"It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was. " ~Anne Sexton
From years of gentle rolling waves, the waters of Lake Michigan deposited piles of powder-white sun-bleached sand into monolithic climbable dunes. Along with the sound of the water, it's slathered sunbathers, bristly tall beach grass, tangles of driftwood being tossed back and forth and small clams leaving trails of bubbles through the sand as the water retreated from the roll of the latest wave - being so near to one of the Great Lakes was like having an ocean nearby.
As kids at the beach, we would walk its length until we sensed it would be an equally long walk back, and while doing so collected stones and shells that had been transformed by the constant unnoticeable grind of the sand and water. And as the day would dwindle away and as our heads, forearms and shoulders would become pink from a day at the shore, the citrus glow of the sun would move to a place behind the dunes and we would collect our stuff, load up our car, and head home.
The beach around Lake Michigan was nearby and our family would begin our day there with my dad making pancakes in the campgrounds' barbecue pits. In a metal bowl, the eggs, milk and instant batter from a box would be fluffed with a large spoon while the coals of the fire would be nursed to a glowing red-hot perfection. The appearance of his large blackened cast iron pan would mean that in a minute, the butter would be hot enough and we'd hear the much-anticipated sizzle and crackle of almost burned pancakes, which he quickly plated up for the next hungry mouth.
To some, my dad, Floyd, might have been a dismissible man -- quiet, soft spoken and shy. But to each of his three kids he was the world. Each winter he turned our driveway into an ice-rink, in the spring he'd bring us all fishing, during the school year he quietly sat through our torturous music lessons and every fall he painfully but proudly sat though our concerts. While shuttling us from point to point, he quietly watched, listened and guided. And although he worked the midnight shifts at the steel mill, had only a grade school education, and spoke English as his second language, he did so many wonderful things that I've only come to appreciate as an adult -- including teaching me how to clean that heavy cast iron skillet at the beach.
He taught me to always clean our pancake-pan by first boiling water in it, and then letting it soak for several minutes. He then had me empty its crud-filled contents, wipe it dry with a towel, reheat it and then finally coached me to dab just enough oil to cover all of its surfaces before storing it back in the trunk of our Chevy, ready for the next sunrise breakfast at the beach.
I'm still discovering the gifts my father gave me and try to remember him for the complicated and swell man he was -- thoughtfully doing the best he could while allowing us kids to watch and patiently teaching us the fine art of making lemonade when-and-if you're lucky enough to have the world give you lemons.
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