't want the summer to end, it hadn't been long enough.

I looked at Dad. He smiled.

"We need more time. Could we change our reservation to another day?" I asked. The Captain sadly shook his head. "I'm sorry, it's July 31st, 1989, and your Dad's 'summer' is over."

Turning to Dad, I shouted: "I love you!" The first of many things left unsaid. But, it was too late. The seat beside me was empty. At that moment, all the pain, all the hurt, all the tears melted away and I felt emptiness so deep in my soul that I hurt in places I didn't know I had!

I never have liked that dream.

Click here for more by AJ Robinson.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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