I stretched my legs as I tumbled out of my minivan after the long trip from Phoenix to Minnesota. It was great to escape Arizona heat for a lakeside summer vacation at the cabin my Dad built by himself for his family 50 years ago.
Activity came alive every summer at the lake as we six kids grew up. Dad obtained a small motorboat and every night after work, he taught us how to water ski. He could have been fishing, a sport he loved, but instead he spent his time helping us learn to balance on those heavy, clunky skis they made back in the fifties.
At eight years old, I fought the waves and tried to manage my bulky life jacket. Unafraid, I'd grab onto the towrope and yell, “Hit it!" as he pushed the throttle forward. Dragging me down as I struggled to stand up, the water's force pushed against me until the rope flew out of my hands with a ‘pop’. Patiently, Dad would drive around again and again, bringing the rope behind me to try once more. Summer after summer he performed this ritual, until all six of us could stand up on our own. We never heard him say a word. A quiet man, Dad couldn't verbalize his feelings. Instead, he did things for us, and deep down we knew he loved us.
What we did hear was the sound of his hammer filling the air. Using planks of wood he had painted, he attached them over empty oil barrels to build a raft for us; then dropped an anchor. We spent entire afternoons on that raft, sunbathing and diving into the cool water. He also built a pontoon boat for my mother so he could cruise her slowly around the lake to see the beauty of the green, lush hills from the lakeside.
Every spring he put out the dock and every fall he brought it back in. He dug an area of the cliff surrounding the cabin, to slope the land down so we could walk easily to the water. For endless hours, he stood in the shallow water digging up and pitching rocks giving us a clear spot to wade in. Bending over, he dug up the weeds every summer, washed the windows, mowed the lawn and never complained. We took this all for granted, never saying ‘Thank you. '
Dad passed away in 1993. None of us six kids stayed in the town in which we grew up. Yet we can't bring ourselves to sell the cabin.
"Grandma, look! We found another frog, " my grandchildren now shout with wonder, running through the grass. Finding fireflies, deer and snakes fascinates my city-raised grandchildren as they enjoy a country environment they would never have experienced if it hadn't been for the cabin Dad built over 50 years ago.
Today I lounge in the hammock, watching the sunlight sparkle and dance across the water as my grandchildren swim. Geese glide nearby, their heads occasionally dipping into the water looking for fish. “Honk, honk, " they screech and the kids squeal with delight, amazed as the birds suddenly decide to take flight.
There's no dock anymore; there's no one left to put it out and take it back in every year. There's no more cruising on a pontoon, no diving off a raft. There's no motor boat, no water skiing, no “Hit it, Dad!" echoing across the lake.
There's just peace and quiet, a respite from big-city life. I come for the memories of a safer, less hectic time, when all I had to worry about was the weather. I come to hear the waves lap against the rocks below as I fall asleep and see the moonlight scatter across the dark lake as I gaze outside a window. I come to hear the wind through the poplar, birch and elm trees.
We took for granted everything Dad did for us, not realizing that was how he showed his love. He gave us all of this without saying a word, in his usual quiet way. My father couldn't say the words, ‘I love you. ’ Instead, he left a legacy of beauty and peace and nature for his family. Now as I sit and watch my grandchildren splashing each other and venturing out into deep water, my mind is full of memories. My heart swells with joy and I look up into the sky and whisper, “Thanks, Dad. I love you, too. "
After working 20 years in a medical laboratory, I searched for my life's purpose and switched careers to teach high school science. I taught at-risk students in an inner-city school. After retiring, I started writing. Some of my stories have been published in magazines. I also wrote a memoir about the joys of teaching and the obstacles I fought. No Child Left Behind? The True Story of a Teacher's Quest by Elizabeth Blake on Amazon.com Drugs, gangs, a riot, shootings, murdered students, abusive principals - all contributed to the stress which eventually drove me from the students I loved.
The book explains the lessons I learned while overcoming the stress. To read the first page and reviews, please visit http://www.elizabethblakeonline.com