Category Archives: Letters to my dad

What DNA might have to do with a love for the sea…

The same visual comes to mind every time I find myself sitting on a beach in the southeastern United States. It’s spring of 1972, and my parents have sprung me from school to spend two weeks in the Florida Keys. Dad, a biologist, is spending a one- year sabbatical studying marine biology at Florida Presbyterian (now Eckerd College). We’re camping at John Pennekamp State Park on Key Largo. I see my dad sitting perfectly still on an aluminum and web chair on the beach. As I approach, he whispers to walk carefully. That’s when I see the blue crabs skittering in circles around his chair. He grins at me. I join him.

The memory ends there. I don’t think we caught any crabs — just sat and observed them.

Genetics were my dad’s thing and if he was around, I’d ask him a few questions.  Sadly, he died after a two-year bout with cancer 16 years ago. For example, do genetics play any part in the fact that the minute I begin to smell the ocean, my heart slows and I feel instant relaxation? Is there something in my Pannabecker DNA that propels me to the beach at 5:30 a.m., where I will walk literally for hours at low tide?

During a recent vacation on Tybee Island, Georgia, I was walking along the beach early in the morning when I heard a dad talking with his young children about the blue crabs in their bucket. He saw me watching, grinned and beckoned me over to look. Suddenly, I was transported back to 1972 and there was Dad grinning at the blue crabs, his toes curling in excited anticipation.

Unfortunately, I had no camera with me on my walk on Tybee, so the blue crabs are just stored in my memory. But that same morning, I discovered my “find of the week” — a huge horseshoe crab, its insides having been devoured by some other ocean creature. IMG_0514[1]IMG_0515[1]

IMG_0534[1]IMG_0529[1]None of my other finds during the week quite measured up to the crab, and I’m wise enough not to pick up a jellyfish. And what’s a trip to the beach without a search for the perfect pretty shell?

Genetics? Maybe. A simple case of inherited love for the sea? Probably. Whatever.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Advertisements

15 years later, celebrating the memories

I often wonder why it is that in my dreams, my dad always appears to be perfectly healthy. None of the pain and suffering that he went through during the last few years of his life seem to make their way into my nighttime images.

A few years ago, it occurred to me that every October, I begin to experience a sense of dread and depression. I finally connected this to the fact that it was late September/early October of 1997 when we realized that Dad’s fight with cancer was ending. On October 24 of that year, he died.

So this year, preparing for the usual bout of depression, I decided to refocus my thoughts, to remember the good times with Dad. To outsiders, he was quiet, shy, and — at least to his less serious students — a bit too challenging in the classroom. But those who knew him well appreciated his dry wit, his slow, well worded responses, his love of all genres of music (Pink Floyd was a favorite), his diverse interests — gardening, woodworking, exercise, baking, photography, even macrame.

And to six kids, he was just Grandpa. The guy who could answer all of their toughest questions, tell the best stories, give the best massages, stay underwater in the pool longer than anyone else, and fix whatever was broken.

Dad agreed with the well-known photographer Ansel Adams, that ““You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

When we moved our mom from the house they’d lived in for nearly 50 years and later, from her condo, we sifted through — literally — thousands of photographs and slides taken by Dad, his dad and his uncle. As is usually true of the photographer, their lenses are usually focused on the rest of the world so images of them are rare. But in my own attic are boxes of photos, from which I found some favorites. It’s true that photos can tell a story.

Letter to Dad, part 2

Dear Dad,

Guess what. It’s fruit fly season again and you know what that means. We’re inundated and you know how happy that makes me. But I have to thank you for taking Fred under your wing and teaching him the fine art of fruit fly food production.

Last night I arrived home to find Fred preparing assorted berries for a pie he planned to bake. As soon as he had that in the oven, he admitted that we now had a “little fly problem”. Something in the back of my brain kicked in and I could see your grin light up your face and hear your gleeful, “Oh goody, time to make fruit fly food.”

I remember all too well those hot summer days, coming home from the pool to find you stirring something on the stove….it usually turned out to be that thick syrupy concoction. Standing on the counter nearby was a bottle with a paper cone taped to the mouth, just waiting for you to fill it with…yep…fruit fly food.

So anyway, there was Fred, pouring goop into a tall bottle with the all-too-familiar cone…with that RFP evil scientist grin down pat.

Lo and behold, this morning, the fruit flies had abandoned the countertop and windowsills for the syrup and there they were, trapped inside. Gorging, no doubt.

Dad, you taught us so many useful things, like how to trap a fruit fly, how to back a car into a tiny campsite, how to give a really good foot massage, how to watch tv and grade papers at the same time, how to make the perfect angel food cake, and how to remove the tiniest splinter from a screaming child. I still have your forceps.

I’m sure you knew, but I’m sure I never said it enough. Thanks.

Love you,

Mary