The farthest thing from my mind when I’m chipping away at the frozen layer on my driveway on a chilly, mid-Missouri February morning that, as usual, has as much rain as snow is to wish for more of the same. But here I am on a ninety-six degree day in August crossing a Target parking lot as I wade through heat waves rising from the asphalt that remind me of that Vegas hospital parking lot in early June of ’93 after visiting Dad and thinking he’d be flying home soon – we know how that worked out – wishing I could have one of those ice-crusted snow days. Or better yet, just one more minute working beside Dad at Overland Express back in Buffalo in the ’70s with the snow blowing between the trailers and across the dock, his face just as red from the cold as it would get if he were here with me on this hot, August Missouri day.
Not a meal, but a Saturday treat. Heirloom, of course, ripe with memories. Savoring the process of your hand moving, slow and smooth, the serrated knife laying each slice on the bread, each slice layered with mayo turning pink with juice. Now held in two hands, that second slice firmly in place, mayo in a bead, hugging the crust edge, juice falling to the plate in languid drops. Eyes closed with each bite, you relish this simple pleasure. My pleasure now in recalling this, bringing you back after so many years as I take my own bite and savor the memory.
This late summer month, when the wind seldom gusts and the heat clings to the skin with an air of resignation, the knowledge that its persistence will not last, this month was your favorite. In your retirement you spent more time outdoors than in, as you gardened, tended to your animals, and prepared for the coming change in weather. Shirtless while mowing your acres of lawn or relaxing with a game of horseshoes, you wore that warm sun like it was your own. You were born to this month, and I always did see it as yours. You are always on my mind, but most especially in this month.
He was a cop, which, by itself, shouldn’t mean anything, but he was also a perfectionist. Everything by the book, which was a good thing when scuba diving. Fewer chances for mishaps and mistakes meant a more enjoyable dive.
A group of friends would do river drifts in the Niagara River, with buddy teams of two. A pickup vehicle was left at the exit point, then we’d drive upriver to the entry point with our gear, drift along the bottom with a float, and surface.
Keeping track of bottom time was essential. Surfacing too late meant a hard kick in if the current had pushed us from shore. Embarrassing as it was, there were times when a buddy team had to call for a ride after surfacing too far downriver.
When possible, divers tended to use the same partner. Knowing their skill level and tendencies meant being able to anticipate their reactions above and below the water. It made it easier to avoid underwater obstacles or tangles with the buddy line.
I had been on several dives with him. He was a good friend and an excellent diver who was training to be an instructor. Dives with him always went smoothly, but I wondered about his patience. As a group, he buddied with his wife.
That’s not always a good thing, when someone insists that everything be by the book. It comes down to knowing your partner’s abilities. Compensating for shortcomings should come naturally to an instructor, more so for a couple.
At the end of one dive, my buddy and I were checking out a boat anchor I’d found when we saw their dive flag go by. Late exit. Drifting next to the float, he was berating her as he untangled the float line that was wrapped around her.
Things were pretty uncomfortable as we sat on the shore afterward, having a snack and something to drink. Talk centered around the finds we had brought to the surface. I pictured him on the bottom, the anchor tied to his fins.
Narrative poetry is not really my cup of tea, but I thought I’d give this a try.