dad up ahead

If Dad were alive he’d be turning 90 today, but we lost him to bone marrow cancer when he was just seventy and I was thirty-two. I often wonder what he’d think of me now and what he’d make of Calvin. I have no doubt that he and Michael would hit it off and that he'd be a good grandfather to Calvin, loving him for who he is and wanting nothing more than to tickle him and simply be with him. I think he’d be proud of what I’d accomplished so far in life: that I’d realized my childhood dream of being a clothing designer; that I’d become financially independent before getting married; that I’d married a good guy, a solid guy, a smart guy, an honest guy, a responsible guy, a good citizen and one who loves me (all in one guy, mind you); that I'm using my mind in a creative and worthy endeavor such as writing.

In honor of my dad who was a Naval Academy graduate, a hero who saved lives in a terrible airfield accident, a track and field star (he ran hurdles, threw the javelin for the Navy and, in 1948, ran a mile in 4:28) an engineer, a coach, a father, a friend, a husband, a prankster, a swim meet official, a mechanic, a sunbather, an avid gardener, a canner and a clammer, here is a remembrance which is part of my memoir-in-work:

I trudge up onto a grey morning beach, wind plaiting my hair, damp sneakers chafing my ankles and Dad up ahead leading the way across the sandbar. He carries a shovel in one hand and a swinging white bucket in the other. Hip waders the color of clay hang from suspenders off of his broad shoulders, a gossamer white t-shirt clinging to his chest trembles in the wind. He is Neptune and I am his little green urchin. As we pound our feet on the wet sand, water spurts from tiny holes. Dad kneels down and works hard and fast digging scores of pits and forming small, sloppy mounds of sand to their sides. At each site, he reaches elbow-deep into the hollows as waves wash over the bar dissolving the mounds and dumping sand into the space around his arm and into my sneakers. “Got it,” he says with a grunt, then works his muscles against the sand vacuum slowly tugging the clam to the surface. It’s long and thin, shiny and green-gold, the color of seaweed, its edge as sharp as the razor for which it is named. This time he hands the clam over to me for inspection and suddenly, with a phony growl, he squeezes it so that it spits at me and I flinch. We both laugh then he gestures and says, “Climb up, Shorty.” My ankles are sore and raw, my feet numb and wet and I’m shivering so much my teeth are chattering. With one arm under my leg, the other carrying the shovel and a bucket half full of clams, he carries me up the beach through tall grasses over ivory dunes, my hands clasped loosely around his neck riding his back like a monkey on a stallion. Through my rolled-up Levi’s and nubby sweater I feel the damp warmth radiate off of his back into my birdlike chest and I think to myself, I have the best dad in the world.

Donald Murray Shake, February 20, 1925 - January 16, 1996