Home & Away series

Cait is telling her grandpa a story in the boat, the wind sticking her hair to a lollipop she bought for a quarter at the cannery store. We pull up to the net in front of our cabin, where my father-in-law, 78, is picking with a crewman. He doesn’t miss a pick, no matter the weather, fierce tides, aching hands.

Didn’t expect to see you here! Papa shouts.

Well, here I am! My dad shouts back.

And me, wanting for them to be here always. Dad came for a weekend to help with cabin projects. Now pay attention, my memory isn’t so good these days. Right away, inevitably, he slices open his knuckles on the sharp metal as we wrestle a dryer front over the drum. A deep cut that we wrap with Band-Aids and tape, but by dinner he’s also fixed the rusting grill and the wrapping is black and filthy. Which is the state of his hands generally—nicked and bleeding, garden dirt or motor oil in the creases, orange scented with GOJO scrubbed off in the shop sink. We have homegrown tomatoes with dinner, tomatoes he brought out bubble-wrapped with care although they’re sturdy as small stones you might carry home for the satisfying fit in your hand, with all the sweetness that store-bought lack. A pleasure to cut, nothing spilling to the sides of the knife blade. While we grill salmon, we watch Cait and her brothers on the trampoline.

Pretty soon you’ll have to live with her at 13. Do you remember those years? he asks.

You mean living with jerks? I’m sorry for all that Dad.

Well, I guess it’s a part of life. You learn from it.

I could have learned so much more, I think. Fixing engines in the driveway, bringing dead appliances back to life. As a teenager, I resented having to help. What I have learned from him is love as time, as doing. Building the frame of this cabin we live in. Caring for seedlings through months of transplanting and attention. Tonight, Dad and I stand on the deck searching the evening sky for the snap of swallow wings. There’s one, we point, as swallows dive and vanish against the shade of mountains across the bay, then reappear like some small glimpse of grace against pale sky and calm water.