Bonding on the Beach


     I’m invincible (You can read about it here). I get it from my father. It always drives my mom nuts when I say that. She’ll point to the fact that he’s had about 6 different kinds of cancer and he has emphysema or whatever they’re calling the disease you get when you smoked a pack of Lucky Strike non-filter cigarettes every day for 45 years and still bum cigarettes off your son when he comes over (he still kinda tries to hide it from her since she quit in earnest about 10 years ago and reclaimed her long-ago status as a jock). I counter with “Yeah, and he’s still kickin’, Mom. It’s the Sigler genes. Immune systems of steel, I tell ya.”

     Compounding this reality is the fact that I think I’ve seen the man actually ingest 8 fluid ounces of water in my lifetime. Again, for approximately 5 decades, Da’s diet has consisted almost entirely of coffee, red meat, potatoes and red wine. And scrapple. If you don’t know what scrapple is, read about it here. He adopted that particular culinary delight when he was in the Jesuit seminary in Amish country in Pennsylvania in the late ‘60s. Despite how truly nauseating it sounds, scrapple is actually pretty good. I mean, at least it’s natural. And after reading books like Fast Food Nation and the other cursory research I’ve done on food in general, I’d certainly opt for a big plate of those pig parts before I would think about ingesting whatever makes Lucky Charms shine.

     This penchant for defying the laws of nature extends to his exercise habits as well. My brother leads the pack having never smoked, a few marathons under his belt and even learning to cook healthy in his adult years. My mom and I lie somewhere in the middle as she smoked for many years too then quit and now eats pretty darn healthy (I haven’t graduated to packing my own food when I go over to their house for the day, but I’m close. The woman never has anything good in the cupboards or the fridge. Her defense is the same as anybody’s. “If I have it around, I’ll eat it.” Well yeah. I mean, you’re Nana J. You’re supposed to have a cookie jar full of Oreos and Hi-C in the fridge. That’s what your mom always had. Let’s pick up the pace shall we?).

My Da is the same way with his diet as with exercise. I don’t think the man has had a good, strong endorphin rush since the Eisenhower administration. Well, once. When my parents traveled to Ireland, Mom did tell me a story about trekking to the top of a mountain and, upon reaching the summit, my Da commenced hugging and back-slapping his fellow travelers and riding out his natural high. She had to shove a Lucky in his mouth and spoon-feed him Cabernet until he calmed down. And I think the most refreshing thing about the man is that despite the change in behavior of his wife and his two sons over the years, he shows no signs of changing his ways. He is sticking to his guns and he will die with a brat and an Old Style at his bed side and he doesn’t give a shit what his wife, his sons or the FDA’s opinion is.

     I get my love of history from the old man, too. I’ve accompanied him on many outings to historical sites and monuments and I enjoy them just as much as he does. So when he traveled to visit me in Seattle years ago, he posited the idea that we visit Fort Clatsop. The fort itself is on the Oregon side of the Columbia River which feeds into the Pacific Ocean. My memory of the fort is not very generous, but neither is the fort. It’s pretty small. It actually paints a pretty grim picture of what constituted a “fort” in 1805 and an even grimmer one of what it was like to live in those two huvels for 4 months. I mean, I hear “fort” and I think of a great expanse of barracks and mess halls and statues of generals. Ft. Clatsop is about the size of a 7-11. And the jacked-up part is that there were two buildings on the site of the fort, one for all the men who took the journey with Lewis and Clark, and then one exclusively for Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, her French husband and the infant Jean Baptiste. You’d think the guys who get the best room and the most space are the ones who built the freaking fort. But nope. As in most social hierarchies, the prime digs went to the big guys, the Frenchman, his trollop and her incessantly crying little turd.

     I think the reason why I enjoy historical sites as much as my Da is I enjoy picturing a place at the time of its historical significance and what it would have been like for those people who were fresh on the banks of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. We investigated the whole site, then retired to a camp ground right on the beach. Eager to show my father my newfound prowess as an outdoorsman, I set up the tents and the cooking gear and told him all I had learned about “Pack it in, Pack it out” and “Leave no Trace” backwoods etiquette. I cooked us dinner and afterwards, me with a nip and my dog’s head in my lap and him with a coffee mug of wine, we talked as only two guys who love of each other dearly and yet have little in common other than our love of history, literature, baseball and each other can do. By the time he was my age at the time, my Da was married, had served in the military, was married to my mom and was about to start a family. I lacked a steady girlfriend, had bounced around the country a little and at age 23, was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. But it was a pleasant way to end the day. Shortly, we bedded down for the night.

     The next morning, we rose in the same fashion. My brother likes to jokingly call me “Dad” in the morning because, at least at the time, we started the day in the same way: coffee and a smoke. After the morning ritual, I started to break camp and Da fished around in the car for a little breakfast food. I was paying little attention when he came across the three Gatorade bottles. The day before, in an effort to consolidate our wares and conceal the fact that we were consuming alcohol on public grounds, I had poured the vodka into a Gatorade bottle. In identical plastic bottles were my water supply and some Glacier Freeze, also clear fluids. Da absently grabbed the bottle containing vodka and drank heartily on what he thought would be the ounce or two that was his yearly water intake. Instead, he swallowed, hacked a little and shook his head with eyes wide. He looked at me and I smiled mightily.

     “Little hair of the dog never hurt anyone,” I said chuckling. I finished loading the car with our gear and we headed home.

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