Peace on the Water

My father, Morris. As a character, he’s a writer’s dream. He had incredible gifts and incredible flaws. Golden moments and dark complications. Laughter and rage. Robust health and debilitating disease.

I will probably spend the rest of my life writing about him, a kind of slow-motion therapy to unravel the tangled web of light and darkness that came standard when you were his daughter. It’s slow-motion now because Dad has been a member of the Dead Rellies Club since Thanksgiving Day of 2004.

Sidenote: I don’t mean to be crass or insensitive by calling the insanely large group of people I’m related to who have died and it’s ridiculous the “Dead Rellies Club.” To be quite honest, it’s a term of endearment. I picture all of them sitting around a big, antique wooden table on a sunny patio, drinking coffee, laughing until they can’t breathe, and eating as many sweets as they want—because of course, bars and cookies and little squares of cake have absolutely no calories in heaven.

And when a new member arrives (most recently my cousin Cindi), I’m quite sure that they shower that person with those really soft caramels you buy in a gift store, three for $1.50…except in heaven, it’s 1000+infinity for FREE.

Okay, so where was I? Oh, yes. My father, Morris. Daddy on the Other Side.

Dad LOVED his boat, and his boat loved him. It was a 1970-something Crestliner with a 70-horsepower Evinrude on the back—a motor that was powerful enough to pull water-skiers but not so powerful as to be out of his price range. It had one of those flip-windows in the middle of the expanse of windshield (the kind that, when closed, made anyone who was sitting in the front of the boat feel like an airlock between segments of an Apollo spacecraft had been closed off). When he first got it, its painted accents were a lovely shade of teal. Later on in its life, the teal gave way to metallic powder blue.

I remember the thrill I felt every time Dad made that engine growl to life, spewing water to each side like a member of royalty parting a crowd of commoners. I’d feel the front of that chariot rise up in the air, and I could hardly breathe from the power of the moment.

That boat was more than just a sleek machine that roared around Lake Vermilion during our few precious months of summer. It was the cure-all to whatever was making my dad hurt. Or angry. Or crabby. Or sad. Or mean. When he was sitting in the captain’s spot, nothing else could touch him. Not his insecurities, not his grief, not his regret, not his money worries, not his pain, not his strained interpersonal relationships with just about everyone, and not even Lupus, which nearly killed him several times by making his body attack itself. Nope.

When he was behind the wheel of his boat, Kristin (named after my older sister), Dad was happy. Dad was not yelling. Dad was kind. That magnificent boat turned Dad into our tour guide and our protector. It made him into the best version of himself.

He never let anyone else drive it (except sometimes my brother Kevin, who owned half of the new motor and had given it its makeover). I can’t blame him. It was the one place he felt God.

My heart hurts when I think about the fact that it hasn’t been in the water of Lake Vermilion since the summer he died. Kristin sits in Kevin’s garage, packed full of stuff that needed a place to be behind a set of shelves in the left stall.

I saw her once during the summer of 2017. The real Kristin and I were invited to look through our mother’s clothing to try to find something fitting for her to wear for her initiation into the Dead Rellies Club.

My sister spied her namesake through a crack in the boxes and cried out, “Carleen! Look!” I immediately reached in to touch the family relic I had assumed belonged to someone else now, just like my childhood home. I had never had the chance to say goodbye to either of them. And of course, I cried. Summer of 2017 was a season of crying.

The electricity I felt–a mix of melancholy, longing, regret, and relief–is something I will carry with me forever, along with the sight of my father in his black jeans and plaid, peering over the windshield to get a better look at his surroundings.

When that version of my father was around, I could breathe deeply into the corners of my body and exhale every worry, every fear, and every particle of stress right out into the wind to be reborn as pure joy, at least for that moment.

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