IRISH TWINS by Peter Nolan Smith


In the summer of 2010 my father visited my mother’s grave at the town cemetery. A squirrel ran before his car and he veered off the road. The town police found his Mercedes trapped amongst the headstones and none of the officers could figure how the car had navigated that far without getting a scratch.

“I never get in accidents,” he told to my older brother, as they drove home.

A tow truck hauled his Benz from the graveyard and the next month we moved him from his assisted-living apartment to an Alzheimer hospice south of Boston.

Once a month I rode the Fung Wah bus from New York to South Station and then rode the commuter train to Norwood Station. It was a ten-minute walk to his rest home. Each visit he became less him and by Labor Day my father lived completely in the present without any remembrance of the past and little thought for the future.

My brothers and sisters warned that he didn’t recognize them and I approached the converted doctor’s house with a heavy heart. His room was on the second floor. The door was open. My father sat in his old rocking chair by the window and smiled, as if shaking off the grip of senility.

“Do I know you?” One of his teeth gleamed in the afternoon sun. It was gold.

This was the man who carried me as a child.

“You do.”

He had driven me on my paper route on many stormy mornings.

“Just a second. It will come to me.”

“Do you want a hint?”

“No, you’re my son.” He greeted me by name. I existed as an atom within his brain.

“That’s right.”

“Are you still in New York?” He was two for two.

“Yes.” There was no way that he could go three for three.

“I know what you’re thinking?” He frowned with a well-known sternness dating back to my youth.

“That I’m happy to see you?” I had disappointed him on more than one occasion.

“No, you’re wondering how I recognized you.” His eyes shone with alacrity.

“That too.” It was better to go with the flow.

“These people come here. I don’t know who they are.”

“The nurses?”

“No other people.” He picked at a dry patch on his forehead. I had inherited the same habit.

“Those aere your other sons and daughters. They come to see you all the time.”

“Maybe it’s them, but they don’t look anything like my children.” He had six, although my youngest brother had died in 1995 a year before my mother. My father had sat with him every day of the end. There was no sense in mentioning Michael now.

“They’re grown up.”

“We’ve been grown up for a long time.”

“They don’t look like they did when they were young.”

“And I do?”

At 58 I had my teeth and hair, but the reflection in the mirror belonged to someone else than his son at age 15.

“No, you look like a stranger too, but something about you reminds me about your mother, so when I see you, I think about Angie.” He shuddered at the connection. My mother and he had been married over forty years. She was the only love in his life.

”I’m half her.” My father and I weren’t friends until my mother’s passage from this world. I talked a lot. She spoke more.

“And half me too.” My father looked out the window. His memory lost the path. “The leaves are ready to change color. They do that this time of year.”

My father had seen that New Englander phenomena over 88 times. I hoped for him to see more.

“It’s autumn.”

“September. I can’t remember what comes next.”

“You remember your son Frank?” The doctors had cautioned against any tests of the past.

“Frank is my # 1 son.” He was having a good day. “You two were Irish twins. Your mother dressed you alike to prevent your fighting over pants and shirts, but she also loved that people thought you were twins.

“We weren’t really Irish twins.” My older brother and I were separated by more than eleven months, so we were not really Irish Twins, but my mother’s family came from west of Galway and time beyond the Connemarra Pins was not measured by a calendar.

“Thirteen months separated you. Sixty days seemed like a week back then.” He was talking about the 1950s, when TV was black and white, Eisenhower was the president, and America was the leader of the Free World.

“You were never on time.” My father pointed to the clock on his desk. Time meant nothing to most to Alzheimer patients, but on time for my father meant to the second.

“I was never really late.” I had perfect attendance throughout five grades in grammar school. My mother had saved those awards. The one from 5th Grade hung on the wall of my Brooklyn apartment.

“Oh, yes, you were and late by more than a half-hour like the time you stayed at your girlfriend’s house.”

“That’s an old story.” Kyla and I had been alone. WBCN had been played THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. We had come close to losing our souls to ROCK AND ROLL and I had kept telling myself that I would leave after the next song. Each one had been better than the one before.

“If it was so old I would have forgotten it.”

“Forty years is a long time.” Kyla had been wearing her cheerleader outfit. It was football season. She had been the first girl to say the word ‘love’ to me.

“Forty-five years to be exact.” My father had been an electrical engineer. He had studied at MIT. Numbers and math were his expertise.

“You’re right on the money.” The year had been 1967. I was 15. My hair was over my ears. I liked the Rolling Stones. The Beatles were a girl group.

Kyla’s mother had come home at 1:30. I left by the backdoor with my clothes in hand and dressed in the backyard. I waited for a minute to see if she came to the bedroom window. It was a waste of time. Kyla was not Juliet and the only breaking light was a harvest moon.

I walked onto a street lined by dark houses. Everyone was asleep. The buses stopped running at 9. My neighborhood in the Blue Hills was a good four-mile hike. A car came from the opposite direction and slowed to a halt. It was my Uncle Dave. The Olds stopped at the curb.

Uncle Dave had served in the Pacific. Three years on a destroyer had left him with shakes in his right hand. Smoking Camels helped calm whatever he had left behind in the Pacific.

“You want a ride home?” He was coming from the VFW bar.

“No, I’ll walk it.” I was in no rush to get home.

“Your mother and father know where you are?” Uncle Dave made no judgment of other people’s kids, even if they were family.

“Sort of?” It was a teenage answer.

“I was a teenager once. Your dad’s going to be pissed at you, if you haven’t called.”

“I didn’t call.”

“You sure, you don’t want me to drive you home?”

“I’m good.” I thought about sleeping in the woods. It wasn’t that cold, but that would have made it even worse. “Thanks for the offer.”

The Olds sped off in the direction of Quincy. Uncle Dave would be home in five minutes. I figured that I had another hour to go.

I was wrong.

My father’s car pulled up to me at the crossroads before the parish church. He flung open the door of the Delta 88. It hit me in the thigh.

“Where have you been?” He demanded with a voice that I had never heard from him.

“At a girl’s house.” I hadn’t told my parents about Kyla. My mother wanted me to be a priest. Kyla’s mother was a divorcee. The pastor at our church regarded such women as a temptation to married men.

“At a girl’s house?” My father knew what that meant. He had six kids. “You have any idea about what your mother thought happened to you?”

“None.” I hadn’t been worrying about my mother or father or school, while lying next to Kyla’s semi-naked flesh.

His right hand left the steering wheel in the blink of an eye. His wrist smacked my face and blood immediately dripped from my nose.

“I didn’t want to do that.” Tears wet his eyes. “I thought something bad happened to you.”

“Nothing bad happened, Dad.” I rubbed my face and tasted metal in my teeth. All of them remained intact.

“Next time call and let us know where you are.”

He had never hit me before.

“Yes, sir.”

“Let’s go home. I’ll handle your mother,” he sighed with regret.

The next morning my eyes were shadowed black and blue. My mother was horrified as was my father. Kyla cried upon seeing my face. She said that she loved me. In some ways I felt like she had become Juliet, although I was no Romeo. My father and I maintained a cautious distance throughout the remainder of my teenage years.

Hitting me had scared him and at the nursing home I held his hand. I had kids now and said, “Now I understand why you did what you did that night.”

“What night?” The memory had sunk back into the fog.

And I left that night sink into the earth, because my father loved our mother.

He loved his family.

And I was a little more like him than I wanted to admit as a young man, so I said, “The night you drove me home after midnight.”

You were always a good father.” I kissed his bald head, as my older brother walked into the room. My father looked at him with doubting eyes and I said, “It’s Frank, your oldest son.”

“That’s not Frank. He never looked like that.” He squinted, as if he was trying to see through time.

I thought that my older brother’s wearing a suit might have thrown off my father and I stood next to Frank.

“See the resemblance.” My brother and I had matching smiles.

Our crooked teeth were a gift from our mother.

“We were Irish twins,” My brother took off his glasses.

In this light we had to resemble one another.

“Irish twins are born eleven months apart. You two were never Irish twins, except to your mother.” He smiled with the memory vanishing on the tide.

“It was good enough for her, Dad.” She had loved her children with all her heart as had my father.

“Then it’s good enough for me, whoever you are.” He offered a hand to both of us.

During that visit we repeated our discussion about Irish twins three times in succession without my father retaining a single word. His mind had been swept clean of the good and the bad and I was lucky enough to possess a memory of both good and bad for him. My mother wouldn’t have it any other way, for my brother and I were her Irish twin and if that was good enough for my mother, then it was good enough for my father too.

OI VEY CHEESECAKE by Peter Nolan Smith

As a young boy growing up outside of Boston, my classmates and I were jealous of the liberal closed-day policy of Beaver Country Day School. The predominantly Jewish school had more snow days per annum than any other institution south of the St. Lawrence River and the shuffle of Holy Days shortened their school year by weeks. I begged my parents to transfer their second son to Beaver Country Day.

The year was 1964.

I was 12.

“And I’m not sure that they let in gentiles.” My mother dreamed about my becoming a priest. I didn’t have the heart to confess that I was a non-believer.

“I sure if you gave them enough money I could get in.” I had pitched Beaver Country day as the best school within the 128 Belt for # 1 7th Grade student at Our Lady of the Foothills.

“No way I’m driving you 45 minutes to another school.” My father’s commute into downtown Boston was in the opposite direction.

“Please.” My reasons were two to be exact.

Beaver Country Day had a short year and Jewish girls were rumored to be easy.

My adolescent body was going through changes and so were those of young girls.

“Not a chance.” My father ended my first attempt to become the shabbos goy for die schonner Madchans.

2014 AD or 5774 by Jewish reckoning had eighteen high holidays scheduled throughout the year. High Holy Days such as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, and Passover were familiar to many gentiles in New York, however the significance of Succot, Sh’mini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, Yom Hashoah, Yom Haatzmaut, Lag B’Omer, Shavuot, Tisha B’Av, and Purim draw blanks from the city’s goyim., although I attained that status after long years working for Manny in the Diamond District, where I learned why rabbits are tref, girls shaved their heads, and why Jewish brides smiled going down the wedding aisle.

Manny never closed his store, except for Passaich and Yom Kippur.

His son, Richie Boy, and he were bacon Jews i.e. eating bacon isn’t a sin.

Every year they had ignored Tu B’Shevat, Purim, Shushan Purim, Passover, Second Passover, Lag B’Omer .All the others were workable days for their firm, since the first rule of selling diamonds is ‘nimmt geld’, which is Yiddish for ‘take money’. I no longer worked for them, but dropped by 47th Street to wish Manny a ‘Happy Shavuot’.

“Happy for what? Business sucks.”

“For Shavuot.” Seven weeks had passed since Passover.

“Shavuot isn’t a holiday. Today is a Wednesday. I’m open for business.” I once calculated that Manny had worked basically seventy-five years since his Bowery diamond store had remained open seven days a week from 1954 to 1989.

“Shavuot honors Yahweh’s giving the Torah to his people.”

“Like I said it’s not a real holiday.”

“It is for the Hassidim.” And Beaver Country Day School

“Who cares what those gonifs think?” Manny would have worked Christmas if he had a chance.

“They believed in the Torah.”

“All they care about is making money. Same as anyone else, so we’re open tomorrow. Same as any other day.’ His work ethic rejected the holiday madness of Beaver Country Day.

“What about having some cheesecake?” Cheesecake and sweets are Shavuot traditions.

“If you want cheesecake, eat all you want.” Manny was worried about putting his hand in his pocket. These were hard times and his family looked to the 80 year-old for sustenance.

“What if I buy you a piece?”

“Save your money for your kinder in Thailand and stop trying to be such a good Jew. You’re a goy and not a yid.”

“I had once been the Shabbos goy.”

“Not anymore. You don’t even have a job.”

“That’s true.”

“So worry about yourself and not cheesecake.” Manny was a tough guy from Brownsville. He would have no weekdays off until the 4th of July. The Diamond District was closed for that week and then Manny was driving to Florida. His girlfriend was waiting in Miami Beach and being with her was no cake walk for Manny.

She was a schitzah and those girls were trouble at any age.

“I’ll see you around.” I left the exchange.

The best cheesecake in New York was at Junior’s. Flatbush Avenue was on my way home and nothing tasted better after a long bike ride than a slice of cheesecake.

Especially for the Shabbos Goy.

Bertha Goes Whaling 1871

My great-grand-aunt Bertha Hamblin Boyce wrote this in her 96th Year.

“Maria, it is almost time for my ship to sail. Are you going with me this time?”

That was my father, Capt. John C. Hamblin, speaking to my mother. She had been with him on two voyages, and he hoped she was going with him this time. My sister Alice was born in Australia, and my brother Harry was born in Norfolk Island, in the South Seas.

My mother shook her head and said, “Oh, John, I don’t see how I can go this time.”

There were six children to leave at home. But I noticed that the trunk came down from the attic, and Aunt Abby and Uncle Josiah came up from Pocasset to take care of the family, as they always did when Mother went whaling. And Bertha, age five, and Benjamin, age two and a half, were outfitted for a whaling voyage; so there were only Etta, Alice, Harry, and John, the four older children, to leave at home.

The ship, the Islander, was sailing from New Bedford. That is where they sailed from in the 1870’s. The only way to get to New Bedford was to take the stage coach, so we went bag and baggage by Stage. We never had been on the stage coach before, so that was exciting, of course. A horse and buggy had been the wav we traveled, as there was no railroad in chose days.

When we got to the wharf in New Bedford, there was the ship out in the harbor. We had to go out in a row boat. I remember I was very much afraid the sailors would spatter some water on my beautiful new hat. But I don’t chink the hat got wet.

We reached the ship and went aboard. The cabin looked rather small to me after the living room in our great big house in West Falmouth, and I wondered what my mother was going to do with two lively children in that small space.

The Captain’s bedroom, with its swinging bed, opened out to the tight of the cabin, and when bedtime came for Bertha and Ben, a trundle bed was pulled out from the swinging bed. And there is where we slept all the time we were on the ship.

On July 25th, 1871, up went the sails and off we went for the Indian Ocean. And I could have told the whales that they should stay out of sight under water or my father would catch them!

I guess they didn’t stay under water. They have to come up to breathe, you know. I am told my father sent home 895 barrels of sperm oil from the whales taken in those two years on the Indian Ocean. So I guess the folks had plenty of oil for their lamps and didn’t have to go to bed in the dark.

Everyone wants to know what we did for amusement. What did we find to play with on board a ship bound for the Indian Ocean? We won’t see land again for quite a while. Instead of the woods and green fields for our play ground we will have the ship’s deck. It was July. The weather was warm, so we will go up on deck and see what we can find that is interesting. I guess there was no danger of our falling overboard, for Mother let us go up alone.

Of course, there were the sailors, but they were too busy on the first day out to pay any attention to us. There was a little house on deck called the cook’s “galley,” where he gets the food ready. We had to get acquainted with the cook, hoping to get a handout. Then there was a great big sea turtle crawling around on deck. He didn’t look too friendly, but I can tell you that I spent many hours on that turtle’s back while he was touring the deck. I was careful to keep away from his head so he couldn’t bite me. I suppose that in the course of time he was made into turtle soup and other good things to eat, for we brought home a big box of turtle shell, which we shared with our friends.

Ben was a lively little lad. One day he was playing with a rope on deck. The wind was blowing, and the ship was rolling, and Ben found himself swinging out over the sea! Evidently he wasn’t frightened for he held on and came back when the ship rolled again.

In the morning as soon as breakfast was over one of the sailors was hauled up to a seat at masthead called the crow’s nest. The sailor had a spy glass, which he used to search the sea for sight of a whale. When the sailors on deck heard the words “There she blows!” they knew a whale had come up to breathe and had thus disclosed his whereabouts. The sailor would also tell his latitude and longitude from the ship.

Down go the whale boats into the water; the harpooners begin the chase. Very likely the whale goes down again, but they follow him until they get a chance to harpoon him. Then the fight begins! They are fortunate if the boat isn’t smashed before they hit a vital spot. The whale has an enormous jaw with big teeth and can do great damage to the boat. I remember we brought home a whale’s jaw that hung on a tree in our driveway for a long time.

Naturally the whale fought for his life. After he was finally killed, he was towed to the ship. The cutting stage was lowered, and the men peeled off the blubber (the fat) in large pieces. It was then hauled aboard, cut in smaller pieces called Bible leaves, and cooked in the try pots. Up in the bow of the ship there was the fire with two large, iron try pots. This is where they cooked the blubber and turned the oil into wooden barrels to be sent home. The fire was started with wood but later would be fed by scraps of boiled blubber.

Sometimes the try works were burning at night, and we enjoyed that. We could see our shadows on the deck.

In those days kerosene was not plentiful and there was no electricity, so people had to have the oil for lamps. I remember two Sandwich glass lamps on our piano which burned oil but later had kerosene burners. We had the first piano that was brought to West Falmouth.

I don’t know the names of the islands in the Indian Ocean where the sailors went ashore. Unfortunately, I gave my father’s log book away and have lost track of it. The captain or first mate wrote each day’s happenings in the logbook. I used to read it once in a while. I remember it told which way the wind was blowing. And all up and down the edge of the page were little black pictures of whales if they had happened to sight one. I remember that one day he wrote: “Next week is Thanksgiving. I hope next Thanksgiving will be spent at home. If it weren’t for hopes, what would we do.”

I remember that the sailors did go ashore, for one day one of them brought back a pail of turtle eggs. The turtle lays its eggs in the sand and depends on the heat of the sun to hatch them.

We must have stopped at an island where there was a cow for they brought back some milk. My mother scalded the milk so it would keep. It was on the table in the cabin. I decided to take a drink. It burnt my mouth, and I screamed, “I am dead, I am dead!” My mother put me in the swinging bed with Arabian balsom in my mouth, and I was soon asleep. I didn’t die!

Sometimes there was another whale ship sighted. That was a great day. The captains would visit each other and have a gam and have dinner together. They would talk of world affairs and share experiences.

Sometimes days went by without sighting a whale. This was rather dull for the sailors, so they spent their time making things out of whalebone. These bones and the things which were made from them are called scrimshaw. It is highly prized by museums. I have two beautiful boxes made of whalebone. My father, Capt. John, was a 33rd degree Mason, and one design was a Masonic emblem. They also made India ink pictures on the large whale’s teeth and on ostrich eggs. I also have what is called a swift, for winding yarn. It is adjustable so you can wind a large or small skein. They made a fork of whale bone with a wheel on one end which they called a gadging wheel, used to crimp pies.

My mother used one of these. She must have crimped hundreds of pies for her big family and many guests. She didn’t have time to make cookies, so she made what she called “hard gingerbread.” The top was ornamented with the wheel. When it was cool and cut into squares, it was like soft molasses cookies. It was much enjoyed by her eight children and all the neighboring children, who were always welcome at our house’.

We sailed the Indian Ocean all of the year 1872 as far is I know. I do know that August 31st was my sixth birthday, and I spent it on the ship, which was anchored between Africa and Madagascar.

My youngest brother was born on the ship the day before I was six. His name was Ernest Seaborn Hamblin. When he grew up the children used to tease him by calling him an African and saying that he could never be president of the United States.

A whale was caught on my birthday, and my father promised to give me a watch for a birthday present.

I remember my father took Mother and me over to see the Chief of Madagascar. He had seven wives. I remember just how they looked. They were dark skinned of course, being Africans, and they were dressed in white. Their lips were blood red from chewing betel nuts. I tell the girls that is where they got the idea of using lipstick.

Early in 1873 my father must have decided he had caught whales enough, for we sailed for Australia. We left the ship in Tasmania, for I remember the ride across the island. There was a wonderful road made by convict prisoners from England.

I never will forget that ride across the island of Tasmania. Wild roses were growing all along the road. The blossoms had gone but the red seed pods were very beautiful to me, who had looked out on the Indian Ocean for so long.

When we reached Australia we stayed with a Mrs. Tassell. She was a missionary, I think. Anyway, she had Sunday School for the natives. Evidently she had Bibles to give away, for she gave me one. I have that Bible now. My mother wrote my name in it and the date presented by Mrs. Tassell. It is such fine print I don’t think I could read it now. She also gave me a song book which I lost on my way home. My favorite song was:

I want to be an angel
And with the angels stand,
A crown upon my forehead
And a harp in my hand.

The ship was sold in March, 1873. Capt. Hamblin, my father, had decided to give up whaling and go home. The ship sent home 895 barrels of oil and never went back to New Bedford. The first mate, Mr. Hiram E. Swift of Whitman, Mass., now took over as Captain. His wife came to be with him and brought their little daughter, Amy Louise, but no little boy.

Capt. Swift once visited us in West Falmouth and told me that his little girl had my picture and made a real playmate of it. He also told me (hat one day I went into the cabin and got his pocket book to play with. I told him I didn’t take the white money, I only took the yellow money. It was the gold I was after. Even at that early age I knew the difference.

Captain Hamblin and family were now ready to go home by way of London. We took a steamer for London, stopping at Lisbon, Portugal, and Le Havre, France. I know we visited those places for I have on our living room table a pretty little shell snuff box from France and a large shell that held a thimble, little scissors, and a case for needles that I bought in Lisbon.

Our next stop was London. The thing I remember about London was that my little brother decided he would explore the city by himself and was lost in the crowd. My mother was frantic until he was found. We also made a visit to the Zoological Gardens and almost got a ride on an elephant. The elephant was off on a trip with some other children, and we couldn’t wait for him to come back.

Our next stop was at Fayal, one of the Azores. We were there long enough to visit one of the parks and to eat some nice little cakes brought around by a man with a little tin trunk. We also have a beautiful lace shawl from there. My mother always told me that the thread was neither cotton or silk but the fiber of a tree. It is a museum piece. We also have some flowers made of feathers, which are still perfect.

Now we are really on our wav home on another steamer. We left home on the stage coach; but while we were away, the railroad was built to West Falmouth, so we had a ride on the train.

Of course, there was no one at the station to meet us because there were no telephones in those days, and no one knew just when we would arrive. Our house was not far from the station, so we walked home. I will never forget that walk home. The Boyce house wasn’t built then. The only house I remember was painted white with blue blinds. It looked very pretty to me. The First stop was at the Hamblin house, to get reacquainted with Aunt Abby and Uncle Josiah and our brothers and sisters. That was exciting! In the course of time we also got acquainted with the house in the barn, also tile hens and chickens, also the two pigs in the pigpen. Life was going to be quite different from our life on the ship in the Indian Ocean.

There were hay fields in front of the house and woods to explore at the back of the house as we got acquainted with West Falmouth. But that is an other story.

Wind River Mountains 1998


Wind River Mountains 1998

In the Spring of 1998 my 78 year-old father and I embarked on a road trip through Wyoming and Montana. We picked up a rented car in Bozeman, Montana and stopped the first night in Chico Hot Springs. The next morning the two of us continued down Paradise Valley to Yellowstone Park.

Buffalos grazed the new grasses in the low valleys and my old man marveled at Old Faithful’s punctuality. He had never been to this part of the West.

“I wish your mother was with us.” She had passed away in Boston from previous year.

“Me too.” My mother loved to travel and before her death she had asked me to be her eyes.

We spent the night near Inspiration Point and headed south in the morning.

Snow tipped the jagged high peaks of the Grand Tetons, but my father didn’t talk much of the long stretches between towns. His thought rested on his dear Angie.

When I was behind the wheel, we listened to the country-western stations. My father switched to his classical CDs during his driving shift. Sometimes he cried during the opera arias. My mother had a great singing voice.

On the fourth night we stopped Pinedale in Wyoming. The mountains to the south were painted pink by the setting sun and the clear evening sky shone with the cosmos. My father marveled at the remote beauty and I told him, “Back in the 1830s mountain men hunted beaver in that wilderness.”

“Doesn’t look like it?s changed much since then.” My father had fought Maine’s Great Fire in 1947.

He knew his woods.

“Probably not.”

There was only one way to find out and during our steak dinner at the hotel restaurant I pored over a map of the Wind River Mountains and plotted out a day’s hike across the range from south to north.

“What are you thinking?”

“That tomorrow I might take a walk.” I pointed to a trail crossing the mountains. “I calculate the distance to be about fifteen miles.”

“Distances in the mountains are different from distance on the road,” my father cautioned with the wisdom of a Boy Scout leader.

“I should be able to cover that distance in ten hours walking two miles an hour. You drop me at the southern trailhead and pick me up at the northern end.” I was in good shape for a man my age.

“These aren’t the White Mountains.”

“I know.”

Back in the early 60s our family had climbed Mount Monadnock, whose summit was a little over 3000 feet.

The Wind River Mountains’ highest peaks towered above 12,000 feet.

“That hike could end up being a long fifteen miles.” My father didn’t walk anywhere. At Yellowstone

I had to drag him to view Old Faithful?s eruption of steam. “And you’re not as young as you think you are.”

“None of us are, but Mom asked me to be her eyes on the world and I know she would like to see those mountains.”

“She would be just as happy with a postcard.” My father liked playing it safe, but he was only in condition to talk me out of attempting this hike and not accompanying me.

“My eyes are to see for her.”

“If you say so.” My father regarded my life a reckless journey. He wasn’t too wrong, but I finished my wine and refilled the glass with water. I didn’t need a hangover for tomorrow’s trek with the trail cresting two 9,000-foot passes. “I don’t like you doing this on your own.”

“I’ll be careful.” Only two years earlier I had hiked in the Himalayas.

“It’s your funeral, so please don’t take any shortcuts. That’s how people get lost.”

“Yes, sir.”

The next morning we woke at dawn and ate quick breakfast.

“Looks like clear skies,” I said getting into the car.

“The weather down here isn’t the weather in the mountains.” He gazed at the peaks.

“There isn’t a cloud in the sky.”

“Now.”

“I’ll be fine.”

Forty minutes later my father dropped me at the southern trailhead.

I checked my bag for my map, compass, knife, water, food, whistle, matches, flashlight, an all-weather jacket, fleece, and camera. It was 7:34 AM.

I looked at my watch.

“Sunset’s in twelve hours. I should get to the northern trailhead before then.”

“I’ll be waiting on the other side.”

My father hugged me and I set out on the trail to soon be surrounded by wilderness. Bighorn sheep danced on rocky tors and elk herds groomed the alpine meadows.

Back in the early 19th Century Indians had hunted these animals and trappers had caught beaver in the glacier-fed streams. I fell into a good pace. No other bootprints marked the trail.

Within an hour I topped a bald promontory two miles from the trailhead. Mountain peaks barricaded the western horizon. My mother would have loved the view and I toasted her in heaven with a sip of water.

I surveyed the trail map. The path divided into three directions. The northern fork led to a nearest col. The distance to my destination was thirteen miles. I was making good time and I anticipated seeing my father in seven hours.

The weather changed at this height and light clouds obscured the steep pass. A sharp wind swept chilled air across the bare rocks and a strengthening flurry obscured the peaks. I pulled on my cap, fleece and jacket, then trudged down into the aspen forests, where the sun broke through the overcast and I took off my jacket to eat an early lunch of salami and cheese.

Reinforced by the meal I followed the trail up-and-down over several aretes, then switchbacked down to a creek.

The spring melt flooded the path. I swam from one side of the torrent to the other somehow losing my way and I backtracked a mile in soaking clothes.

Cold and exhausted I sat on a flat rock and dried my boots in the sun.

Thirty minutes later they were merely damp. I took out the map and realized that I had only covered three miles in the last two hours.

A family of moose wandered across a boggy swamp. They were thin from a long winter. The wind carried my scent to them and they trotted into the forest. I pulled on my boots and tramped over a 9000-foot high pass. The air was thin and my heart thumped out a rapid beat.
Not having seen anyone all day I wondered whether I was on the right trail.

A sign post confirmed my suspicion.

I had missed my turning.

I gazed at the wet ground. Bear tracks marked the path. The paw prints were three times the size of my feet. People died in these mountains and died easy from cold, starvation, and animal attacks. I ate my last chocolate bar and counted my blessing. At least I wasn?t lost anymore and I spoke to my mother every step of the way downhill.

At 7 O’Clock I arrived at the parking lot. My father stood with two rangers. I must have looked a wreck and the rangers shook their heads, thankful that they didn’t have to traipse into the forest at night to find my body and returned to their pick-up truck.

“Twelve hours on the nose.” My father tapped his watch.

“Better than thirteen.”

“And certainly better than twenty.”

“How was it?”

“Beautiful. Mom would be happy.”

“She’s happier you’re in one piece. You hungry?” My father opened the car.

“You bet.” I hobbled over to the passenger side on noodled legs and threw my bag on the floor.

“Thirsty?” My father started the engine.

“And then some.” I unlaced my boots. The smell was wretched.

“I got a six-pack of beer and a half of a cold pizza.” My father cracked the window. “I thought you might need some nourishment.”

“You know me all too well.” I popped open the Coors and drained the can in one go, feeling every seconds of my forty-seven years. The pizza had an extra topping of pepperoni.

“You don’t know how good this is going to taste.”

“Oh, yes I do. After the bulldozers stilled the last flames of the Great Maine Fire of 1947, my crew and I had celebrated our victory with a pizza in Portland. It was the best thing that I ever tasted outside your mother’s cooking.”

“Same as this pizza.”

“You know it.”

We toasted that thought with beer

Neither of us were mountain men.

We were simply a father and son on a road trip.

Cold pizza.

Colder beer.

And my father had a bottle of white wine in the cooler.

My mother would have liked that.

And so would we later.

A MAN OF SPEED by Peter Nolan Smith

Father’s Day has complemented Mother’s Day since 1910, although the holiday remained unofficial for decades and most Americans treated Father’s Day as a joke, until LBJ proclaimed the Third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Richard Nixon made it permanent six years later.

“The only thing I get for Father’s Day are bills,” my father said at a dinner on that day in 1971.

He was right, even though I recall giving my father a tie on several Father’s Day.

After I passed the legal age for drinking, he received a bottle of wine, which we drank together with my mother.

He was lucky, because most fathers get nothing for Father’s Day.

1 in 6 according to one survey.

Of course some fathers were total bastards and none of their kids celebrated Bastard Day.

My father was a good man. He raised six kids the best he knew how and I loved him for his many sacrifices to better my life.

Some of them were in vain and my father liked listing my failures on various occasions. The list rarely changed from time to time.

“You’re sloppy with everything. You traveled the world like a tramp.”

“Our family traveled the world. My great grandfather had died in a ship wreck off Rio.”

“Their travels had purpose. You were just a hobo.”

It was the truth and I accepted his accusations without any defense.

After my mother’s death we flew to France, Ireland, Utah, the Olympic Peninsula, Montana, and Wyoming for long road trips.

My father was an excellent driver, but his foot weighed heavy on the gas and we argued about his speeding. He was never wrong and refused to give up the steering wheel in fear of having to permanently surrender his license.

One of our last trips was to Quebec.

“Why Quebec?” My father usually picked our destinations.

I told him about the Manicouagan crater.

“It’s the largest ‘visible’ impact crater on Earth. It hit the earth over 200 million years ago.”

“And we want to go there why?”

“There’s nothing like it in the world. I tried to get there in the winter of 1991.”

“And?”

“There are two seasons that far north. The season of good sledding and the season of bad sledding.”

“It’s definitely bad driving north of the border.” The snow had deepened in Northern Maine, but the road was passable, however my English travel mate had been an illegal alien and Phillipe had refused to cross the border. “I turned back at Fort Kent.”

“And you want to go now?” My father was increasingly more comfortable staying at home

“It’s almost always day that far north. No snow either.”

“I don’t know if I’d like the endless day. I like my sleep.”

“Me too, but we’ll have a good time.”

“Doing what?”

“Driving, playing cribbage, eating good food, and drinking wine.”

“Okay.” My father was an easy sell and two weeks later we headed north from Boston.

July 2000 was a warm month, but his new Mercedes had superb AC. We reached Quebec City in one day and stayed at the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec City, where we dined on crepes and sipped white wine overlooking the Plains of Abraham.

“Our ancestors fought with the British under General Wolfe.”

“I know.” I was a registered Son of the Colonial Wars.

“So if we won that war, why don’t they speak English?” He was talking about Les Habitants.

“Because they’re French.”

“They’re not French. They’re Canadian, which is almost American.”

“They don’t think that.”

“That’s, because they’re too stupid to know when they’re beaten. You know our ancestors fought here with the British under General Wolfe.”

He had a new tendency to repeats things.

I played my part and said, “I know.”

The waiter arrived before we had to relive the previous dialogue.

Having lived in Paris, I ordered the wine in French.

The waiter ignored me and my father told him, “I want a Mer’Lot.

It was one of his favorite jokes.

The waiter laughed in anticipation of a good tip.

My father would not disappoint him.

“I thought you could speak French.”

“The Quebecois speak an ancient Gallic dialect.”

“And you speak French with a Boston accent?”

“Maybe I do.”

“You know our ancestors fought here with the British under General Wolfe?”

“I know.” I sighed knowing I had not heard the last of General Wolfe.

We finished a second bottle of wine and he told the waiter, “We’re going to see Lake Manicouagan.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s the biggest impact crater in America.”

“Okay.” The waiter shrugged with the same smirk everyone wore on hearing our destination.

“No one seems to be impressed with Lake Manicouagan,” my father commented, as we took the elevator to our floor.

“That’s, because none of them have ever seen it.”

“A big rock in the middle of a lake hundreds of miles from anything.”

“Exactly. We might get there tomorrow if we drive fast.”

“Fast?”

“100?”

“Why not?”

“You keep saying that.”
We entered our hotel and he fell asleep searching the TV for WHEEL OF FORTUNE. I read Kenneth Roberts ARUNDEL about Benedict Arnold’s invasion of Quebec. Our ancestors had also fought in the Revolutionary War. I put down the novel and shut off the light. Tomorrow we had an early start.
The following dawn we skirted along the northern bank of a foggy St. Lawrence. The shore was dotted with fiords and falls. Whales gathered at the river mouths. I snapped pictures, while my father drove like he had late for work.

“Can you stop a minute?”

“What for?”

“To take a picture of a whale.”

“If you’ve seen one whale, you’ve seen a thousand.” He stepped on the gas.

“I’ve only seen one and that was off the coast of Hawaii.”

“Your great-grand-uncle killed whales.”

“Aunt Bert’s father.” She had lived to a 103.

“Her father slaughtered a blue whale for her eighth birthday.”

“I know. Maybe she saw hundreds, but I want to see one closer.”

“If you’ve seen one whale, you’ve seen a thousand.”

Traffic on the North Cabot Trail was light and my father flew at 110 MPH on the empty road.

“Why are you in a hurry?”

“I want to watch WHEEL OF FORTUNE at the motel.” He enjoyed this simple pleasure, even if his show was in French north of the border.

“Baie-Comeau is only two hours away.”

“You been here before?”

“No, but our ancestors fought under Wolfe in Quebec.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.”

“As usual.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you wasted your life.”

“How?”

“I can’t begin to count the ways, but there was the time you drew submarines on the bedroom walls and set fire to the woods.”

“I’d didn’t do it.” My older brother Frunk was a pyromaniac. I was simply his acolyte.

“Then who did?”

I said nothing and my father put on a classical music CD. Mozart filled the silence to Baie-Comeau, where the road turned north to Lake Manicouagan. We stopped for the night at a small hotel overlooking a crystal blue bay. We were a mere two hundred miles for the crater.
After signing in, the manager asked where we were going.

“Lake Manicouagan.”

“Why?” He regarded us with bafflement. “There is nothing there.”

“It also has the biggest impact crater in North America.”

“And also biggest Maringouin in Quebec.” The manager shrugged with a smirk.

“What’s Maringouin?”

“Mosquitoes, but savage mosquitoes.”

“How savage?”

“You’ll see in Lake Manicouagan.”

We ate fresh salmon in a small restaurant, where the locals sat outside eating corn around a bonfire. We returned to the hotel and I opened a cold bottle of Frontenac Gris. The two of us admired the glow of the near-endless light of summer, although the stars were fighting to be bright through clouds of merciless mosquitoes and blood trickled the bites on our heads.

“You still want to see Lake Manicouagan?”

“It’s only two hundred miles away.” I held the map, which was useless for killing the swarms of mosquitoes.

“On a dirt road.” My father was from Maine. He knew dirt roads.

“With bigger mosquitoes than this.”

I slapped my forehead. A glut of blood dripped on my shirt.

“I’ve had enough of this.”

“Me too.”

We retreated inside the hotel room and finished the wine. My father watched his show. His snores kept me up until midnight. I fell asleep reading ARUNDEL. Kenneth Roberts failed to mention mosquitoes, because Benedict Arnold had invaded Quebec in the winter.

Early the following morning I examined the bites in the mirror.

“What do you think?” My father was scratching at his lumpy skull.

“We’re so close. It seems a shame not to try for it.”

“There’s nothing there, but more Maringouins according to that man.”

He was right and I agreed that the vicious mosquitoes would drain our veins like vampires.

“So what now?”

“There’s an ferry crossing the river at 8am.”

“How far?” He checked his watch.

“Thirty miles.”

“Let’s go.”

My father never dropped below 100 and we made the ferry in time for the 8am crossing.

I spoke with several travelers about the drive to Gaspe.

They warned against speeding.

My father ridiculed their advice.

“I’ve been driving over sixty years and never got a speeding ticket. Not like you.”

“It’s a miracle you haven’t.” My last moving violation was on the Mass Pike for driving 85 in a 65 zone. The year was 1975.

“Not a miracle. Just good driving.” He exited off the ferry like he were chased by clouds of bebittes, which was another Quebecoise word for mosquitoes. I supposed they had more.

Towns were clustered closer together on the south bank of the St. Lawrence. My cautions about his speeding were dismissed by his nasty rancor and he swore at me for opening the map.

“It doesn’t matter where we are. Only where we are going.”

“I want to stop and see the sights.” The chances of my coming this way again were nil.

“There’s nothing to see, but trees and sea.”

My father motored past every stunning vista with a vengeance. He was the captain. The Benz hit 90.

No other car came close to that speed. I studied the long straight-aways with binoculars and spotted a police cruiser in the distance.

“Slow down. There’s a cop car coming.”

“Slow down for what?” All he saw was open road.

“A cop car.”

“So what?”

“He’s going to stop us.”

“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” My father had never used that type of language with me or anyone else.

Something was rattling his brain.

The police car passed us, then 180ed in pursuit. The siren was loud and the lights were flashing behind us.

“He wants you to stop.”

“So I’m stopping.”

He pulled off the road and recited a list of my many sins; not delivering my newspaper route fast enough, losing a scholarship to high school because I didn’t believe in God, getting arrested for a high-speed chase, drugs, drinks, and not giving him grandchildren. If that provincial trooper hadn’t knocked on the window, my father would have covered my every trespass since birth.

Worse his accusations were spot on target.

“So much for not getting a speeding ticket.”

“Like always you don’t know shit.” My father put down the window.

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Like what?” He didn’t hear the words and put down our windows.

The hills to the south were covered with a pine forest. The air smelled of cut wood. Somewhere men were working lumber. My grandfather had put himself through Bowdoin College chopping trees in the northern woods.

The trooper asked for my father’s license and registration in Quebecois.

“Is there something wrong, officer?” My father respected the law.

The officer said in French that he had radared the car at 90.

“Le Limite de Vitesse est 60. I will have to take your father into custody.”

“Really?” I asked in French. “Cuffs and all?”

“Oui.” He was dead serious about provincial laws.

My father smiled with a practiced innocence.

“So if you arrest him, you’ll take him which way?”

The officer pointed in the direction of Gaspe.

“Excellent.” I figured booking and arraignment was a two-hour ordeal and I could use the break.

“What if I pick him up in 3 hours?”

“We are not a baby-sitting service.” He didn’t want the responsibility of a man in his 70s and said, “I will give your father a warning. No ticket.”

“C’est pas vrai?” I was disappointed by his decision to let off my old man.

“Roulez moins vite.”

“Yes, officer.” My father understood that he was supposed to drive at a slower pace.

The officer returned to his cruiser and wheeled away from us in the opposite direction.

My father smiled with satisfaction.

He pulled off the shoulder and we were soon up to 90.

“I told you that I wouldn’t get a ticket.”

“You told me a lot of things back there.” I slinked into the seat defeated by his escape from justice.

My father talked of our watching bears eat at the town dump, a vandal throwing a rock at our station wagon at South Shore Drive-In, and my coming home late after a night with Janet Stetson. I had been 15. My father had picked me up at 3 in the morning.

“You hit me.”

In the face.

“You should have called home. Your mother was worried.”

“Sorry.” I had said it then and I said it now.

“Save your sorry for hell. You sinned with that girl. You didn’t care about anyone. All you cared about was sex.”

This turn in the conversation was as unexpected as a verbal barrage of curses.

“You’ve been a bum all your life. You should have been working. Instead you traveled the world. To do what? To be a bum.”

“Mom said I was her eyes and ears on the world.”

“Only a mother can love a bum.”

“You can’t talk to me like that.” I had worked all my life, but not as a member of the 9-to-5 society.

“Why? Can’t you stand hearing the truth?” His face was red.

“Stop, Dad.” I was worried about his heart.

“I don’t have to stop. This is my car. I can say whatever I want, you dirty bum.”

The speedometer was at 100.

“Maybe you can, but I don’t have to listen.”

“Then you can get out of the car.”

“With pleasure.”

My father stomped on the brakes and veered onto the shoulder.

“Get out of the car, you bum.”

“Pop the trunk. I want my bag.”

“Get out. Now.”

I obeyed him and waited on the asphalt for him to tell me to get back in the car.

Instead he hit the gas and drove east.

He had a funny sense of humor, but the Mercedes disappeared over the next hill.

“Damn.” I tried his phone with my cell. There was no service. This was not a joke.

I had the binoculars and a map.

I was two miles from Mont-Louis. The another road cut south from 132. Either way I was over forty miles from Gaspe. I stuck out my thumb. No one stopped for hitchhikers in the 21st Century and I started walking east.

Ten minutes later a provincial cruiser stopped on the shoulder.

It was the same officer from before.

I explained what happened and he said in Quebecois that driving long distances with family was a little like ‘le fierve noir’.”

“Black fever?”

“Qui, cabin fever.”

“Vous avais raison.”

He told me to get in the cruiser and we rode to Gaspe at 100 mph. No one drove slow this far north.

“What make you so sure he will be there?”

“He will be there.”

“You don’t know my father.”

“Peut-etre, but I know Gaspe.”

We topped a rise and below us lay a stunning archipelago of jagged rocks dotting the boreal blue Atlantic.

“Gaspe.”

I spotted my father’s Mercedes before a small restaurant overlooking the bay.

“Bonne chance.” The officer left me and cruised back west.

I entered the restaurant. My father was sitting at the window. A glass of white wine was in one hand and a photo of my mother was in the other. He lifted his head and said, “Your mother would have loved it here. You know she said you were her eyes and ears on the world.”

“I know.”

I sniffed the air.

“What’s that?”

The waitress said it was a bouillabaisse of wild salmon, native oysters, and fresh shrimp.” He signaled for our server and said, “Deux plates du bouillabaisse.”

Neither of us had tasted anything better and we drank two bottles of Seyval Blanc toasting my mother, our family, the Red Sox, and traveling the world.

The day lingered long in the northern latitudes and we walked along the cliffs of Gaspe in a shimmering dusk.

There were no mosquitoes.

“I’ve been losing my temper without any reason these days. Must be getting old. Whatever I said I didn’t mean.”

“I know.” Our battles had ended decades ago.

“You’ve been a good son.”

“I could have been better.”

“Everyone could have been better. We can only do what we can do. Nothing more.”

“And you’ve been a good father.”

“I tried.”

It wasn’t an apology.

We knew each other too long to need those.

My father was old.

I was 51, which is closer to 80 than 20.

I was old too.”

“I wish your mother was with us.”

“She is, because I am her eyes and ears.”

My father pressed his hand into my shoulder.

“Maybe next year we’ll get to Lake Manicouagan.”

“Mom would like to see that lake.”

“But not the mosquitos.”

“I know.”

He had loved her more than us, because she loved us all more than she loved herself.

That evening I kissed my father’s head before going to bed. The face mirrored mine.

“You know our ancestor fought the French up here?” My father shut his eyes.

“A long time ago.” Back in the Colonial Wars.

“It took them months to get here.”

Not that long to Falmouth now.”

Tomorrow we were driving to Maine.

My sister’s camp on Watchic Pond was 500 miles away. We were both at home on the lake.

My father would do the majority of the driving through the endless forests of New Brunswick and the potato fields of Aroostock County.

Those roads had been built for a man like my father.

He drove fast and even better he didn’t get tickets.