Ashes to Ashes

Ashes to Ashes

Last spring, I was walking on the beach, Port Aransas, TX. Nice beach and all that. Coming, or going, the other way, depends, was a father and son, presumably a young son, age three to six, as I’m not good with kid ages. A dad walking with his son. Previously, poolside, I’d watched a variety of dads with various offspring, presumably their children. Some very attentive parents, some not as much.

Another coastal memory, rather pointed, I must’ve been about 12 at the time, maybe younger, and my father’s business was taking him — along with the family — out to the Pacific Rim. Late flight from Texas, then a connection to a red-eye out of SFO. Mother and Sister were traveling separately. As my father was a frequent flyer, before there were such monikers, he gained admission to the Pan-Am Air equivalent of the Admirals’ Club, the exclusive lounge for weary business travelers.

My guess is late summer’s eve, and the legendary San Francisco fog was rolling in — perhaps the only time I’d ever see anything like that. The low clouds piled up on the Pacific, then gradually spilled over that coastal range, visible from SFO, looking west. Like a pot just starting to bubble over, or rather, like a saucer being gently tipped and the contents, the Pacific’s evening fog, slowly cascading down the backside of the hills, with that fog starting to fill up the Bay’s valley. Last summer, in Seattle, sitting in a diner in Pike’s Market, we watched the same effect of the fog spilling over the low hills,to the west. Triggered the memory of SFO. Odd, as the image repeated itself one more time in New Mexico, heading up to fish at the Butte, the clouds spilling over the mountains.

Kids at poolside, I just figure, that requires constant supervision. For the walk on the beach, maybe not quite as attentive, but still, some attention, as in, “Don’t kick that man’o’war, son.”

As a child, my father was what was then termed as “handicapped.” I recall tossing a baseball around with him, once, and a football, exactly once, since I stubbed one of my long and delicate fingers. I wasn’t exactly a rough and tumble sport person. He wasn’t exactly a ball player, although, as he would spin family myth, he did excel at sandlot baseball, in his day. He couldn’t run, but I’m sure he could catch, field and bat. Probably a strong hitter.

The son and father on the beach brought up that series of images, broken pieces of leftover memories, uncollated yet still begging collection.

Back in the day, a girlfriend, more like a casual date that never worked out, but her sister? Her sister was a singer/songwriter I got to see at one showcase. That sister had a song about her father’s hands, and it’s been way too long, a live music venue in Texas, and the date’s sister singing about her father’s hands, maybe angry hands, I can’t call much, if any, of the details. Yet it does stick, to this day, as a reminder of my father’s hands, strong and sure, larger than life.

At some point, my father was intimately associated with the Dallas Shakespeare Festival, a free event in the park, every summer, some luminaries, some summer stock. It was a favorite charity for him as it produced the most entertainment per donation. Like church, only more cost-effective.

That gave way to his ability to misquote Shakespeare, and sometimes, sadly out of context. Some of this, though, I never caught up with while he was here. The general ability to misquote is part of the greater zeitgeist. The spirit was always strong.

Last summer, I was left in charge of a two-year old girl-child. Three? I’m not sure. She is the daughter of a fishing buddy. I can pinch hit for babysitting duties, stand-in for a real grandfather who is, apparently, not a first choice. This child has an unnatural fear of trains. When the lonesome whistle blows, she jumps into the closest available comfort person. One afternoon last summer, she leaped into my arms at the sound of a passing freight. She buried her head in my shoulder, pressed her wee little hands to her ears, and trembled. I could feel her heart beat, strong and accelerated, as she gripped me with elbows and knees, hugging me tightly for protection.

We make peace with the dead through the living.

Ashes to Ashes: what was left of my father, a small urn of ashes, part is interned at his church in Dallas, and my sample? I scattered on that beach in South Texas, a cold, windswept winter day, the ocean leaving whipped sea foam on the dirty shoreline.

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