By 300 Sandwiches
When I was a toddler, my dad invested in some property on a lake about two hours from our daily lives in suburban Chicago. My dad was an accountant, but also loved fishing, hunting and the great outdoors. He wore suits and leather shoes during the week and swapped them for flannel shirts and Wranglers as he packed his duffel bag and loaded up our blue Jeep Wagoneer with provisions.
Weekends at the lake included barbecuing, collecting bugs and turtles and swimming in a wading pool in the backyard while my mom sat in a lawn chair and drank Tab while we waited for dad to come back from fishing with the neighbors. We spent many birthdays at that house, and made lifelong friends with the locals.
The lake behind our house was a figure 8 shaped lake large enough to fish, swim and drive a pontoon boat around for an afternoon cruise. It was also where my dad and I spent many of our milestone moments together. When I was 8, he taught me to swim in that lake, making me paddle from our dock to the floating raft parked some distance away. In the winter, he ice fished, and I learned to ice skate. He taught me how to fish, including how to bait my own hook and how to cast properly. One night at sunset, I snagged a catfish that almost pulled me off the dock. My dad cheered as he helped me pull it in, cigarette dangling from his mouth as we lifted the fish out of the water. “Stephie! You did it!” he said proudly. It snapped the line a second later, and swam off, becoming a tale of family folklore that dad and I would retell frequently.
As I got older, my interest changed—I wanted to go to malls, play sports at school and focus on my school friends and getting into a top university—and I spent less time at the lake house. When I graduated college and moved to New York to embark on my fast-paced big city journalism career, my parents retired to the lake house.
A few years into retirement, my father was diagnosed with cancer. In between chemo treatments, on good sunny days, we went to the lake to troll around, listening to bullfrogs, enjoying the trees swaying in the breeze, reflecting on a life well lived, a family formed and loved at that lake.
After my dad’s funeral, my husband’s family and mine gathered at our house to support my mom. After dinner and many drinks we all meandered down to the lake, to take in the view, to pay respects, to scatter some of the flowers that people had brought to the service in memoriam of my father. The lake was a glass mirror, reflecting the colors of the trees and the pinkish summer sky dancing off its surface. The sounds of frogs chirping and rabbits charging through the brush were all too familiar. It was as if the joy of my dad’s soul was surrounding us all as we stood on the pier.
I hadn’t been back to that lake in since my dad’s passing nine years ago. I wasn’t strong enough to go, still grieving my dad’s loss and too upset to spend time there. This weekend, I returned, with my daughter and husband.
It was surreal to see my daughter walking down the hill, through the yard I once walked with my dad. Her sparkly purple jacket glistening in the sunshine, matching the spark in her voice and she questioned daddy about what type of fish we could catch. It was like looking at myself 40 years earlier.
My daughter walked onto the boat and grabbed her pole from my husband and eagerly learned how to fish. She reeled her line in and cast it out in an arch about ten feet from the boat. She kept practicing. Soon enough, her casts became smoother and longer.
Just before we called it a night, my daughter caught a nibble. Her father helped her reel it in, and there it was, the most perfect bluegill in the entire lake.
It was as if my father was standing next to us, watching the entire scene, smoking a cigarette and sipping a beer, celebrating the moment with us.
My daughter looks like my father, expressive eyes, wide smile. That night, I felt he had transcended within her. If not at least he was there to witness a great core memory.
We went out to that lake every night while we were home to watch my daughter fish. Her smile, wide and goofy just my dad’s. I promised to come back to this lake more often, at least while my daughter is still young, before she too gets distracted by adolescence. It’s my tribute to my father, the outdoorsman, on Father’s Day, the reason why we have a lake house in the first place, and the spark within myself and my daughter that loves and appreciate getting out and casting a long line into still waters.by