27 May 2011

The power of memory

It wasn't the Grande Mariner, but it was the Maid of the Mist.  And, in the scheme of things today, that distinction made all the difference.

I had a wonderful time doing the touristy thing, the boat ride with Tal and our group.  The whole process -- filing off the bus to being herded to the dock to receiving the blue, hooded poncho, to boarding the boat -- was completely organized.  There was no possibility of going the wrong way, being separated from the group, missing the boat.

Once on the Niagara River and as we approached the falls, I was very nearly overcome.  The water was one thing -- thunderous, surreal, baffling.  More important than the obvious for me was the power of memory -- insistent, clear, touching.

Was it the summer of Lucia's infancy or was she a year and a half?  I don't remember.  Either way she was in a stroller.  On our annual family vacation that year we traveled as usual to see Mom's parents in Milford MI.  The plan had been for Lucia to stay with Grandma and Grandpa while the rest of us went to Niagara Falls.  Grandpa, though, had been ill.  Mom and Dad determined that leaving Lucia would be too much to ask.

Forty-six or forty-seven years ago the set up at the falls and going on the Maid of the Mist was different than now (and I think, too, we were on the Canadian side, but I'm not at all sure).  Mom and Lucia had stayed on the rim, missing out on the adventure.  Dad had the three of us in tow descending to the level of the river.  There were dressing rooms.  Dad and Paul went one way.  Joyce and I had custody of each other.  When we all emerged, we were clad in heavy, yellow raincoats, duck-tail-looking, yellow hats, galoshes, having left our own footwear in shoe check.  Strangely, it was that part -- the dressing room procedure that I remember the most clearly of the whole experience.

Anyway, as I stood on the deck of the Maid of the Mist this afternoon, deep inside the cataract carved by the water, the three falls pouring forth, the sound near huge, the mist almost heavy as rain, my knees seemed to want to give way and my eyes made a pretty heavy mist of their own.  The words were so clear.  I was a pre-teen again.  Dad's voice was shouting to us over the roar of the water, "Look for your mom. Wave to Lucia and Mom." 

Grief does work its way in at the most unexpected times.  My dad, gone 13 months this week, was right there.  Without doubt.

I waved.

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