My Watermark is the St. Lawrence River, New York.
I have no memory of this, of course, but photos of my twiggy mother and my tall, stoic father outside of our camp, with me as a small bundle, prove that I was at "Camp" at just a few weeks old.
Camp was rustic. An old trailer by the waterfront, orange shag carpet and iron bunkbeds, no television to entertain rainy nights, only Crayons and Gin Rummy with my Dad, as he sipped Scotch and I lemonade, brunette baby sister running about putting smiles on faces with her extroverted spirit contrasting my questioning eye.
A few old photographs show Muggs, a Cheaspeake Bay Retriever, towing my little body plumed with an orange life jacket, by her tail and my strong gripped hand, to shore on Grindstone to play in the sand. The 23-8 outboard Mako was our warrior, our Church amongst the water lines of the River, to hear that motor roar was to hear God speak and take us to His disciples, as we traversed as a young family in and out of waters and inlets, docks and anchors, dipping into the soul of the River.
My job was to run to the dock in the morning and wash off the bugs, take the side curtains down, and prepare for our Mass.
Late nights with Grandma Rose, too much Dewars for some, I observed as a small child and heard the myth and legends of the man who water skied on a canoe paddle, raising his body above the wake to feel freedom and spirit amongst the waters of the River. Who is this legend that I admired so?
"Just sit on the dock and hold the rope, just feel the rope," said my Father as the old wooden skis lay on my narrow feet at the dock at Shaws. The blessing of youth is to feel no fear. I looked up to see Dad raise his hand and Uncle Dan roared that God Like Motor into all cylinders forward to raise me off the dock and out of the water, a small child in an oversized PFD on wooden skis to feel the water below me and the spirituality within me and think I AM NOW FEELING THE LEGEND.
My best and favorite memory of my Papa was when he fished me out of the water at the end of the dock. An older boy had, in jest, pushed me off the dock while I was in skis, sliding my long, twiggy legs along the wooden posts to draw blood and fear and bubbles of air and water in my lungs. Papa knew. He fished me out with his long, pale arms and sat me aside, walked me up the dock and doctored me up and told me to be proud to be a girl on skis and proud to be a girl on the dock and proud to be a girl that could rise above the water. He was not a man of words nor who gave affection, but this day, this day and his words, I remember on the River.
When I was 23 years old I learned who the Legend Who Skied on the Canoe Paddle was.
By this time I had watched Rose's ashes go into the River, the one who taught me never to eat clams with whiskey, who had whiskers on her chin when she laughed and kissed me as a child, who spoke of my Father as this Young Man Who Was Brave, who taught me autonomy and that when in doubt in life, Go to the River, It Saves.
The Legend was my Father.
The home video from years ago opened up, Bruce's "The River" now cued to play in the background, and the Myth, The Legend, rises above the water behind the old wooden boat to cry sanctuary and freedom and love and spirit and sport with The River on his wooden ski.
The Legend was my Father.
I was raised with the Legend but he never told me of such, but rather threw me into the Church of the River to find her spirit on my own. It was found.
To this day, when life feels unbearable, difficult, unclear, I go to Church to Pray. I go to the River. I dip my body and my soul into her cold, blue waters and feel my history and my life and my family and her soul and her history and her boats and waters and motors roaring and laughter at Grindstone and wooden skis and old wooden boats swelling with new waters and clams smiling open at sandy shores of Grindstone and dogs barking, tall ice cream scoops and fireworks popping, chasing boys outside of TI Park and Dad wiping off those old skis and the Mako roaring to wake in the morning and learning to dock at Wellsley and coffee at 6 am at the Kove with hands smelling of the early morning perch catch and pulling the weeds off the anchor and Rosie and Papa and Bob in his Captain's hat, Bette with her Manhattan and My Dad the Legend and wet dogs and happy kids and sandy bathing suits and sunburns and the smells of Solarcaine and hot dogs and wet towels under tall willow trees and naps in the cabin on the ride home and once again, ten, twenty, thirty years later, she, the St. Lawrence River, Saves My Soul.