‘An Elemental Moment’ by B. B. Wright

An old crib dock

The image of this crib dock is courtesy of http://www.lescheneaux.org

 

“That’s where the crib dock used to be,” he said, pointing at the single, well-worn cedar post that reached upwards from a rock cluster on the shore. “Your great-grandfather made it with the help of his neighbours.”

His chair faced the large living-room picture window that overlooked the fresh waters of the rocky shoreline of Georgian Bay, two hours north of Toronto. On the arm of his chair sat his 8 year old granddaughter, Emma, whose arm was draped across his shoulders.

When he looked up at her, he could tell by his granddaughter’s expression that she had no idea what he was talking about. “Do you see that photo album on the top shelf of the bookcase, Emma?” he asked, nodding to the right. “The one second from the left? Would you please get it for me? It contains a picture of what used to be there. It will help me explain what a crib dock is.”

Photo albums, tightly squeezed together and sequentially positioned according to year by a homemade insert in each binder’s spine, occupied the entire top shelf of the white, 3-shelf bookcase that ran half the length of the wall.

Emma tugged at the album several times before finally dislodging it. Wrapping her arms around the heavy binder she began to walk back when a number of photos held together by string fell onto the floor. “Ugh!”

Seeing her hesitation and understanding her dilemma, her grandfather stood up and walked over to her and picked up the package of photos. Squinting, his thumb gently brushed across the top photo. “That’s strange.”

“What’s strange, grandpa?” Emma asked, lifting her knee for the umpteenth time to help keep the binder in her grasp.

The tips of his fingers glided across the photo in silence before her question finally registered. “Eh?”

“Are you alright, Grandpa?”

“Uh-huh,” he acknowledged, still preoccupied with the photo. “It’s just that I… thought these were lost. Strange they would have been in there. I wonder…?”

The binder Emma was carrying crashed to the floor startling him.

“What the…Oh!…How thoughtless…I’m sorry, sweetheart…I should have…” Dropping to one knee, he wrapped his arms around her.

In part, he wanted to hide the tears that washed across his eyes but more importantly he needed to hold the single most important gift that encapsulated the daughter he once had.

“Silly old grandpa…silly me,” he whispered and only when he felt her begin to squirm under his hold did he finally let go.

Placing the package of photos on top of the binder, he stood up and returned to his seat.

Regaining her position on the arm of the chair, Emma wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him. “I love you, grandpa.”

“Me, too,” he replied, pressing her arm between his shoulder and face to hug her back, his eyes never leaving the packaged photos atop the binder on his lap.

Emma reached across him and picked up the photos. “Who’s the baby, grandpa? Is it me?”

Retrieving his reading glasses from the side-table he put them on and gently took the photos from her. “No, it’s not you, sweetheart. That’s your mom!”

“My mom?” she asked, incredulously.

Undoing the string, he gave her the photo so that she could scrutinize it more closely.

“Who’s the young man holding her?”

“That’s me, sweetheart,” he chortled.

She gave him an askance look before looking at the photo again. “Where was it taken, grandpa?”

“Here…that is to say, further down the shoreline.”

He put the album and the loose photos along with the string on the coffee table in front of him and invited her to sit on his lap.

“Your mom was almost two years old then and I remember I wasn’t in your grandma’s good books that night.” A smile creased the side of his mouth.

“Why?” she asked, snuggling up to him.

“It was a wild and rainy night and your grandma didn’t want me to take her out,” he chuckled. “I appeased your grandma by wrapping your mom in that blanket over there on the back of the couch.”

“So, who took the picture?”

He looked at her with a big smile and expressive eyes and waited for her answer.

“Grandma?”

Nodding, he said: “Uh-huh. You see, the sheer size and roar of the waves as they thundered ashore that night were the biggest I’d ever seen on Georgian Bay and I wanted your mom to experience it. I guess I must have made a pretty good case for it because your grandma relented and came along.”

He gently tweaked the end of her nose eliciting a giggle from her.

“The truth is that your grandma didn’t need much justification. She saw it as an opportunity to test her photographic skills. As you already know, she was a well known photographer in the area. Some of her work still hangs in the gallery in Meaford City Hall.”

Emma sat straight up on his lap: “Could we go see them tomorrow?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Letting out a satisfied sigh, she snuggled back down with the picture held close to her face. “Tell me more about that night, grandpa.”

“Well…together, the three of us laughed for pure joy when those thundering white capped waves threw great handfuls of froth at us. We could barely hear ourselves speak. I think we all shared the same spine-tingling thrill of the power of nature that night. Many years later, your mom told me that she looked upon that night as her first real adventure in life.”

“Can we do that some time, grandpa?”

“If you’re here and the timing’s right.”

“Phone me. Dad will drive me straight up. Please.” She pleaded.

Hesitating, he remembered her mom as an adult telling him how that night had taught her to accept the world’s elemental things and not to be afraid of the wind, the darkness and the roaring surf.

“That’s a long trip for your dad driving up from Toronto. But, if it’s okay with your dad.” And, he nodded.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss on his cheek.

For a moment they sat in silence until Emma turned over the photo. On the back was written: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world –R.F.

“Who wrote this grandpa?”

“From the handwriting, it was your mother. The initials R.F. tell me it was probably taken from something Robert Frost wrote, one of her favorite poets.

Subliminally, on that stormy autumn night when she was almost two, her mother had begun a journey to learn the lesson that we all must learn and that she had exhaustively tried to teach others. Namely, that we all play a part in the mysterious partnership within life’s complex cycle of events and knowing that made us responsible as part of its community to protect it. Though she had reached the highest levels within her field, she had found it the most difficult lesson to teach.

It’s funny, he thought, how when you’re dead people start listening.

“I wish I had known her,” Emma replied, sadly.

“Me too sweetheart…me too. Maybe this album and the others on the shelf will go a long way in helping you do just that.”

“I’d like to be a marine biologist just like her some day, grandpa?”

“Well then, we had better get started. Get your coat and boots on and let’s discover what lies along the shoreline.” He noticed her eyeing the binder and loose photos on the coffee table. “I haven’t forgotten. They too will be part of your adventure.”

 

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