Waiting with anticipation for that long-planned family holiday...
Finally, doors are locked and the kids pile into the family car-plus-trailer, piled high with fishing rods, pillows and perhaps the family budgie and pooch. The rather weary parents fill the last remaining spaces, ignition on, acceleration, and responsibilities are left behind.
Ours was always camping by the sea. In those days, tents along the foreshore were permitted by the council. Dad packed tarps, tents, hessian for the bush ‘loo’, cases of apricots and greenish tomatoes. Nothing tasted so good in those days as freshly baked bread from our daily treks to the coastal hot-bread shop.
Unfortunately, mum was not so ‘camping-inclined’. The intrusion of black sand into everything of value was intolerable to her. Dad carted brimming water bottles each day from the town tap. Mum somehow kept food in great supply for six-plus hungry people. This was not her idea of holiday perfection.
But I loved it. Swimming, searching for pippies at low tide, rock-fishing with dad, sea air with endless stretches of sandy beaches, cooking on the open fire and luring sand worms with ‘stink-bait’. The sunrise and sunsets. So beautiful. So peaceful…
Until the day dad and I went fishing. It was at dad’s favorite spot on the rocks.
That day... my world froze in time.
Rock-fishing was my dad’s recreational joy. He taught me how to thread cunjivoy onto my hook and most importantly, to respect the sea.
“Never turn your back to the sea”, he cautioned me.
“Watch it. It is beautiful, but uncertain.”
Sadly, that day, he broke his own rules to help me.
My hook had become snagged tantalizingly within sight, just a metre or so down a large sloping rock. In retrieving it for his little girl, he turned his back to the waves.
The unthinkable happened. A huge wave came crashing and sucking around him. I can still see his white face, bobbing in the ocean swell as it carried him away from the land. Having swept him off the rock, the turbulence had tangled my fishing line around him, making swimming almost impossible. His clothing weighed heavily. He struggled valiantly to keep up. I watched helplessly as the tide swept him out to sea and sideways.
Racing around a surging inlet to get closer, I prayed, more, cried out,
“Jesus please help dad! Save him!”
(This was a spontaneous cry to One we loved and trusted.)
Grabbing his long surf rod lying there, I stretched it out as far as I dared. Why wouldn’t he grab it? Then he was out of reach, being pulled further and further out. We were alone. I looked searchingly around. Not a soul in sight. The waves relentlessly rolled in, swelling and crashing onto the rocks, then receding before the next onslaught.
Then somehow, miraculously, I saw my dad’s white head coming closer. He was being washed back in! Closer he came, until with the swell lifting him at least a metre, he was reaching out to grab a large kelp anchored onto the rock.
He wouldn’t reach for my little hand stretching out…
Now using the kelp, he clung there for dear life, grasping it with all his strength, resisting the pulling, sucking force of each wave trying again to draw him back out to a watery grave. Finally, still clinging to the kelp, the swell lifted him high enough to clamber, using all his strength, onto the rocks. He was exhausted, his face ashen.
Many others haven’t made it out of similar circumstances.
We hugged each other tightly – a little daughter and her precious dad.
Life pulsated all around us, beautiful and inviting once again. I remember starting to understand the value of life – and the value of my dad.
Over thirty years passed. My three children clambered over the same rocks, exploring rock pools, surprising crabs and the occasional tiddler.
“Over there”, I called to them, “is where papa was washed out.”
Once again, my mind’s eye supplied the vision of my dad’s white face bobbing helplessly in the ocean swell.
“Never turn your back to the ocean,” I cautioned them.
Yesterday, wasn’t it? I was the child. How brief, how fleeting is life. As a man wisely said thousands of years ago, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." Psalm 90:12
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