My father likes to ride the peaks and valleys of waves as if he were a rogue roller coaster conductor. Behind the steering wheel of a boat, he’s in his element. Sometimes he meets waves head on, driving the bow straight into them and turning the boat into a lowrider. Sometimes, he meets waves port-side, stalling on peaks and rocking side to side. Sometimes, he makes sharp turns, directing the boat back over its own wake as the water churns and waves from all directions crash into one another. And as we ride away the water settles, returning to it’s glassy stillness. This, for all his frenzy, is what my father finds on his boat: peace.
Our first summer at Deep Creek Lake, my father rented a jet ski, mostly as an attempt to shake me out of my brooding teenage melancholy. Our second summer, he rented a boat, and shortly after, he bought one of his own. A nine-person, jet-engine Polaris, the boat was named after what my parents used to call me as a baby, “Tamaris.” My father polished her with care that first summer, taking the time to treat the fiberglass body and leather seats. His care has paid off in the form of eight years of family vacations, eight years of memories.
On the lake, each day begins much the same for my father, an early riser. Up before the sun, he dresses in his joggers, layers of tee-shirts and crew-neck sweatshirts, topped by a windbreaker and one of his fraying caps. Then, a few cigarettes as my mom wakes and dresses. Together, they bear the brunt of the morning chill, riding across the lake in the fog of dawn to Trader’s Coffee House for their dry cappuccinos.
Around 9 or 10, the morning warms, and we all head out to boat for tubing or water skiing or just riding around. The first few years we spent at the lake, the highlight of each day was hanging on for dear life atop a bloated red inner-tube trailing the boat as my father drove the only way he knows: fast and furious. I had some of the most meaningful conversations on this inner-tube with dear friends, spoken between yelps and complaints of sore arms. The thrill of tubing was matched only by our girlish evening adventures to Smiley’s, the typical kitschy vacation fun park, Uno’s Pizza or the local ice cream parlor, at which we always anticipated meeting a summer fling with tubes of lip gloss at hand.
A few summers ago, a rip on the inner-tube rendered it unusable and the frenetic energy of the teenage years gave way to something less thrill-seeking.
This August at the lake, our second week-long family vacation was overcome by a bout of rain. Confined to our rental home and its covered front porch, gray afternoons were filled with murder mystery novels and watercolor painting. And on the days the sun made an appearance, we made the most of riding the wavy waters, anchoring off the sandy shore of the state park beach, and letting the sun bake our skin in that sweetly dizzying way that only a summer sun can.
With the bill of his cap tipped forward, my father sat in the seat facing the steering wheel. His belly rose and fell with steady, half-asleep breathing, his fleshy shoulders relaxed. The wrinkles on his tanned face were more defined in the high-noon sunlight, but the usual weight of the world seemed absent.