On Sullivan's Pond

Painting by  Mark Vidler

Painting by Mark Vidler

The Owl and the Pussycat
    Went to sea
    In a beautiful Pea Green boat
    They took some honey
    And plenty of money
    Wrapped up in a five-pound note
    -Edward Lear

My father did not read to me when I was a child because dyslexia made it nearly impossible for him to manage printed words.  I never knew this though, because instead of reading, he told stories. 

Most of my early youth was spent on the Columbia River, messing about in boats.  Every weekend and all summer, we were on the boat.  Once anchored, the only way ashore again was to take the dinghy.  And on the odd lazy summer afternoon, my father and I would aimlessly go for a row among the backwaters and sloughs near the islands where we anchored.  He rowed when we were against the current, I rowed when we went with it.  And as we went, he told me stories about the Owl and the Pussycat, who, after going to sea, had many subsequent adventures together. 

Once, Owly and Pussy found themselves on Sullivan's Pond, where they met an entire cast of characters, and had one exciting scrape after another, narrowly averting disaster by means of their cleverness and good humor.  By the end of that episode, the sun was going down over the river, Dad's arms and mine were both useless stumps from rowing, Dad's voice was hoarse, and we had sunburned cheeks and noses.  As we turned the dinghy back toward the boat, my father asked the seven-year-old me if I would one day write down the stories of Sullivan's Pond, which I promised I would. 

I've thought about Sullivan's Pond thousands of times since that day.  How special it was for the youngest of five children to have my father all to myself.  How delighted we both were as the story unfolded.  How real the characters became to us.  How much I wanted to visit the real Sullivan's Pond.  And one day, years later, how I understood that the backwaters of the Columbia River where my father rowed with me in the dinghy were the real Sullivan's Pond.  We had really been there, all along.  And he was the Owl, and I was the Pussycat.  And when he asked for me to write down the stories, it wasn't because he was afraid we'd forget them, but because he could not do it himself.  He thought that if they were written down, they would belong permanently to me in a way that his storytelling could not.  He was wrong about that, but I understood why he thought so.

I hope I'll be able to remember the stories properly, as it seems it's finally time to make good on my promise to write them down.  My father died on Saturday.

Bon Voyage, Owly.  I'll see you on Sullivan's Pond.