Now there I was, the parent left standing on the dock. On the kids’ behalf, I felt elation. And some kind of sadness: time had come for adventures without me. And that was as it should be.
Neal and I began looking for their return around 10 a.m., asking each other only occasionally if we thought they were all right, laughing about how much they’d probably eaten. Sometime about an hour later, I picked them out on the horizon and we walked, didn’t run, to the dock. There’s a glow that takes over children’s faces when joy has got hold of them. And there it was. I could feel it, down to my bones.
They tumbled out of the boat, falling over each other’s sentences as they shared the story of what had, in fact, been a small crisis. The motor had died, and Ben hadn’t been able to restart it. They had rowed toward shore until their arms ached and got close enough for Peter to jump overboard in his life jacket and swim to shore. While Ben kept working on the motor, Peter found a kind man who helped them get the boat to shore and discovered they’d let a rope tangle in the prop. He cut the rope out, saw the motor restarted and wished them well.
The food was all gone. There were no fish. What they were left with, what we all were left with, was the knowledge that in the face of a real challenge they’d survived perfectly well on their own.
Ben had wanted a Gameboy for his 10th birthday. Actually, he’d wanted a Gameboy for every birthday since six. We knew he’d rather have had a Gameboy than the right to drive a small fishing boat, but he’d been gracious in his disappointment. I remembered that on an evening after the fishing trip as he took the boat for the last spin of the day in a light so beautiful it made my heart ache. I watched his blond head glow in a world turned gold, and for a little while I could make out the name he’d carefully lettered on the transom with his father a few nights after his birthday: “Gameboy.”
Deborah Wyatt Fellows is founder and editor-in-chief of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.[email protected]
“In Search of Bluegills” is one of 40 essays collected in Reflections of a Life Up North, a 164-page book that pairs words about this small, spectacular place of the world with some of the magazine’s most stunning photography. Anyone who holds some place close to their heart will find themselves, their families and their memories on these pages.