He was a whistler and a whittler, and I miss him so.
Most nights, after we ate dinner, dad would sit in his chair, pick up a piece of wood and, depending on the point in its creation, would either sand or whittle with sharp as a razor knives. Whales. Birds. Strange objects. To my right on my desk is a interlinked set of ovals whittled out of some light wood. His knife strokes are right there for me to see.
These links are symbolic. I was born on my dad’s 41st birthday.
He was a fisherman and a tinkerer. He taught me both. I can still picture in my mind all the different fishing holes we visited. Our neighborhood had Square Pond, arrived at after a walk through the Connecticut woods and across a simple, open meadow. While he would go fly fishing for Big Mama, the bass he was sure lurked in the deep, I would flit along the shore, trying to catch bullfrogs or successfully catching tennis ball-sized Sunnies. A longer car ride away was the place where we tried for carp, one from an overpass and another down by the river. When I grew to be in middle and high school, we would try for salmon in Washington State, a long windy drive out to Fox Island until the road dead ended, and then an equally long windy walk past the blackberry and raspberry bushes down to the huge dock overhanging the Narrows. Instead of the light poles with a red and white bobber, we used long, heavy salmon rods laden with herring that took all you had to whip it out there into the current. We’d catch dog fish (which I believe were a kind of shark) that the Vietnamese fisherman who squatted for hours while they fished would take home, and every so often we would land a salmon. On every fishing trip there was a lot of casting and reeling in. Casting and reeling in. “Something’s out there, Sue,” he’d say. “Just got to be patient.” He was ever the optimist when it came to fishing.
He showed me the value of working hard. Of trying to fix things yourself. Of being creative in your down time. Of telling good stories. Of reading.
He could carve a beautiful turn down any ski hill, and perhaps his greatest gift to me, other than making me in the first place, was teaching me the same love for skiing. He started me at 4, as I have done with my son, first in between his legs going down the almost flat hills, then watching as I shusshed down the slopes and doing the inevitable sweep of the hill behind me.
He carved me a small wooden mouse with a tiny leather tail that was pinned to my jacket or hat when I skied. He told me it was a mogul mouse, that would help me navigate through a mogul field and not fall down. There was nothing, he admitted, to be done about the snow snakes. You just had to carve those turns and hope for the best.
We worked together to bring back to life a 1971 MGB-GT. That meant many evenings after school and on the weekend, after he had played his round of golf with his buddies, we would attack a certain part of the car with the Chilton’s manual by our side and a whole heap of good intentions. I learned to gap spark plugs. Fiddle with duel carbs. The crazy make-up of a disk brake system with all it’s little “shoes” and moving parts, and how to apply Bondo. I learned with him that the electrical system on a British car is a thing of mystery, no matter what the pages of the manual say. And that the simple touches, like the rear view mirror affixed to the right front fender, are both necessary and rakish.
He called me Chatterbox and Finella. And George, sometimes. You see, I was the son my dad never had. How I wish I could hug and kiss him today.