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A Beer With My Father
It was a crisp, clear Autumn afternoon on Long Island. Brightly colored leaves played tag in the cool breeze. Sunlight filtered through the trees as a few stubborn hold-outs defiantly clung to otherwise bare branches. Dad and I were taking his boat, The Second Try, out for the last ride of the season. It was 1970 and I would be turning seventeen in a few weeks.
We pulled out of the slip and headed out to the bay. On the water, the seasons change very quickly. It was strange to think that just a few of weeks before we had been swimming and fishing from the boat. The grassy islands that dot the south shore had changed almost overnight from verdant to sepia.
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We cruised slowly up the canal into Seaford, passing many waterfront bungalows that had been boarded up since Labor Day. There were no weekend sailors to be found, only a few serious, overalls-clad fisherman in open skiffs. We pulled into a slip at "Uncle Hermies" which was a combination bait shop and bar. The place seemed ancient even then. Generations of fisherman who plied their trade on the water, went there to fortify themselves with soup and spirits.
Outside, the place was a rundown shack with a dock that could barely hold its own weight. Inside it was dark and dingy and smelled of whiskey and cigarettes. The walls were covered with old photographs and fishing gear. Old timers in salty baseball caps lined the unvarnished wooden bar. Dad sat down and I followed. He ordered the lunch special and the bartender brought baskets of fried fish, chips, and coleslaw - probably the same lunch special that had been served there for decades . He returned a moment later with two glasses of beer. Dad picked up both, handed one to me and said "Salute!" We clinked glasses and took a drink. Being a typical teenager, I had drunk beer before, but not like this. Not as an adult. This small gesture was a turning point in my life - a rite of passage. I would no longer be treated as a child. We finished our lunch without conversation and boarded The Second Try.
A season ends
Dad idled the boat through the canal, into the dark green water of the bay, and back to the marina. We left the boat keys at the office and walked to the car. A bracing wind pinched my face as the sun vanished behind the clouds. This was the end of the season and of other things as well.
A few years ago, my new mechanic hauled my boat, Foamy, to his marina for winter storage. He gave me directions in the spring when it was time to launch. The marina was in the same general area where my father had kept his boat so many years ago. I pulled into the lot and noticed a tool shed near a decrepit wooden ramp. I looked around for other visual cues. Where dry-docked old wooden boats once rested over a parking lot paved with broken clam shells, several new houses were now standing. Though greatly reduced in size, this was the same marina where Dad had kept The Second Try forty years earlier.
As I cruise that area in my own boat, past the multimillion dollar homes which now dominate the spots where countless summer bungalows once stood, I strain to reconcile my vision with my memory. An old collapsed bulkhead on an overgrown island registers in my mind. Yes, there was an old shack there. This is where we anchored for flounder. This is where my heart is.