One partly cloudy afternoon an inquisitive young boy looked up into the sky.
His father watched as his son stood silhouetted in the late afternoon sun, index finger outstretched to determine if the wind had changed directions. “I thought so Mr. Fiddler-Crab,” he said as he walked over a colony of tiny crabs scurrying about. “I felt it in my ears.” He watched a gull, wings outstretched pitch up and down in the wind. The young boy shouted, “what’s brewing out there, Mr. Gull?” The gull, so high up, either did not hear or was unable to understand the boys question for he simply continued in the current until he was all but a small speck in the sky. The young boy, undeterred, walked along the edge of the moon-shaped sandbar for another clue. He stepped into the current and waded until the water reached his knees.
This was as deep as he was allowed to go alone. The tide was now coming in at a brisk pace. Instinctively he twisted his left knee and ankle, his dominant leg, back and forth burying it in the sand to brace himself. The young man stretched his neck out and peered around the pinnacle of the bar, the view guarded by a thick patch of spartina grass. “Whoa,” he remarked to a lone egret watching him curiously from the safety of the spartina patch, “that sky looks angry.” The egret looked up at the sky and with a dry squawk spread its wings and flew deeper into the marsh.
The boy felt the firm hand of his father on the crown on his head.
The father directed the boy’s line of sight to a particularly quarrelsome-looking cloud hovering over the tree line between the sandbar and home. “Cumulonimbus,” the strong voice of his father bellowed. The boy rolled the word over his tongue thinking of how his mother taught him to break words down. Her face filled his mind as he thought about the sounds he recognized in such a big word. The first crack of thunder broke his concentration. He quickly realized he was securely in his father’s big arms and not standing in the water anymore.
“We’ve got to move,” his father said calmly. He placed the boy on their boats faded wooden bench and said, “sit tight.”
Watching his father pull up the anchor was a sight he’d witnessed hundreds of times, but in this instance he noticed that his dad did not take time to carefully stow the anchor. He also failed to secure the buoys hanging over the side. “Daddy,” the boy said aloud. But before he could finish, he was overwhelmed by what sounded like the crack of a cowboy’s whip. His father pulled him in close. “Be brave,” his father said, “I will get you home safe.”
The boy, wrapped in a bright blue towel, lay between his father’s legs. The fiberglass floor of the boat was slick and filling with rainwater. The afternoon was warm, but the rain was cold, making him shiver. He nervously bit at the plastic liner on his life-vest and watched his father’s face intensely for reassurance. “That, my son,” his father shouted, “is the sound of God’s angels bowling a strike.” Every so often he would pat the boy’s head. The boy observed how the corners of his father’s mouth resembled a slight grin. It was the same look he made when the boy’s mother would playfully dance in the kitchen after dinner. This made him wonder if his father was quietly enjoying the moment. It confused the increasingly terrified boy.
Each crack of thunder stressed the boy’s confidence.
The boat pitched up and down in the chop of wind and tide. The young boy began to cry as the fear of the unknown overtook the last of his brave curiosity. Tugging on his father’s shorts he begged, “please daddy, please make them stop bowling.” The father pulled the boy up off the floor and held him close. He whispered wisdom in the boy’s ear. The storm raged around them.
All but giving up hope the storm would ever abate, the boy began to think about whether he would ever see his mother again. He loved her calm, sweet voice that was so kind even when he had been terrible and mischievous. He loved how she twirled his hair when they read books and how she always made sure he knew that he was loved. The boy loved the strength and adventure he so often experienced with his father, but would greatly miss the tenderness of his mother. She, after all, was the first love of his young heart. “Settle down, son,” his father’s voice reassured, “it’s all going to be okay.” Forlorn and expecting the worst, the boy held firm to his life vest and towel, face buried in his father’s chest.
Then, unexpectedly the high-pitched whine of the engine let up. The boy was not expecting this.
“Bow line up,” his father shouted, “let’s look alive sports fans.” The boy looked up to see home on the horizon and his heart leapt with joy. He caught his father’s eye. His father grinned and responded with a wink “make a run for it.” The boy’s feet met the wooden dock shoeless, catching several splinters as he bolted from the boat and up the ramp. At the top off the dock and fast on his way to the house he turned to watch his father secure the boat in the wind and rain. He was amazed at his father’s bravery.
Lost among the bubbles of a hot bath and the soft high of hot cocoa and marshmallows, the young boy hardly noticed his father enter the bathroom.
He heard his parents’ muffled voices and watched them embrace, but mainly focused on the bubbles that surrounded him. The noise of the afternoon’s storm began to file itself away inside of him. He suddenly felt the firm hands of his father under his arms, pulling him from the soapy hot water. “Let’s take a look at those splinter’s young man,” he said with a softness usually associated with his mother. “Why weren’t you afraid dad?” The boy said, “I was so scared.” His father looked him square in the eyes, “I was too.” The young boy looked away in disbelief “but you smiled, I saw you.” His father laughed, “sometimes dads and moms have to be extra brave to protect their babies, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t scared.”
The young boy nodded as if he understood and then asked, “but why the smile?”
The father laughed saying, “because it reminded me of a time with my dad, when I was scared and he protected me.”
The boy reached out and touched the whiskers on his father’s face. “When do I get some of these,” the young boy asked, laughing the father replied, “soon enough.”
Later in the evening a sliver of moon peaked out from the wispy clouds. The young boy gazed up into the sky. His father watched as the boy listened to the tree frogs, his teddy bear tight under one arm. “Have I ever told you,” the boy said to the bear, “the time my father bowled with the angels; and won?”
The bear was either too sleepy or too in his own thoughts to reply, but the boy told him anyway.
By Gene Cashman