Hon, it’s hard to explain to you why I need to tell these stories. It could be that you’ll want to know some day. I like to think that you’d already know all of these stories by the time you read this, but tonight, when you were trying to think of a proper noun for your homework and needed the name of another company, I asked you the name of the company where your dad and I met, where we worked together. You didn’t know and it made me sad, but I couldn’t tell you just then because I don’t give you answers to homework and now I realize that I never did tell you. So as far as I know, you still don’t know.
Honey, we met at Lockheed, in New Jersey. It doesn’t even exist there any more. That makes me sad, like losing the woods behind my childhood home when the local Boy Scout Council sold the property to Walmart. Yeah, that was a good choice. Losing the Lockheed subsidiary there in New Jersey made more sense, but your dad and I did some good work there together. The most important work we did there was to learn to depend on each other in the wilderness, well, and to fall in love in the process.
So, it feels as if you need to be able to see it all together, in one place, all the stories, all the rivers and lakes. You need to know how I fell in love with your dad and why I think it’s all still there inside us. Doesn’t every kid need to know about how their parents fell in love? I have your great grandpa’s love letters to your great grandma. I read them once, but it was a lot of allusions to sex and ‘I love you’s and not many pictures formed with the words. I really wanted those letters to steam my glasses with the passion of ‘the night we first met’ or ‘the night I first knew I loved you.’ See, that’s the problem with letters. I’ve written your dad tons of letters, nice letters. He’s written me a lot of letters, a poem too, but none of them show you a picture of where we were then. If I’d been one of those scrapbooking moms, you’d have an album with all the photos put in order. You’d be able to see it on our faces.
Honey, we didn’t have a chance to take a lot of photos when we were running a class II rapid. It’s not like I could stop, turn around in the bow of the canoe, and tell him to mug for the camera. Yeah, that camera was wrapped up tight in two ziplock bags inside of my leaky dry bag. Besides, by then, I already had whiplash and it was hard for me to twist around in my seat to get a shot of him paddling behind me. No, our story in the canoe was more that I could hear him breathing behind me and the sound of his paddle dripped as he took it silently out of the water to feather it through the air. It was more that I could feel the boat turning and the way his stroke made our tippy canoe more stable in the water. It was the way he paddled in synch with me and how sometimes I went the other way around a rock than he expected.
Your dad is still better at reading a river than I am. I hope by now that you are as good at reading a river as he is. There are things that feel like your legacy if you choose to take them up. Being able to read a river feels like a good legacy, a sweet metaphor, and a way, as we are always asking, for you to get out and get some good exercise.
That’s why I need to tell you these stories about when we paddled the canoe.
Thank you for listening, jules