Bring me the Oar!
Cherry wood, 5'3"
I have been thinking for a long time about how to tell this story.
You and I have always loved water, and share an affinity with boats, ships, and water-faring vessels. I remember when I was a teenager, we went to the Wooden Boat Festival and picked up pamphlets about a school where a person could study to become a shipwright. I loved working with my hands, the feel of wood, the idea of the seaworthy, and the twin senses of adventure and fear raised by the prospect of a voyage. I was pretty certain I knew what I would be doing next, but life changes and we wind down other paths.
People don’t want to die. It is hard to be there when someone you love is dying, but I would not dream of being anywhere else. I remember, it was only a few days before your last one with us, although we could not have known it then. We were talking in the living room, where you now spent all of your days and nights in a hospital bed. You had asked me to bring the picture of “mum” where you could see it, a photograph of Kinuko Takatani, my grandmother and your mother-in-law. It was a black and white photograph I had taken many years ago, a few weeks before she passed. I placed her next to the photograph of your own mother, the one Julia had taken. You seemed content to have these two together, and within sight.
We were sitting like this for some time, you in the bed thinking, and me on a chair dozing. You asked me, what are we going to do with all of our things? I asked, these things? indicating the objects in the room. You said, yes, if we are leaving, what should we do with all of our things? I said, I don’t think we need to do anything, we can leave them right here, we aren’t going to be needing them. Then you asked me, how are we going to get there?
I will never forget this moment, trying to imagine what you were seeing when you said there. I knew you were talking about a place outside of this visible world, someplace on the other side of the thin veil that separates us from the rest of the unseen and unknown world.
How are we going to get there? I asked. Yes, you answered. I thought about it a moment. Since we won’t be taking anything, I guess we can travel however we want, I said. I began to list the more usual ways of travel – well, you love a road trip, I said, we could drive there. We could be bored and cramped and take a plane, or we could take a train and watch the landscape go by. Or, we could set forth by boat. You were liking these options, and as the mood felt playful, I suggested, we could even drift away on a cloud! We had a little laugh at this, and you went quiet.
I reflected on all the trips we had taken together and the ones you had taken with mom. You always preferred to drive or go by land or water. We had been all over the country in a car; you had traveled by train, and by ship across two seas, to Europe and to Australia.
You lay there thinking, maybe you were remembering these same journeys, or maybe you were imagining the terrain of the unknown place we were going, a place only you could see. Finally you looked at me and asked, how would you go? I just smiled and said, you know me dad, I love boats. I would go by boat! A sailboat, or a steamship, or a rowboat, or maybe a canoe. You smiled back and said, that sounds good.
Evening fell and we were gathered in the living room. I had made arrangements for mom to have a night off. You remember, by those days she was always sleeping on the couch and looking pretty tired. Sometimes she would agree to sleep in her bed and I would sleep on the couch, to be there should you need anything. You eventually fell asleep, and I settled down on the couch for the night.
Bring me the oar! you called out. I woke suddenly, leaping from the couch. Your eyes were open and you were looking upwards. I came to the bedside. You were looking right at me, but I was not sure if you were really seeing me. I knew what you were asking for. I laid my hand on your arm and your eyes closed, and you returned to sleep, or to whatever world you already had one foot in.
I have thought every day of this since you’ve been gone, of you calling out, bring me the oar! I think about how I should make you one. And how I would like to make you a boat, too.
I know it has been over a year since you asked, but look, here, I have started it. It is carved from cherry, a tree you loved to look at in blossom in the spring and to enjoy its delicious fruits at harvest time. Do you remember how we would go to the orchard and pick them by the bucketful? You always ate so many, saying cheerily, “one for the bucket, one for me”. It was always cherry season during O-bon. Mom would pack our suitcases full of double-bagged fresh cherries and we would have to squeeze in our personal belongings around them. Remember how we would bring those cherries to Hawai’i and everyone was always so happy to eat them! We had already eaten our fill, and would be looking around for their mangoes and pineapples and papayas and apple bananas and jabon and avocados.
This year, I missed you so much. We all did. We sewed our yukatta together. I made your boat of bamboo and kozo; Karen helped me. We sent it to sea from the Big Island. We celebrated your hatsubon. We placed your remains in a wooden box we knew you would love, and settled you in at Punchbowl. You would have approved of the 21-gun salute.
When I returned to California, I found this cherry wood. It was late July and just a few days before your birthday. I had it cut to my height, and began to carve. I have not forgotten.
I am bringing you the oar.