My father was a bit heavy-handed on rituals. A graduate of Princeton, he fashioned himself as a bon vivant as he reveled in stories about Café Society. From the old school, he favored Burberry’s of London and Italian neckties. He spoke fondly of fine wines, three-course dinners, and women. He retired after a thirty-seven year career as a timber broker, and like the industry he worked for, had a ravenous appetite.
My mother had graduated from Reed, was a gifted landscape artist, and an environmentalist. She condoned father’s ribald tales, but could not tolerate his selling large stands of timber. From the Beat Generation, she favored black turtlenecks, pink frosted lipstick, and clove cigarettes from France.
The contrast between them made for a stressful childhood. I grew up a colicky baby, sensing very early in life the barometric pressure between them. Even as a child, I realized theirs was an unlikely union. Still, something kept them together for many years.
My father gave me an odd gift on my twelfth birthday. I was hoping for a Swiss Army knife. Wrapped as a sacrament in hunter green paper embossed with retrievers and ducks was a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby.
My mother quietly countered with Rachel Carlson’s, The Silent Spring.
I irked Father to no end during my senior year in prep school when I winnowed my selection of colleges down to the University of Washington. I was determined to major in wildlife biology and backpack my way through a mountainous undergraduate experience. When I picked Washington, minus any declaration of my major, Father finally assented after reading an article naming the school a “public-ivy,” and an undiscovered gem in the Far West.
To celebrate my transition to manhood and collegiate life, we yachted up the coast in his beloved Daisy Buchanan. After touring the campus, he had our driver deliver us to the Rainier Club in Seattle, an exclusive association for the well-heeled male.
Surrounded by mahogany and high rollers, we worked our way through an opulent meal of moist Copper River salmon topped with Alaskan scallops, succulent shoots of Yakima asparagus, and Oregon blackberry pie.
We were sipping our after-dinner drinks and smoking cigars when I sensed something was up, perhaps something momentous. He kept fingering an oval pattern on the condensation of his glass.
After a pointed rattle of his throat, the real purpose of our evening is summoned when he says, “you know Son, like a fine meal, making love to a woman is a sumptuous feast.”
Flushed, I shift uncomfortably in my chair.
He had a facility with language befitting a man of enormous appetite.
“Son, inhale a women’s rich aroma as if she were an epicurean delight. Like dripping ice cream down the side of a cone, lick her tenderly as if every drop counts for something.”
I have heard my father wax poetic and pontificate on a variety of topics, especially when lubricated with alcohol, but the fine art of pleasuring a woman was a first for me.
“Lap her nectar; quench your thirst as if you are parched and have been lost in the desert for days. You have to drink from her deeply Son, like a bum would from a cheap wine.”
Buoyed by Scotch, he was really enjoying himself. Glancing to his left, he gave an affirmation nod to an imaginary audience in a honed rite of passage handed down through generations of men from the leisure class. I was doing everything in my power not to be shocked, not to give him that satisfaction. It was my first tentative act of independence, but he persisted.
I chocked on my cigar.
He had won.
He chuckled with the satisfaction that only a victory brings and continued.
“Devour her ravenously, as if you have not eaten for a week. Savor every bite of the woman. Lovemaking can get a little sloppy Son, but the mess is worth it, believe me.”
“One more thing,” he said as he stubbed out his cigar and punctuated his final statement on the subject, “always let her be satiated first. If you do, she will stay with you forever.”
When he passed three years after Mother, he had one last request of me: to read a poem he had written for her, and then scatter his ashes near the town where he made his first large sale of timber.
Aberdeen, Washington lies on a harbor situated near the edge of a rain forest. The verdant growth of Sitka Spruce is marred by a violent contrast of clear-cut logging. The line of abrupt demarcation in the landscape creates an unnatural juxtaposition between highs and lows. It looks like a hand-sewn quilt of lush greens and scab browns stitched by a manic-depressive.
To the west, the craggy Olympic Mountains incongruously frame the scene and stand majestically as an all-knowing healer of everything in its shadow. And there, on Hurricane Ridge, are Mother’s ashes.
I open the sealed envelope and read the poem.
My North Star
I was born in an amniotic ocean
A salty fluid of life
Buoyant and sustaining
But I swam in oblique angles
Like a dolphin racing a bow
Darting to avoid the centerline
Eventually I lost direction
And became a wayfarer
Seeking respite from the storm
By an act of serendipity
I crashed onto a rocky shoal
Into your waiting arms
We clashed like two oceans
A boiling vortex of currents
A Cape Horn of love
Sometimes I waited for the calm
Sometimes I stirred the sea
Sometimes I looked to the horizon
Ready to take sail
To a distant shore
To a Chimera
In the end
I stayed true
To our charted course
You are my first-mate
My moral compass
And the navigator of my heart
I scatter Father’s ashes to the wind, and through misty veil pay homage to Mother and the glorious coastal range.