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The International Writers Magazine: Lake Memory - Minnesota

Lake Reflections
• Tyrel Nelson
I exit the hardware store with new work gloves in hand. I immediately slip them over my numbing fingers. The wind of the gloomy February afternoon picks up as I hustle to my pickup. The Minnesota winter is stinging, and I can’t wait to get back to the warm confines of home.

Lake

I fire up the Ford. Setting the heat to high, I can’t take my eyes off the pier a few hundred yards ahead. It’s a familiar sight, a site I have driven by hundreds of times over the years, but haven’t visited in decades. While the whipping gales rock the Ranger like a bobblehead, I stare through my windshield, trying to figure out why I’m now being drawn to the pond. I shift into first.
           
A forlorn feeling fills my cab as I approach the loch. Sporadic groups of trees and dead cattails line its desolate shores. Two crows circle high above; the only animals to be seen. Not a soul is ice fishing, nor is there anyone on the decaying trail surrounding the mere. Although the lake is nestled in the southwest quadrant of two intersecting interstates—within a stone’s throw of the local airport—it is the loneliest pond I have ever seen. I park in the park’s empty lot.
Lake I’m just a few steps into my walk when something jogs my memory. I notice an opening in the cattails, a clearing perfect for a couple of shoreline anglers. Familiarity lures me to the fishing spot. I know I have been here before, however, I can’t determine when.  Studying the various sets of footsteps atop the ice, I retrace my own. For minutes I scroll through the pictures in my head. I stop at an image from almost thirty years ago.
I’m only four or five. I cast my line and immediately get a bite. WHOOM! The tug is incredible, practically ripping the rod outta my tiny hands. I somehow manage to hang on. I’m excited. I reel with all my might. Nothin’ doin’ though. Despite my valiant effort, I can’t seem to bring in the beast. Moreover, the tables seem to be turned. I’m actually being yanked into the water. But I don’t let go; I keep cranking and cranking. The lake is up to my waist when I hear a thunderous noise from behind.
           
SPLASH! SPLASH! SPLASH! SPLASH! SPLASH! Two Popeye-like forearms instantly appear around mine. The pull from the abyss weakens. The fishing pole is nearly vertical. And the sea monster (a large northern in reality) is finally brought to the surface. I am mesmerized by its cold black eyes while it angrily dangles above the ripples.
           
Next we’re back on land. My barrel-chested father is kneeling, wrapping the pike in his T-shirt. He’s in his prime: young, strong, and full of life. He looks up at me. His bearded grin is ear-to-ear. The flashback fades.
           
Tears are streaming down my face. I realize it has been over a year since I last saw Dad smile. The date is February 20, 2012. My pop died on Valentine’s Day 2011. I resume my stroll saddened by this truth.
           
The path leads me to more reminders of my childhood. Upon seeing the lone fishing dock, I recall painstakingly placing my feet on its wooden planks, terrified of falling between the cracks. I also remember watching a fisher reel in a snapping turtle the size of a manhole cover from the end of the platform. Focusing on a trailside bench, I envision my old man approaching a couple of anglers in need. The guys appear to be in their twenties, and one is trying to delicately remove the multi-hooked lure deeply entrenched in his pal’s cheek.
Fishing Dock

Even though the injured man is surprisingly quiet, his face advertises agony. My father regretfully concludes there is nothing he can do to help and promptly suggests the fishermen go to the emergency room.

In fact, I can almost see the VA Medical Center from here. I naturally reflect upon the days surrounding my dad’s cancer diagnosis. Picturing myself sitting at the foot of his hospital bed, I think about our chats. I replay one heart-to-heart in particular.
“Jay’s handling this better than me.”
“Your brother’s tough; not much gets to him.”
“That’s for sure. I’m way more emotional than he is.”
“Yeah, but it’s also good to be emotional. And you’re pretty tough too, Tyrel.”
I sigh. I miss Pop’s boosts of confidence. I miss his love.
Lake Nevertheless, I am comforted by this stroll along Memory Lake. I am convinced my father has drawn me to the pond—a childhood scene that has opened a floodgate of recollections—to show he’s still looking after me. I close my eyes. I see him smiling down upon me. With that in mind, I gaze at the heavens as I round the final bend in the shoreline. I believe Dad is watching me from somewhere beyond the passing planes. Although I can’t see him, I have faith I will someday; just not on this plain.

© Tyrel Nelson October 2012
Tyrel
tyreln(at)gmail.com  

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