The Father's Son (@ Jim Sano)
The morning sunrise reintroduced itself around fifteen minutes to six. They had not drawn the shades of the large window facing the harbor, and the room filled with the bright sunlight. The crimson, orange, and purple colors that had painted last evening’s sunset sky were a brilliant contrast to this crisp morning’s blue sky and puffy marshmallow-like clouds. Thick morning fog often covered Stonington’s inlet, and those living on this end of the island were left hoping and praying for the sunshine to burn off the misty dew. David had been awake for several hours already watching the unfolding scene of the harbor and listening to the sounds of the lobster boats that readied to head out to begin the hard but hopefully bountiful work of the day. His mind was hopping back and forth between today’s burial of his mom and the time his dad had taken him out on a lobstering boat where they watched them haul, repair and rebait the traps. The two lobstermen, who weren’t altogether fond of their given names of Merrill and Llewellyn, called themselves “Bert and Ernie” after the cop and taxi driver in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and worked seamlessly as a team while giving each other as hard time as possible in the process. They would haul about three hundred traps that day and hope for at least six hundred pounds of lobsters that were “keepers”, and were not either “shorts” that measure less than the minimum three and a quarter inches from the rear of the eye socket to the beginning of the tail, nor female lobsters carrying eggs they would have to mark before throwing back into their ocean home. Despite the long day ahead, both Bert and Ernie showed patience with David, who was a curious seven-year-old at the time. They let David measure several lobsters and throw back any that were “shorts” or in excess of the maximum five inches. David was fascinated by everything and relished being out on the ocean, but even at that young age, he could tell how difficult a life this must be, especially when the weather turned raw and cold. He noticed that the hands of the lobstermen were even rougher than his dad’s, and their faces showed years of toughening from the sun, salt and worry about everything from their safety to hauling enough to get by.
Jillian was sound asleep as David gently slipped out of bed and put on his tee shirt, shorts, and running shoes for a quick run. He left a short note and quietly closed the door before walking down the creaky wooden stairs onto the street. Most people from “away” were still sound asleep, and while those living and working in town were already up and about, the small community, on the whole, remained quiet and peaceful. He headed up a steep hill and picked a route that ran along the coastline which, with each turn, unburied another forgotten memory as he ran by homes and docks that had seemed barely altered by time. He slowed down to a standstill when he reached the house where his mother had grown up. He recalled spending many hours sitting on the wraparound porch with his grandfather and his grandfather’s old adopted bloodhound, “Duke,” who everybody assumed was named after John Wayne. David’s grandfather, whom he called “Pops”, would sit and recount stories about the many years he spent on Captain John Duke’s schooner called the “Annie and Ruben,” hauling large blocks of granite from the local quarry to Boston, New York, and Washington to build schools, museums, and government buildings. Pops had a profound regard for Captain John and would think of him when he sat beside his constant companion.
David remembered evenings out on that porch with Pops and his father lighting up cigars, and occasions when the entire family gathered telling stories and laughing loud enough for anybody on the harbor shore to hear. His older brothers Jimmy and Bobby, his sister Abbie, Pops and Grammy, any cousins that dropped by, and his dad and mom were all engaged. He could envision his mother throwing back her head, giggling and smiling as she would glance over at him or put her arm around his dad. He had forgotten that beaming smile and distinct and infectious laugh of his mother everyone called Annie. Until that moment, he had only pictured his mom with that distant, serious and often beaten, bitter expression that seemed to represent her life after that October afternoon in 1971 back home in Boston.
David finished his five-mile run and was back in the room, showered and dressing when Jillian awoke at five minutes to seven. She worked to open both of her eyes to the sun-filled room and smiled as her head shook back and forth, watching him put on his button-down shirt. David lifted his head to see her opened eyes, “Hey, are you hungry, lazy girl?”
She grinned back as she got out of bed to walk to the bathroom, letting him rest his eyes on her youthful twenty-eight-year-old body in the daylight. As Jillian passed him, she playfully kissed his lips saying, “Hungry for what, sailor?”
He smiled back, “I will meet you across the street at the Harbor Café when you are ready.” She remembered what today was and that they needed to be at the funeral home by nine o’clock for the service, which made her feel at bit awkward about not truly knowing what David needed or was feeling inside. After a quick shower, Jillian, dressed attractively stylish but still appropriate for the day, walked until she caught sight of David sitting at a table for two in the cafe window overlooking the harbor. He had a mug of coffee in front of him and was just finishing a call that was most likely for work. As she stepped into the restaurant through a wooden screen door which had just the right amount of creak in the hinges, he got up to hold her chair and nodded to the waitress who was pointing to the coffee pot on the counter in the back of the room. “How did you manage the nicest table?” she asked with an approving smile.
David answered in a deep baritone voice, “I have connections.” Until now, he hadn’t appreciated how exceedingly beautiful Jillian’s facial features were and stopped to drink them in as she blushed under his attentive gaze.
The waitress approached the table with a mug of hot coffee which had a sketched picture of the modest café and its name, Harbor Café, underneath and placed it down in front of Jillian while refilling David’s cup. She had short black hair and a friendly roundish face and figure to match. Her name tag read “May” and with the distinct local accent, it was likely she had grown up in town. She took out her pad and pencil and asked Jillian first, “What kin I do for yeh, dee-ah? We have specials on the board as well what’s on the menu.”
Glancing at the board and then back to her plastic coated menu, Jillian quietly exclaimed, “I am ravishing. Could I have a veggie omelet and a raspberry pancake?” May responded, “Sorry ma’am, we had raspberries yestidee, but the blueberries are local pick’d, and are real good?” “That sounds wonderful. Thanks,” replied Jillian.
Before May could rotate toward David, he said, “That sounds good to me as well.”
May responded, “All rightee, then. Does anyone need a juice or watah?” They both shook their heads, and May headed to the kitchen counter to put in their order.
David stretched out with his right palm so Jillian’s hand could rest in his and wrapped his larger fingers around her smaller ones. He sighed and Jillian, waiting for the right opportunity, asked, “Are you doing okay?”
He was staring down into his now half-full coffee mug, “I really shouldn’t have asked you to come today. We hardly know each other, and I’m asking you to drive six hours to the funeral for someone you’ve never met. I wasn’t thinking, and wasn’t really being fair to you.”
Jillian felt surprised by his response and lowered her head to look into his eyes, “David, please don’t worry about me. I am glad I came, and I’m honored that you asked me to come. I just want to be here for you.” She stroked his hand affectionately, “What do you need me to do this morning? Whatever will be best for you, just let me know.”
David looked touched by her thoughtfulness, “I haven’t really talked about my mother to anyone, and don’t know exactly what to say. We may be the only ones at the burial today.”
Jillian asked, “Didn’t you mention once you had brothers or sisters?”
Hewas very closed about family information and responded, “My sister didn’t think burying our mom warranted the flight and hassle of coming out from Minnesota, and my brother didn’t return my calls or letters.” He did not tell her that he had not even broken the news of his mother’s death to his ex-wife or his two children. This was something that seemed like the best idea at the time, but now that the day was here, he was feeling differently about making that decision for them.
David had not planned on telling Jillian much about his mom but thought she should know something about her. “My mom had an exceptionally tough life. I remember being resentful that she was so serious, worn, and distant all the time, but now I can understand better what she was dealing with. She was very close to her twin sister and losing her at a young age definitely had a profound impact on her. She asked me years ago to pledge to help her keep her promise to her sister to rest with her when she died. She wanted to be buried next to her sister and back where she started her life, and where her heart was. Growing up, she took care of the three of us for years, working long hours at a job I know she hated but was glad to have. Then, she would come home every evening to cook our meals, mend our clothes so we could get a few extra years out of them, and make sure we stayed in school and off the streets. I hardly ever saw her smile, and she rarely took the time for friends or fun. She took care of us in terms of physical needs, education, food and shelter…and that was all she had to give. Emotionally she was not…” David paused, and said more softly, “I’m sorry, I am going on too much.” He knew he was stopping himself before he could tell Jillian that he found himself not feeling very much of anything about his mom’s death, not grief nor relief.
Jillian jumped in, “Please don’t apologize. You need someone to confide in about your feelings, or you just end up bottling them up and never enough to stop them from coming back up.” This was something she knew too well from her own experiences with her father and home life, something she worked so hard to not let weigh her down with the emptiness of a life full of falsely protective loneliness and victimhood. She was surprised by what he had shared. At work, David was highly regarded and an extraordinarily effective sales executive for one of the top high-tech firms in the world. He was intelligent, knowledgeable, and had an uncanny way of developing the most effective team of salesmen and women who were able to consistently exceed aggressive quarter revenue goals. He had created a comprehensive selling training program that focused on understanding what customers valued and needed for their business, how to gain their trust and tying that value to the long-term relationship and the right solutions. He had a strong sense of loyalty to the company and especially to his team. He carefully chose and trained most of the team and looked for people he could trust and count on. The approach had worked so successfully because of the commitment to the fundamentals he believed and David quickly advanced from Sales Rep, to District Manager, to Area Manager, and now to Divisional Vice President for more than half of the Americas. Today, he was responsible for delivering two billion in revenue each quarter for a fast growing company called IMS that specialized in high-end storage and information management solutions. Jillian began working as an associate sales rep on one of the larger accounts and was impressed and attracted to David when she interviewed with him and when he spoke at the on-going training sessions held both in the office and in actual customer meetings. Despite her many interactions with this very friendly, social, and down-to-earth vice president, she noticed that he did not expose too much of his personal life or feelings. This was why she was a little surprised by what he had shared with her, and it almost felt more like an intimate moment to her than even sharing his bed the previous evening.