The Father's Son (@ Jim Sano)
David and Jillian finished breakfast, and while they waited for the bill, they watched people, in various stages of conversation and heading for different destinations, pass by the café window. A large woman, weighing well over three hundred pounds, lumbered along next to her skinny husband with an old shirt and pair of jeans that struggled to hang onto his bony frame. David smiled to himself mumbling in a poor Maine accent, “Ayuh, shade for summah and warmth for the wintah.” Jillian smiled, and needed no explanation, but slapped his shoulder all same for the less than sensitive comment. May brought the slip that came to $9.79. He left a twenty dollar bill and the check under his plate and they walked out the squeaky screen door, holding it open for a family that looked like they were spending time on one of the old schooners in the bay. After a quick stop at their room, they ascended the steep hill by foot to the Colby-Duke Funeral Home. It was half a mile from the inn, and they still had time before nine o’clock. Jillian was in good physical shape and comfortable walking in her black high heels that matched her sleeveless black dress. She took his hand as they arrived at the funeral home, and walked up onto the large front porch occupied by wicker chairs and settees for gathering.
Before David could grasp the handle of the front door to open it, a woman opened the door from inside and stepped out, “You must be Annie’s son?”
He had not expected to see anyone from town at the funeral, “Yes, I’m David Kelly.”
“David John Kelly,” she added before he could say anything more. “I guess you are wonderin’ who I am?” she asked. “I was a close friend of your mom and her sister Marie and grew up next door to them in Green Head. I felt like a third sister to them and grieved with Annie when Marie died so young. You probably don’t remember my coming over to visit with your mom and family on your Grandpa’s porch, but I remember you, the youngest of Annie’s clan. My name is Emma Brown, and I feel like I know you better than my very own. Your mother used to write me…ohhh, once or twice a month and I would read all about you, and Abbie, and Bobby and poor Jimmy. She was so heartbroken after the tragedy. I think it sadly opened up the wounds from Marie’s death too wide to heal. I kept telling her she had to be strong for you kids, but I constantly worried about her.” Emma turned to Jillian, and stretched out her hand to Jillian, “It is so nice of you to come with David.”
Jillian smiled, “I am pleased to meet you too. I’m Jillian Miller.” David opened the door, and let Emma and Jillian into the front foyer as he spotted John Colby coming to greet them.
Placing his left hand on David’s back, John took his right hand in his and shook it, “Your muthah is in the room straight ahead of us when you are ready to go in. Just let me know. A bouquet of beautiful flowers arrived this morning from away with a card saying, ‘David, our sympathies for your loss, your friends from IMS.’” Without turning his head, David’s eyes shifted to glance at Jillian, and she returned a half-guilty smile.
David collected himself, “Thank you, John. I am ready to see her now.”
David, Jillian, Emma and John Colby walked slowly into the large room where David’s mother lay in a coffin at the far end. David spared no expense on the rich cherry wood casket and roses on both sides, along with the flowers from the office. The others let him approach her body first. He silently stood for a brief time looking at her face. John did a good job, but it nevertheless did not look like her, even near the end when David visited at her apartment in Lynn, Massachusetts. She had on her favorite lavender blue dress, the set of pearls David had given her for her birthday when he began to advance in his career, and in her hair a clip that her sister gave her, and that she always seemed to have with her. Jillian took a few steps forward to stand beside David, taking his hand as she looked on his mother, and wondering what her life was like from her vantage point. Emma stepped up and a tear came rolling gently down her own cheek as she patted Annie’s folded hands and kissed her goodbye.
David had not wanted much of a service and did not prepared one for his mother. She had long ago abandoned religion and God as she had believed they both turned their back on her sister and herself. John had selected a few lines, mentioning where Annie was born and that she would be back home with her sister in Stonington. David did bring one reading that Marie Kelly had read at her own funeral. Closer to the end, Marie was well aware that her days were numbered. She had chosen a poem that she tucked into her favorite book, the book which she had been holding when she passed away with a note that said, “Please read this before you lay me to rest.” He wanted to wait until they were at the cemetery to recite the poem for his mother. David, Jillian, and Emma walked the quarter mile stretch to the Evergreen Cemetery while John and two assistants drove ahead with the body of Ann Elizabeth Kelly to have her casket placed next to the freshly dug plot. As David approached the plot, he noticed the headstone he remembered from visiting with his mother on so many occasions when he was a young boy. The stone simply read “Beloved sister, Marie A. Kelly Apr 1, 1934 – Aug 13, 1946.” Below was carved “Ann E. Kelly Apr 1, 1934 - “ and it suddenly struck him that his mother and aunt had died on the same day with a fifty-six-year endurance test of a weakened heart in between. David stepped forward and looked down at his mom, now concealed by the heavy casket lid, “Mom asked me to read this same poem that was read at her sister Marie’s burial:”
To the living, I am gone
To the sorrowful, I will never return
To the angry, I was cheated
But to the happy, I am at peace
And to the faithful, I have never left
I cannot speak, but I can listen
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard
So as you stand upon the shore
Gazing at the beautiful sea, remember me
As you look in awe at a mighty forest
And in its grand majesty, remember me
Remember me in your hearts,
In your thoughts, and the memories of the
Times we loved, the times we cried,
the battle we fought and the times we laughed
For if you always think of me,
I will never have gone.
David softly added, “Mom, you can finally rest from all your years of sweat and heartache. You can be with your sister again, the person you loved most in this world, and lost without ever knowing what the purpose was.” As they lowered the casket into the grave, he tossed a clump of soil and a rose onto the top, before walking away.
While Jillian stood by the grave site trying to piece together Annie’s story in her mind, Emma caught up with David under a honey locust tree, “David, I want you to know Marie’s life did have meaning and purpose…at least to me. I admired your aunt’s strength and her incredibly positive spirit. Others would have been mired in lamenting that life was being robbed from them, but not Marie. She took the smallest things, and not only made us appreciate them but also to realize how important they were: a smile when you entered the room, the tiniest wildflowers along the path we would walk to pick blueberries, or sitting to look at the view of the harbor from the hilltop. She would ask how you were when she was obviously having a difficult day herself, or take extra food to the family down the road because she knew they had so little. Marie believed she had a purpose no matter how compromised or shortened her life would be, and she loved your mom more than herself until the end. Well, when I grew up and thought about what my life was going to be about, I thought of Marie. Her example in life made quite an impression on me. She is the reason I have spent the past fifty years helping to build a network of support shelters in Maine and several in Burundi, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria Africa. I’m not telling you this for egotistical reasons, but to let you know how much your aunt’s life has made a meaningful impact. I cherished and loved Marie almost as much as your mom.” He was looking directly into Emma’s eyes as she spoke and surprised himself with how differently he viewed her as her words unfolded. Emma continued, “I also loved her like a true sister. She would write me as if I were the only one she could share her struggles and feelings. Losing Marie was like losing half of her heart. Then losing her first born so tragically was plain too much to bear. But your mom knew she had a job to do, to take care of and raise all you kids the best she could. She desperately wanted all three of you to have a better life, and she believed you especially had the strongest chance to fulfill that wish.”
Jillian walked towards David and Emma and slowed as she watched Emma give him a hug and then pull a tissue from her purse to wipe the tears from her face. Jillian was standing next to David at his point, and Emma said, “It was so good to see you again, and I do pray your mom is smiling once more with Marie.” She turned to Jillian, “It was so very good to meet you too, Jillian. Maybe you will come back this way some day under happier circumstances.” Emma leaned in to whisper in Jillian’s ear, “And your mate here may be a lookah, but I believe deep down there is something there that I feel would make him a keepah.” She hugged Jillian, and then glanced into David’s eyes and smiled before turning to walk back to the funeral home for her car.
David and Jillian made it to the inn where they changed for an afternoon excursion to Arcadia National Park and Bar Harbor. The Park was “just up the road apiece” as the innkeeper said while showing them the route on the map tacked to the wall behind the counter. David drove his Porsche 911 GT2 convertible up to the entrance just as Jillian was stepping out dressed in a white sleeveless blouse, khaki hiking shorts and newly acquired hiking shoes for the trip that made her long shapely legs a sight to behold. She enjoyed being spoiled once in a while, but like David, she had worked hard to earn everything she had. David recalled a 1974 summer night outside of the worn three-decker house where he lived in the city of Lynn. He was playing street hockey with the other neighborhood kids when an orange convertible sports car with a unique engine sound drove slowly down the street. Charlie Cassavette, wearing sunglasses, long sideburns, combed backed hair, and an opened polyester shirt with a gold chain glimpsing through, was driving the most distinctive car David had ever seen in a town where people could barely afford a third-hand oversized car from the early sixties, often with one different colored passenger door and a hood that wouldn’t entirely shut. This machine was a 1973 Porsche 914 that rode low to the ground and had only two seats with the passenger side occupied by an attractive girl David didn’t recognize. Driving as if it was slow motion, Charlie’s ego soaked up every minute of seeing the open jawed expression on every kid’s face who had stopped playing to watch him driving through. Charlie spotted a different expression on David’s face, not one of jealousy or envy, but more of a decision that was formulating in his mind that he would not only own a car like that someday but the moment, as well. Charlie called out to David, “Someday, little DJ. Someday,” and sped off into the early summer evening.
After driving for forty-five minutes, David pulled up to a small parking area at Echo Lake with a trail leading up to Beech Mountain. He remembered climbing this mountain with his family when he was small, so he did not know how difficult the climb would be. The sign at the bottom indicated 839 feet high and about 1.2 miles round trip of moderate trails. Jillian looked happy to be getting exercise instead of sitting in the car and started off ahead of David into the shaded woods which instantly felt peaceful. The fresh air and scent of pine alone made it worth the trip. “Watch your footing on the roots,” David said protectively.
“Watch the bottoms of my shoes as I beat you up to the top, trail boy,” responded Jillian with a giggle. They hiked along the steep ridge of the mountain base and came upon large stones and boulders which they climbed, hopping from one to another. The moss, lichen, and ferns on the gray boulders made for a striking picture as Jillian pointed them out, “Look at those incredible colors, David!” They hit smooth paths edged with bunchberries, then rock steps made during the works projects of the Depression that built so many of the roads, bridges, walls and paths of the Arcadia Park gifted in large extent by Rockefeller, with steeper rock climbing that provided a good workout. Suddenly, they found themselves on a massive rock covered ledge with stunning views of the pine forest covered mountains, two mile Long Pond, Mount Desert Island and Echo Lake which had a small beach populated by what appeared to be ant-sized swimmers. They stopped to sit and savor each view that surrounded them with a natural beauty one did not sense or experience in the visually man-made monopoly of the city. Jillian kept taking deep breaths just to take it all in, “David, this is just incredibly and wonderfully beautiful. I don’t have the words to capture how I want to describe it.” He was smiling and nodding his head as he unearthed more moments in his sensory memory of his childhood. As they walked around an old fire tower perched on top of the mountain, the views were even more magnificent. “I could just stay up here all day, couldn’t you?” said Jillian with her arm around his waist.
David smiled and for no planned reason said, “Afternoon on a hill.” Jillian asked what he meant, and he responded, “It’s a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that my mother used to say when she hiked to a spot like this.”
Jillian said, “I have never heard of her. Do you still remember the words?”
David hesitated, “I dunno….ahh, let me see -
I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.
And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!
Jillian was quiet for the moment, allowing the words float above the tree tops and into her soul. “I will have to say I am both impressed and surprised by you, Mr. Kelly.” It had not hit her until then that David’s last name was the same as his mother’s maiden name. She did not inquire but asked, “How did you remember that after all this time?”
David said, “I really don’t know. I’ve hardly ever thought about my past until recently.”
Jillian looked out over the trees to the islands in Frenchman’s Bay, “This makes me realize that we need to take ourselves outside of our routines and same old views and look at the world and our lives from a totally different vantage point. It seems as if your whole heart, mind, and soul is appreciating and thinking more clearly here…don’t you think?” He just nodded and put his arm around her as they soaked in the view before heading down.
The hike down was just as beautiful and after reaching the bottom, they drove along the Arcadia Loop road, stopping at one striking view of the rocky coastline after another. Instead of the pretty but more commercial Bar Harbor, they drove into the small town of Southwest Harbor. This move would dramatically cut down on the number of shops David would have to wait outside of while Jillian shopped. They found a nice casual restaurant on the water where they sipped local beer and ordered the huge lobster rolls with chips as their vegetable. Jillian looked at David, “I know you tried to apologize for inviting me to come this weekend, but I’m glad you asked me. I’m so sorry about the reason you had to be here, but it means a lot to me that you asked and that I am here with you – plus this lobster is ridiculous!”
David laughed and leaned in to kiss her, “I did beat you to the top of that mountain.”
“But, I beat you down!” exclaimed Jillian.
Jillian closed her eyes on the forty-five-minute drive home in the pitch black night as David watched for potential deer crossing the roads leading back to Stonington. He did not have to carry her up the stairs of the inn, but after getting ready for bed, she was out like a light in no time. He sat outside on the deck watching the moonlight on the gently rolling waves of the harbor. He listened to the familiar sounds of the rigging on the boat masts, the lapping of the ocean currents, and the intermittent horn from Mark Island lighthouse. He was working hard to push his memories back into attic storage as he knew full well the painful ones would swiftly follow, but he was having a difficult time getting that attic door closed. Anyone who knew him well was now either gone or pushed out of his life, but there was yet a sense of fear and foreboding that seemed all too near to him now.
Sunday morning arrived with the sunlight of another nice August day. David peered over at Jillian’s closed eyes and smirked thinking, “Well, we can honestly say that we actually just slept together.” He had slightly turned his ankle on yesterday’s climb down Beech Mountain, so he passed on his customary morning run and took a shower. As he was toweling off, Jillian's arms came around his waist from the back. He could tell that she wasn’t wearing anything and was being playful and amorous. He turned around, picked her up in his strong arms, and gently lowered her onto the bed as he kissed her deeply. They made love in the light of the morning sun, and he loved the feel of her body next to his. It was physically intimate but in other ways, it was strangely not emotionally intimate at all to David. For many men, he thought, Jillian’s beautiful feminine body alone would surpass all their wishes in life, but he also recognized there was so much more to her.
They dressed, packed their bags, paid the bill, and stopped a few turns up the road at Connie’s Diner. If you wanted a genuine, simple Maine breakfast diner, this was it. Local families had dragged together tables to sit in their accustomed spots for their weekly meal out. Lobstermen gathered at the back tables and would offer Connie a “How ya doin’ this mornin’, Conn-ay,” or whisper to her, “Mornin’, Conn-ay, if Muthah knew I was comin he-ah, knowin you got a thing for me, she would prob-lee shoot us both.”
Connie would just snap back with a “Wilba, you bettah sit yourself down and behave or I won’t save that extra piece blueberry pie for ya,” shaking her head as she refilled empty coffee mugs at each table.
Connie saw David and Jillian open the door, and pointed them to a booth by the window overlooking the cramped parking lot filled with pickup trucks and one Porsche. Jillian was happy because Connie had raspberry muffins that helped to soak up the grease from the scrambled eggs and bacon. They most enjoyed listening to the local characters telling stories in the distinctive Maine accent. The atmosphere at Connie’s seemed richer and more interesting than the predictable buzz around the more trendy coffee shops in Boston. Before breakfast was over, they were playfully picking up the accent. As they headed out the door for their long drive home, Jillian said, “Ah dee-ah, could you tell me which way to Bahstahn?”
Nearly as slowly as Jimmy Stewart trying to get his line out in a movie, David retorted, “Ayuh. Well, ya see that road right thayah? Don’t take that road cos it’s goin the wrong way.”
Jillian said, “Well, dee-ah, where does this road go?”
David quipped, “Ahhh, that road thayah? That road don’t go nowhayah, it just stays right whayah it is. Why do ya want to be goin’ to Bahstahn anyway? You’d be missin’ all the doings right heyah. You missed the Miss Blackfly Festival, but we still got the Giant Mosquito contest where you let one of them mosquitos the size of a small dog latch onta yah arm and before he takes a big muccah out of you, you squeeze your ahm muscles real tight until the first one bursts, and that’s the winnah!” They both laughed to each other as they got into the car and drove off the island across the sixty-year-old bridge that was surely held together only by rust and paint.
Jillian nodded off for long stretches of the six-hour drive back to Boston, and David thought about his work schedule for the week to help push the resurfaced memories and emotions back into the dark grave where he had buried them. His mother, father, and oldest brother were now all gone. His brother Bobby had severed ties years ago, and his calls to his sister were more out of feeling responsible rather than seeking a close relationship. He had separated from his wife and their two children six years ago, and as his time commitment and frequent travel for his job grew, David had become more of an awkward stranger than a real father to his kids. Weekend visits were difficult and were often canceled for sudden trips to visit large customers or to close a major deal. Amy, now sixteen was beginning see her parents as more of a roadblock to life than wise and loving mentors on her way to maturity. James was just turning seven and asking more questions about the father he could not remember ever living with and knew he was missing.
David did not see of any of them now as being a natural part of his daily rhythm. He was routinely up by five AM for his run through the city neighborhoods while they were quiet, back showered and dressed by seven, and then off, on his way to work, to his favorite stop for a coffee and breakfast. He was at work early, greeting those who joined him in an early start with a smile and a “Good morning Bob or Bill or Sam or Jen,” and “I hope your evening was as good as today is going to be!” His positive energy was not phony or “Saccharin sweet” but genuine and contagious. Few people who knew David did not like him or his knack for making work both enjoyable and focused on leveraging everyone’s talents to get great results quarter after quarter. Record growth, breaking aggressive goals, being recognized for contributions, and getting paid more than you believed possible was a team success formula that everyone wanted to be part of and to help do whatever it took to keep the train moving forward. If he was not on a plane to visit a sales team or a customer from any city east of the Mississippi, he was at the office until eight pm working with his teams, or with the Business teams to help them better understand the competitive market and technology roadmaps. In the evening he would either go to the gym to workout, dine at one of the better restaurants, or attend a local sporting event with a client or a female companion. If he did not play a few rounds of golf during the week with a sales team or a customer, he would often play at least a round during his weekend routine which included more intense exercise, and often more work. There was little “free” time to sit and ponder the meaning or purpose of life and his relationships which may have been subconsciously by design. Even sleep was something that was deep and focused on attending to physical exhaustion, as opposed to working out life’s issues in his dreams.