So many of you have responded to my request for prayers for my father who has advanced Alzheimer’s (currently in a temporary place of safety, mostly confused, sometimes distraught, awaiting long term care placement) I wanted to tell you a little about him, so that when you offer prayers or thoughts for Donald House, you will have some sense of the man. I’ve been sitting with what story to tell, and this is the one that comes to mind, so I will trust that.
When I was growing up my family went on camping vacations. Dad hadn’t ever camped as a child but he was eager and handy and, having grown up on a farm, very at home being close to the earth. He built cupboards and rigged up a variety of tarps for a camp kitchen, chopped endless piles of wood, and led my brother and I in spear-making expeditions and spear-throwing contests on the beach. I think he had as much fun as we did. He’d had a truly difficult childhood- filled with poverty and physical abuse. I sometimes think any real child-like fun he had happened when we were children.
What I am remembering right now is the two of us going fishing on those camping trips.
My Dad and I were rarely alone. And, to tell the truth, I wasn’t much into fishing. I saw the mandatory daytime family fishing expeditions as basically a chance to work on my tan and read. But for some reason, I often went out fishing alone with my father at dusk – 7 pm to be exact- when we were camping. He maintained that seven was when the wind went down (and it often did) and the fish and the mosquitoes would both be biting.
After the supper dishes were done, he’d say, “Let’s go Annie!” (My middle birth name is Anne- he was the only person who every called me this.)
We'd take our heavy, old, square-backed freighter canoe with a small trolling motor on the back and head out into the lake. Then we'd find a spot- usually a small bay- drop anchor and, covering ourselves with insect repellent, sit until the sun went down with our lines in the water. I don’t remember us ever catching anything. But I do remember how. . . . comfortable it was, sitting on the lake in silence with my father. Once in awhile the silence would be broken by the sound of loons calling to each other across the water- a strangely mournful cry that always makes my chest ache.
How my father loved being out on the water surrounded by the dense bush of the north, watching the clouds become streaked with changing color as the sun went down and the first stars appeared in the dark blue sky. You could feel the warmth leaving the air as the sun slid beneath the horizon.
Once, sitting quietly, we heard a strange sound- like the breath of an omnipresent mother whispering, “SSSSHHHH. . . .” I looked at my Dad bewildered, and for a moment he too looked confused. Then, suddenly he reeled in his line and told me to do the same.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Rain,” he said.
And sure enough, as I looked toward the east I could see a dark grey thunderhead coming across the tree tops in the distance, bringing with it a curtain of water. We pulled up the anchor and headed for shore trying to outrun the storm. I remember watching it pursuing us, wind churning the waves and rain racing across the lake behind us. I remember Dad laughing and shouting to me, “We’re not going to make it!” And sure enough, the rain caught up with us before we pulled the canoe up onto the beach, soaked and laughing at our own smallness in the face of something as ordinary as a summer storm.
I don’t know why this is the story that comes to mind now. Perhaps it is because my father is experiencing what is called "sundowning"- a state of aggitation that often comes upon those with advanced Alzheimer's at sunset. As I pray for him to know he is loved, to feel safe and calm and a sense of peace, I hold this image- of the two of us sitting in the canoe at dusk fishing- in the hopes that the deep calm and beauty of those times may reach him now.