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  • MY DADDY. What happened that day? I think he got it about Henry and me. He certainly loved that place; it was as if he’d left a piece of his soul there many years before, and kept coming back trying to find it. He said he was too polite and always claimed that as a flaw in his character: too accommodating, he said. Well, who taught him that? What does it matter? I’d seen him struggling with it over the years. I imagine that’s why he joined the clergy. Too darn polite, he’d say. Nice guys finish last. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.
    My Daddy hated clichés.
    Even though I’d been egging him on to do it, I was surprised and pleased when he went off the deck into the river. I could see he was, too – pleased, at least, maybe not surprised. He seemed to think everything inside him was worthless. He told me once about one of the proudest days in his life...
    Out to the point and back. A mile. Behind a rowboat, there were two of us. I don’t remember who the other guy was, but I do remember feeling after the first mile I could go on till sunset if I had to. The water became my element. I no longer feared it. Whatever was swimming below me was no longer something to dread. They filled us full of North woods Indian lore that summer. Hayo-Went-Ha, Longfellow’s character – there I was, on the shores, and swimming the waters, of ... well, it wasn’t Gitchee-Gumee, the Big Sea Water. It was a northern lake. Torch Lake, near Ellsworth, in Michigan. We swam a mile that day, my friend and I. We swam a mile, earned our black ribbons and the privilege of using the sailboats, and then went to lunch in the dining hall. I felt like a giant; I had accomplished something...
    “You accomplished something just now,” I told him.
    “Sure. I think I ruptured myself, that’s what. I hope your landlord carries a lot of liability insurance.” He grinned at me, reclaimed his glasses, and limped to the cooler. He swiped the water off a bottle of Catamount lager and twisted the cap. When that didn’t work, he pulled up the string to which the bottle opener was attached, pried off the lid, and drained half the bottle in one long swallow. “I learned that trick up here thirsty ... uh ... thirty ... years ago,” he said.
    “See? Another accomplishment,” I said.
    “Not exactly a marketable skill. Besides, thirty years ago, I’d have drained the whole bottle at one go.”
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