By Sean Dietrich
The Choctawhatchee Bay is calm this morning. I’m fishing. I always fish on Father’s Day weekend. There is a blue heron standing on the shore, looking at me. He doesn’t move. He only stares. Strange bird.
Today has been an unproductive day. I caught exactly one catfish and an old Pepsi bottle. I have eaten my weight in Conecuh Quick Freeze Sausage and Bunny bread. Things were going fine until this bird showed up for a staring contest. My wife believes people come back as birds after they die. I don’t know how she came up with this idea. Once, outside Mobile, we stopped on a red dirt road so she could introduce herself to a flock of turkey buzzards in a hayfield.
An ugly bird stood a few yards away from the flock. It stared at my wife and would not move. “Do you see that bird?” she said with a grin. “That’s gotta be my daddy!” I threatened to carry her off to Searcy if she didn’t get back into the truck. She ignored me.
But this heron is not ignoring me. He looks at me with sharp eyes. Maybe my wife is on to something. This bird could almost pass for my late father if you used your imagination. Long legs. Bone skinny. Quiet.
“Hey,” I yell to him. He is unmoved. “Don’t you have anything to say to me?” I ask. The bird doesn’t even blink. So I cast my line into the water and pretend I can’t see him. He steps closer. I miss my father. I’m ashamed to tell you that. Because it’s been too many years, I should be over him. I should be grown up. I’m not. It’s Father’s Day weekend, and I’m twelve all over again, floating in my boat. I remember watching Daddy look at a flock of birds, once. His skinny legs came clear up to his shoulders. His gaunty neck was ten-feet long. He said, “Birds really have it made, don’t they? They all seem so, so…” Peaceful. Carefree. Happy. Fill in the blank. Anyway, it gets harder to remember his face, or his laugh. And it’s hard to remember his voice. But I do have a few memories to chew on. And today they’ll have to hold me. I remember the blue shirt he wore the last time I saw him. I remember him singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” while fishing the river. I remember the way he swallowed his tongue for the amusement of his boy. And I remember the last words he said to me: “I’ll see you tomorrow, son.”
Nobody’s called me that in a thousand years. I don’t even remember what it feels like to be one. But I’m not sad, today. I’m just remembering is all. The heron leaps into the air. He takes flight. He makes big circles. His ten-foot-long neck is something else. He moves so gently, it looks like he’s not even trying. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that bird was carefree. Happy, even. I pray he is.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.