He shouldered his kayak and walked down the path toward the Sangamon River by the historic Hazen Bridge. The Hazen Bridge was one of his favorite spots along the river. There was something about these old single-lane iron truss bridges that evoked a feeling of the past, of times gone by, and of remembering what had gone before.
He liked that feeling; appreciated it. He knew firsthand the importance of remembering. By experience.
He put his kayak in the water and headed off downstream. He liked the feeling of the paddle slipping through the water. And he appreciated the beauty of the Sangamon River.
He was a water person. His own father had been a competitive diver back in his high school days, and he himself always had great form off a diving board. He was an avid swimmer, snorkeler, and even a water skiier, too. Water had always been a part of his life.
In his younger days, his father had moved their family to an old YMCA camp he had bought way out of town north of Pittsburgh. The Olympic sized concrete swimming pool was fed by a mountain spring, so the water was clear, cold and fresh and never any chlorine. When he moved his own family to Florida, his favorite swimming was always in Florida’s clear, cold springs.
Out of high school he had joined the Navy, serving on a Destroyer Escort. Fortunately, that was during one of those rather rare periods in U.S. history with no active wars, no police actions, ‘peacekeeping missions’ or anything else. One of his favorite military memories, oft-related to his son, was of standing on the deck of his ship far out to sea late on clear nights when they would turn off nearly all the running lights and all he could see was the amazing and seemingly endless stars swirling overhead from horizon to horizon.
So it was a little inevitable that he’d end up here, paddling along on the Sangamon River, solo, taking it all in. He paddled downriver, maneuvering around the curves, past fallen logs until he came to his destination.
He pulled up to the concrete steps that his son had put down the steep bank and stepped out of his little craft and climbed up the steps. He was at the Sangamon River home of his son and it was Father’s Day.
He looked around the place thinking that he particularly liked this little piece of land that his son called home. He was there to support him most of the way, too. He had been there on that tragic December day when his son’s river home had burned to the ground. He liked to think that he was somehow responsible for ensuring that at least his son and his family were safe, but inside he knew that couldn’t have been possible, given his condition.
But now his son had this nice newly rebuilt home complete with an outdoor shower, in a small nod to their family home down in Florida. He was proud of his grandaughters too, doing well in school and going off to college. He had gone to college – briefly – but then he had joined the Navy and then taken a job in Jacksonville, Florida with IBM right at the very dawn of the computer age.
He’d been a leader of the Boy Scout troop down in Jacksonville so he took pride in the fact that his son now led the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy. He liked that his son planned and led friends on float trips down ‘his son’s’ river.
He was able to look on with pride at his son and his family. In fact, he was proud of each of his three children, each with good homes, good marriages, with children and a few with grandchildren of their own. He was a Great Grandfather now; he liked the ring of that. And he liked the fact that water played a big part in the lives of all of his progeny.
Yes, he’d had a very good life. And on this sunny Father’s Day, he’d like nothing better than to put his feet up on that back deck, kick back and have a nice long chat over rum on the rocks with his son. But talking directly to his son was not possible. In fact, it was the stuff of freak shows and horror stories.
On this Father’s Day he lamented that, at only 63 years old, he had died much too young – right after his youngest granddaughter Abbey’s 1st birthday in April of 1998. And that was eight years before his son had even moved to the banks of the Sangamon.
Abbey was 17 now. He never even knew of the Sangamon River during his life. He never got to join his son and his family and friends on trips down the Sangamon which he would have so enjoyed being able to do. Yes, if he had it do over again, he’d have definitely made healthier choices; put down those damn cigarettes when he was far younger for one.
But he knew he could stand proud of his son and his family, he thought to himself. And on this Father’s Day, that was enough.
So with that thought, he slowly turned and walked down the little hill toward the Sangamon, climbed back into his kayak and paddled off downstream in the direction of the setting sun.
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, June 26, 2014 by Scott Hays