--for Paul, on the occasion of his marriage
The old GMC has been spilling a small but steady stream of fuel down the slow lane for several miles before I finally manage to crawl into a rundown campground and call for help. The mechanic says the fuel pump won't come 'til tomorrow, and to save a few bucks I arrange to have it dropped off so I can install it myself. Then I pull into the cheapest campsite, and set up a lawn chair. Things have not gone quite as expected on this little vacation, which I optimistically thought I could afford, and I realize now I barely have enough left to pay for the fuel pump, the camping fee and the full tank of gas I'll need to drive my son the rest of the way home to his mother. Just now, I'm glad he's asleep in the camper. I need a chance just to relax, think things over, and maybe catch up on some of that summer holiday reading I had planned.
on the road
with Jack Kerouac...
and going 'round a bend
No sooner have I got my feet up when Kiddo crawls out of the camper saying, "Where are we?" and "I'm hungry."
There's little left for us to eat except some macaroni and cheese packets, and I want to save them for tomorrow, hopefully our last day on the road. We're low on cooking gas anyway. To distract him I suggest he try his fisherman's luck over there in the lake. "It's a likely looking sheet of water, and unless I miss my guess it could easily produce for a person of your skill a couple of nice little trout for the supper table. After that, we can gather some wood for a campfire. We still have half a bag of marshmallows to roast."
I haven't much hope he'll catch anything. There's probably no fish left in the reedy, weedy little mudhole, none that are edible, anyway. But it'll keep him busy for awhile and maybe tire him out enough to help him forget he's going to sleep tonight on an empty stomach. Fortunately, he's an optimistic kid whose attention is easily diverted. He gathers up his gear and heads off, and I notice again how willing he is, unless he's tired, and then it's no use. I have to admit, his mother is doing a great job of raising him.
After about half an hour he comes back carrying an arm load of firewood, with a small plastic bucket in the other hand, and sort of wanders absentmindedly by and sets the bucket down beside my chair before he saunters across to drop the wood by the fire pit. I'm reminded of the way he used sometimes to put aside whatever he was doing and without being asked, just bring me a coke or a beer, when we were a family together.
I glance into the bucket while his back is turned. Crayfish! They're small but toothsome, and fresh out of the water, still lively. Pincers erect and ready to fight! He sits down opposite me, and after a minute I sense his tension, so I ask him, "Anything biting?" "Naw," he says, with a hint of a drawl in his voice, "but I got a few of whatever those are there in the bucket. Can people eat them, Dad?" "Well, yeah, Kiddo," I say, "I believe they can. Those are called crayfish. These are little guys, in fact, but I hear tell that the finer restaurants will sometimes substitute their bigger cousins for lobsters when the price for real lobsters is too high. How'd you get them?" He shrugs, as if there's nothing to it. "Remember when you showed me how to trick a crab into taking hold of a stick, so I could lift it out of a trap without getting pinched? It works on these too, and there's enough in that lake for twenty of us to eat for a week. If you get out a pot and build a fire, I'll catch some more. Maybe we can have a little feast, just you and me. What do you say, Dad?"
He's impatient for a positive reply. He's been skunked all week, and finally, this moment of triumph. They'll be OK to eat, so it also solves another problem, and for a moment, in a relationship where I usually feel compelled to do most of the talking, I realize, I'm stuck for words and humbly taking orders from my ten year old.
Though I haven't thought of them for years, all at once a few lines from Whitman come into my head, and in reciting them for him I draw myself up, adopt a sage look, and try to put something of both Walt's calmness and his exaltation into my voice: "The boatmen and clam-diggers arose early and stopt for me,/I tuck'd my trowser-ends in my boots and went and had a good time;/You should have been with us that day round the chowder-kettle." * He doesn't know what to say to my play acting. He's not into poetry yet. "You're so funny, Dad! Hey, grab that pail and follow me!"
a glance ahead
up the path to her door…
this last day of summer
* Song of Myself –Walt Whitman