Thunder Bay came with a whisper; we barely touched the fringe. We saw the horizon illuminated in the distance, but never heard the life. The night had become increasingly cold, we were, after all, still early in the season, and Lake Superior has a way of affecting the air.
My father sailed these lakes. He sailed almost every body of water. He was young when he started out in Holland. He told us more than once of how he would sit on the dykes and dream of the day he could sail away. He joined a small shipping fleet that did runs between Holland and Germany. He eventually moved out into larger waters, and saw most of Europe, England, the Scandinavian nations, through the Atlantic coast and Mediterranean. His descriptions from the fiords to the Ivory Coast could have been pages out Hemmingway. He saw the roughest seas in the North Atlantic, and respected grandeur of the Red Sea. He spoke of standing on Russian steps, and in the same breath, told you how he picked olive leaves for his mother in Israel.
He trained as part of the merchant marines, and sent his pay home each week. He was young. It’s hard to picture my father as young. He was a pillar, a wealth of knowledge: a cornerstone. Those things are never mirrored with young. He continued on to the Indian Ocean, over to the Caribbean, through Panama, and the Pacific. He found a home in New Orleans and did the Banana-sugar run between Mexico, Brazil, and the United States. He always said you were in awe of God when entering the Amazon.
He settled in Canada and sailed the Great Lakes before the responsibility of fatherhood caught up with him. He knew his world. These lakes, these waters connected him to a peace of mind that most of us envy, and strive for daily.
I could smell the sea lingering gently.
I turned to see Papa J. staring up. The Aurora Borealis was in fine form tonight. The blue and green curtain danced in front of us. I felt isolated from the nostalgia, but oddly comforted. Even though I knew we were the only two on this flat, I felt certain we were not alone. I never took stock of people who spoke of being in the presence of the invisible. I thought they were strange people that had more paranoia coursing through their veins than reason. But there was no mistaking this feeling.
“Do you feel that?” He said, still watching the light show.
“Feel what…what do you mean?” I shook involuntarily.
“Do feel the air shifting? It’s getting colder. I’m afraid our time on this train may come to an end much sooner than we had hoped.”
He was right about the air. But I had no idea where I was going in the first place. And I still hadn’t.
“Honestly, I was hoping to stop in Thunder Bay. Nature calls and this time I have to answer.” I said.
“Well, than, that’s that. I thought I would make it out of the province before I gave up, but these knees aren’t what they used to be.” He took a map out of his pack and fumbled with a penlight.
“Looks like Dryden might be the next city. If not, than I’m sorry, but you might have to hold it to Winnipeg. That would be morning for sure”. He said this with a hint of sympathy, but I saw humor in his face.
Dryden came and went quicker than any other town we passed. We chuckled for a moment and Papa J. got up and sat down on the other side of the flat.
“Why did you go there?” I asked, mildly offended.
“It’s down wind son. Sleep well.” We both laughed out loud.
Papa J. settled into his night gear.
“What do we do in Winnipeg?” I asked not wanting to hear I was on my own.
“We go on. We get a car and hit the road. That’s the Canadian way. The Great Canadian car trip”. He never looked up; he simply sighed and fell asleep.
All unsung heroes had a journey. My father had his, I guess this was mine. He found peace. I hope I do as well.
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