Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Shark

Shortly after Dad passed away in 2007, I found this drawing under a guest bed. It was wrapped in a dark brown paper. On the outside it said: "I'm betting on the hunter in the dark . . . There's no doubt we're talking The Shark!" At the bottom it said: "Double your take" and it was signed by Perry Hufffman, Dad's longtime diving buddy. Every Father's Day I take out the picture and think about Dad.

He was a rugged outdoorsman who learned the art of fly fishing as a boy at his father's cabin on the Frying Pan River in Colorado. In the winter, Dad went to a school for fatherless boys in Denver and when school was out for the sumer, he hitchhiked to that cabin. He told me he started doing this when he was nine. His mother dropped off groceries to see him through the summer and Dad learned fly fishing from a neighbor who took Dad under his wing. Dad perfected his fly fishing techniques and could catch trout in any stream when I was young. He often hiked to more remote rivers and I once went with him when I was older and remember watching Dad leap from rock to rock reeling in trout like a pro until he caught his limit.

When our family moved to California, Dad took up free diving off the coast and brought home fish, crab, scallops, abalone and occasionally lobster for dinner. I was sure the ocean was Dad's new treasure trove that would never go away. Freshly caught ocean fish was on our menu more than once a week, and there was always a stash of abalone in the freezer. Dad delighted in showing us how to pound the tough steaks with a meat mallet before Mom dipped the abalone in egg, breaded and fried it.

Even though I prefer vegetables over fish today, when I think about all the seafood Dad put on our table for dinners, I'm impressed. And I'm even more impressed that Dad's last dive was when he was 83. Finn is impressed by this display of wild abalone shells from dinners' past. For a fascinating comparison of abalone shells today, check out the sustainably farmed abalone in California.
A few days after Dad passed away his longtime diving buddy Perry Huffman stopped by to see my brother, sister and I as we cleaned Dad's house. Perry gazed at a large conch shell on a shelf and said, "I could tell you stories about your dad. . . ." That's how we heard the story of "The Shark."

Dad was in his 70s when he, Perry and another buddy went diving off the coast of Belize. Perry noticed a shark circling Dad, but as soon as he called to Dad, another shark had joined the first one. "They were swimming around and around him," Perry said. "I was nervous."

"Bring me my spear gun!" Dad called to Perry. So Perry grabbed Dad's spear gun and started swimming towards Dad. "What was he going to do with the speargun, kill the sharks?" Perry wondered. But suddenly as Perry got closer, the sharks suddenly swam away. "Your dad was the real thing," Perry said. "I'll miss him."

I never heard "The Shark" story while Dad was alive, but I'm glad Perry told us. Now when I think of Dad, I'm not surprised. An adventurous river and ocean forager, Dad packed a lot of fishing stories into his 87 years.

I often wonder now about the stories that got away, the ones we'll never know, and how many were hair-raising ones. When I gaze up at the stars now, I think about "the hunter in the dark." I hope he's catching his limit beyond the rainbow.


Kathy said...

That picture of your dad is priceless! What a terrific story, Thanks for sharing it!

ddzeller said...

The funny thing is there was also a framed version of this picture hanging on a wall in Dad's den. It was slightly different and when I mentioned the second one I'd found to Perry he said my dad told him he'd lost the original, so Perry drew another picture for Dad to frame.