When my brothers and I were kids my Dad, who worked on long-haul tugboats, was gone a lot.
But, because his life revolved around cycles of three weeks on and three weeks off, he was home a lot too.
And the times he was home made up for the times he was away by, oh I dunno...
How about we just say a billion.
Back in 1973 (or so), just as I was about to hit adolescence, hard, we spent almost the entire summer at the provincial campsite at Bamberton.
And we made up just about everything. In a good way, which included snorkeling for moonsnails under their old tire-like dens on the sandy bottom and hunting down flatfish with self-manufactured fork tine-tipped spears at the edge of the drop-off.
And then there was staying up half the night after we'd had the big feast eating the day's catch (although Dad was the only one who actually ate the moonsnails) doing all those things you do every night when you are camping. And then, after we finally drifted off to bed when the second feast of the junk-food and fizz-pop drink was done ("Sure you can eat it," he always said, "That's what I bought it for."), I'd head for my pup tent to read all night, most of it gateway word junk that would soon mainline me to be the much better things. I distinctly remember reading a massive tome of pro football semi-hagiography that summer called 'Seven Days To Sunday' because I thought it would be about Fran Tarkenton. Instead, it turned out to be all about a mediocre coach of the NY Giants named Allie Sherman whose story was kind of half interesting. Of course, I gobbled it all down without chewing, regardless.
One early morning (it always seemed easy to stay up all night and get up early when I was a kid, but how the heck did our Dad do it?) we were all down on the beach for low water mucking around in, if I'm remembering it correctly, a weepy rain. I think our youngest brother C. (who has the same moniker as my wife) noticed the cop first wandering out towards us across the otherwise people-free sand. We thought for sure we were going to get it for shellfish robbery, even Dad, I think. Turns out that the nearby Shawnigan Lake detachment had gotten a call from our Mom who was stuck back in town working at the bank. Dad's boss at the Towboat Co. had called because they wanted him to come in to work. Of course, this was way before cell phones and, perhaps most amazingly, surly Horseman.
Actually, that was a cheap shot. Despite their deeply-rooted institutional problems most Horsemen and Women are still fantastic, especially those assigned to small town detachments they want to actually be in. I would think that Shawnigan Lake, now as then, is one of those detachments.
Our first real record player was one of those little boxy things that we had before Dad went crazy with the various massive, jury-rigged stereo systems that came soon thereafter.
He got the box-table for us one Christmas and he bought, I think, three records to go with it to start. I remember two of them, and all their songs, for absolute sure. One was Peter Paul and Mary's 10 year 'Best Of' compilation and the other was Simon and Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'. The latters' compilation came later. And that is how we learned the song 'America'.
Simon's rhyme scheme-free 'America' for me, back then anyway, seemed kind of like it was about going away to college and then drifting even further away in all kinds of ways before trying to get back home in a fit of self-realization. I'm not sure how the college part came into it, exactly. It may have been the place names because, from the perspective of a west coast Canadian boy at least, they were all far away in the east, even Saginaw. And the East is where leaves, red-bricks, ivy leagues, lives of the mind, and all that stuff I could only really imagine, and not yet quite consider seriously for myself back then, were to be found.
Anyway, much later, after I met C., my not-yet-then wife, we used to take much shorter camping trips with my Mom and Dad to Bamberton, usually around Labour Day, for all kinds of reasons, including the fact that it is the time of my Dad's birthday. On one of those trips, just before C. and I left for 'America', both literally and metaphorically, I remember jury-rigging a sauna out of plastic sheeting and using fire-heated rocks to make the steam, all to amaze my then young and still pre-adolescent cousins.
It was the kind of thing my Dad would have just made up like it was always thus back when we were kids.
Later, I would do the same thing with my own kids and our friends' kids with a twist, which I wrote about a while back, here.
It is my Dad's birthday, again, this Labour Day weekend.
And I will not embarrass him by saying how old he is.
But here's the really telling thing....
Back when C. and I were living in our own private 'America' and we had our first kid at a time when I was still jury-rigging pretty much my entire life, and the life of my family, while working for peanuts in my early 30's as a purely academic junior apprentice scientist who had no idea what he would do to actually make a living, my Mom and Dad came down to visit.
They drove all the way, and we had a great time.
And I remember thinking, distinctly, how my parents, who had just become grands for the first time, were now, officially, old.
And now I am pretty much exactly the same age they were then.
But, thanks to my Mom and Dad and all their encouragement, I've got a real job and the living I'm making is just fine, thanks.
But I'm still jury-rigging most of the rest of my life.
And I'm damned proud of it.
We didn't get over to the island for Labour Day weekend this year.
Well, little e. and C. were completely wrapped up in, and obsessed by, all that was the Vancouver International Tap Festival.
And Bigger E., my Mom and Dad's first grand one, just left for a literal and metaphorical America of her own. In this case in Montreal.
So, here, with the sincerest of apologies to Mr. Simon, is my, and my dog Rosie's, version of a not-quite Bambertonized, but fully jury-rigged, version of 'America' that we made yesterday for my Dad's birthday...
Of course this means with my Mom's birthday coming soon I just may have to shred an Elvis tune (no B-flats!)...Now, how to j-rig The King?....Hmmmm.....Maybe we'll do it like these guys.