Today, we celebrated our annual Father-Son Mass. The celebrant was Father Jim Murphy, CSB, President of St. Thomas High School. During his homily, he gave the us fathers and father figures a homework assignment. He instructed us to share a lesson our fathers had taught us. Here’s my homework.
When I was in the fourth grade, Mom, my sister Sarah, and I traveled to Harrison, Arkansas, with Jimmie Chance, the man my mother had recently married. He is my adoptive father. His parents, my new grandparents, lived in Harrison. I don’t remember much about the trip, but I do remember canoeing on the Buffalo River. I’d never done that sort of thing before, and it was an adventure in a strange place with many people who were strangers at that time.
About mid-day, we stopped on a pebbly riverbank for lunch. I asked Mom if I could play in the water. She said I could but told me not to go too far. I wore a life vest, but I could not at the time swim, so Mom’s caution was sensible. I told her I’d be careful.
I was not careful.
I went too far, and I discovered that a life vest, when water is sufficiently deep, has enough buoyancy to lift a fourth grader off his feet. The water’s current took over, pulling me toward the center of the river and carrying me farther and farther from the pebbly bank. I called loudly for Mom. She yelled Jimmie’s name.
Today, right now as I write this sentence, I’m more than forty years older than I was that day. I vividly remember the sequence of events after Mom yelled Jimmie’s name. He looked in my direction, tracking me floating away. He dropped his sandwich as he ran, taking several steps. He dove into the river, head up, eyes locked on me, arms outstretched so that as soon he plunged into the muddy water he could start swimming. He caught the life vest near my shoulder and backstroked toward the pebbly bank. When he could stand, he picked me up, cradling me in his arms, and walked me to Mom, who took me from him.
I don’t remember anything else from that day.
The Knights of the Mightier Pen gather in the hallowed halls of the Regis School in Houston, Texas, to share their tales and poems.