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Farewell, Solitary Loon

by Charles C. Cole

Mud season. In Maine that’s what we call the time of year after winter and before summer. The thaw and rain arrive together, like a manic-depressive package deal, immediately after plowing season and a bit before the traditionally celebrated resurrection (Easter). It’s when the “gravel” (aka dirt) wood roads resemble the main track for the Malaysian Rainforest Challenge.

When we go mudding in our 4x4s, a calling like ticks to Girl Scouts, water oozes up out of the ground in direct proportion to our insane efforts to cram it back into the earth’s pores. Sometimes we make things worse when we try to make them better, but I guess that’s not news.

My father’s on-and-off girlfriend, Trupee, called me right after he died. He lived alone the last few years of his life, by choice. They’d met at AA, then later at Howie’s Pub when AA didn’t stick. She was maybe ten years my senior, just enough older to have been my babysitter back in the day, thin as a rail, with waist-length hair the color of pewter and small trembling hands.

Years before, Dad and I had painstakingly talked through our ugly relationship mistakes, like the part where he said kids were the worst thing that could happen to a marriage. In some families, when you finally work through the mistrust and the judgments and the yelling, there’s nothing left; you lose the centripetal force that effectively held things in place for so many years.

Trupee said Dad had a hunter’s cabin which I was about to inherit. She thought I might want a peek before the out-of-state tourists migrated North for the off-roading. She’d come for the ride, one last time, because she didn’t drive, it was a little off the beaten path, and she wanted company when she released his ashes.

“You look like him,” she offered during the ride.

“Not a compliment.” I involuntarily glanced up at the rearview.

“He was a good-looking man.”

“It just means, even with his long-awaited death, I’ll never escape him; he’ll be there in the mirror every day I’ve got left, keeping tabs.”

“I didn’t know my father.”

“I knew mine. So why didn’t you and Dad ever marry, if you don’t mind my asking? A least you’d be getting some financial payback for what you put up with.”

“I am married. Glenn’s in the VA facility at Togus. He doesn’t remember me.”

My Ford Escape couldn’t take us all the way, so we hiked the last half-mile. We heard the cry of a loon.

“Lakefront property?” I asked.

“It’s lovely in summer.”

“Wouldn’t know, never invited.”

“You father named you after his great-grandfather,” said Trupee.

“This is when you say he talked a lot about me.”

“Not really. He told me, before you were born, he had a fight with your grandfather who said, ‘The biggest mistake I ever made was giving you my name.’ Your father said he was never going to repeat that conversation.”

“He said a lot of damaging things, but never that.”

We arrived. Trupee unlocked the place. It wasn’t much, a rustic efficiency with a million-dollar view of Thoreau’s summer playground. No window treatments. No upholstered furniture. A frame for a futon, and a wood stove.

“We’d bring a futon and chemical toilet. I hate outhouses.”

There were two dozen dusty books: Ellery Queen mysteries, Arundel by Kenneth Roberts, The Maine Woods, some dog-eared paperback puzzle books, and Audubon nature guides. On the painted plywood wall: a temporarily quiet motion-activated Big Mouth Billy Bass Singing Sensation trophy from the late 90s.

“That’s from me,” said Trupee. “It was revenge because he’d never let me listen to music up here. He said, ‘You can’t top nature’s top-forty’.”

“Shall we get through the hard part first, sow the old man’s ashes out by the horseshoe pits?”

“My hands shake.”

“You must have worn out the nerves during your long, respected career as a brain surgeon,” I joked.

“My reputation doth precede me.” She smiled and put a hand over her “faint” heart.

There was a lot more of Dad than I expected. Maybe I was being too delicate as I sprinkled him like fertilizer over mostly sand. When the box was finally empty, as if on cue, the loon cried out.

“Can I tell you something?” asked Trupee. “About you father?”

“Your dime.”

“We were at a lakeside party near Durham. People were smoking pot, which was never your dad’s thing, so we took a walk on the beach. We came upon a loon curled up on the sand. We thought it was dead. It had gotten tangled in a fishing line. I told him to do something. He snapped: ‘You’re not my wife; you don’t get to boss me around.’ I started crying. He gave me his keys. ‘I don’t drive,’ I said. ‘It’s like riding a bike. Bring the car around.’ The thing sat in his lap the whole ride. He fixed it up when we got here, and we let it go. That’s the last time I ever drove.”

“You telling me that ol’ Maine crooner out there owes its life to my old man?”

“First time he ever brought me, he said the one thing, the only thing, missing was—”

“The love of a good woman.”

“A loon, silly.”

“And the love of a good woman?”

“It was implied.”

“So, my dad made one magnanimous gesture in his life, saved one of God’s defenseless creatures, and I should have a better appreciation for his struggles?”

“Two creatures,” she said. “He saved me, too.”

“Trupee, this place is more yours than mine. I don’t want it. You have history here.”

“I don’t drive.”

“It’s like riding a bike.”

“I don’t have a car.”

“You can have Dad’s pickup. You know he’d want you to. I don’t need it.”

“Would you come up and visit again, if I asked?”

“Only for you, not for him, but let’s play it by ear for now.”

Copyright © 2020 by Charles C. Cole

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