Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Burying Fish


As a writer I’m always getting edited. Sometimes as a person I feel like people are trying to edit me. Life can be challenging—much like writing a short story.

Last week I received an e-mail via this blog about an essay I wrote over two years ago about Lake Erie called Wild Waves Motel. Tim wanted to catch me up on some of the facts my piece left out or entirely screwed up. My memory was definitely terrible. Mainly he and I connected over the emotional touchpoints.

What I loved most about his taking issue with my memoir flash was his take or perspective. As a kid when I got up early to wander down to the water—can you imagine today’s helicopter parents letting their kid wander down to the beach alone?!—I’d occasionally notice one or two dead fish washed up. He also remembered the dead fish, for his own reasons.

Lake Erie back then was a little better than a cesspool. It would be a few more years of concentrated effort and a decided shift away from manufacturing and industries that polluted before the lake could begin to recover. Fish kills occurred with regular frequency—so much so that Tim was given the chore by his grandfather to hustle down before the guests awoke and bury the disgusting evidence. Mostly what I saw was a little strip of beach washed clean except for a few water logged sticks and shards of wave-washed porcelain mixed in with the smooth pebbles lining the shore. The fact that I mentioned seeing dead fish meant he hadn’t done his job or missed some.

It was a long time ago. No need to feel bad about it.

The image, though, of a young boy burying fish has stayed with me. It is a poignant reminder of our own mortality. We try to deny it or the fact that it happens. So many of the people mentioned in the piece and my other entries under the tag Lake Erie or Wild Waves, they’re gone or almost. Tim’s parents and, of course, the grandparents who hired my Mom and Dad have all passed away.  

If only it were as simple to keep the things we love, to keep it all perfect, the memories polished and untarnished. But there are those damn fish smelling things up. We bury them, but one or two are always popping up to remind us.

The lake is still here, the cliffs beneath our feet, even the old Wild Waves. We look out onto the lake, the slate blue water receding into a pale blue sky and wonder—how long?

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