I was in a rather crummy mood as I left the office this evening. I told myself, “Krysta, it’s OK to feel shitty right now… something shitty happened and just because 12 years have passed since it happened doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still feel it.”
I managed to arrive on the Bart platform JUST as my train was boarding. Phew! But wait… yet again, there were no seats available. As I looked at the faces of the seated passengers I remember thinking, “Can’t you see? I’m grieving over here… and all you’re doing is staring at your little phones without a care in the world-” I stopped myself, I realized I was going to need to take action to move past this bitterness. But what could that be?
I put on my headphones and blasted “Henehene Kou ‘Aka” by Israel Kamakawiwao’ole. (Hawaii is my happy place.) Then I opened Facebook to look for my favorite photo of my dad – it’s the one of him as a kid holding his pet raccoon. “Grr! We’re in the tunnel under the bay and there is no internet!” And then I remembered about my photo box. “That’s what I’ll do, when I get home I’ll go through my box to see what photos I can find.”
When I arrived home, I found my antiquated box full of pictures from my prom, my high school graduation, my summer job at RIT and finally, the photos from the fishing trip with my dad. These fishing trip photos were taken the last time I ever saw him… I can’t believe I had totally forgotten about this trip! It was such a magical trip – even more so since it almost never happened. I realized what I needed to do… I needed to capture this story so I could remember it forever.
So the story begins…
It was summer break after my second year as an engineering student at RIT. I was working a summer job as a campus housing assistant and at 19 years old, I was having a ball. This was the summer I had finally convinced my parents to let me bring my car to school – this was a very big deal for them!
In the middle of July, I started to feel a little homesick… I realized, “Hey, I have a car now! What’s stopping me from taking the 6-hour drive to Jersey? Oh, thats right… my job!” I talked it over with my coworkers and they kindly swapped shifts with me so I could take a few days off the following week. I called home to let my mom know I was headed home on an impromptu trip.
There are two things I remember vividly about that weekend at home. The first was the fishing trip and the second I’ll get to later. My dad loved his boat — and despite being laid off from his job of almost 35 years with no real alternatives for income, my parents sunk a sizable sum of money into boat repairs. When I asked my mom why they would do that when times were so tough, she said my dad needed it as an outlet. That it gave my father a sense of freedom – I didn’t understand this at the time.
To start the trip, my dad had to get the engine warmed up – I can still remember the roar of the motor, the splashing of the water and our dog, Lucky running around and barking with excitement! “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!!”
First we needed to fill the tank with gas. Ever see a gas station for boats? It’s pretty neat. We’d always go to the Good Luck Point Marina. Here I’m posing for a photo-op with Lucky as my dad pumps the gas behind me. I had to hold on to Lucky otherwise he’d run off exploring on the deck and get into all kinds of trouble. Don’t get me wrong, Lucky was an amazing dog. In fact, when we first got Lucky when I was 11, my father and I instantly bonded over him.
And… we were off! It was about 30 minutes of rip roaring through the salty jersey bay to get to the channel that connects to the Atlantic. Here we’re in line headed towards Barnegat Light – the end of the channel. I love this picture. It captures the essence of this trip so well – a carefree day with the warmth of the sun on my face, the relaxing sounds of the drifting boats, seagulls and nothing but the freedom of the great big sea ahead of us.
My father safely navigated us out to sea and found us the perfect spot to fish. Here my father is throwing out the water anchor to help stabilize the boat as Lucky stands on the stairs to assess the situation.
Next, we put bait on our lines and dropped in our lures. Almost instantly I had a bite! I reeled it in to find a nice looking fluke on my line. Just like magic I kept reeling them in for a total of five fish! My father, however, wasn’t so lucky… he only caught one the entire trip. :-)
When the fish stopped biting altogether, my father pulled in the anchor and navigated our ship through the channel and back to port. It was a fantastic day out at sea.
As I mentioned earlier, there was one other thing I remember about this weekend trip. It was saying goodbye to my dad. When it was time for me to head back to RIT, my father walked out to my car with me as I held Lucky in my arms. I clearly remember thinking, “Wow, this is the first time I’ve felt like a real adult in the presence of my parents…” I got completely swept up in the moment – I tried not to let my dad see that I was crying but I’m sure I failed miserably. My dad put my bags in the trunk and I handed Lucky to him. He stood there at the curb with Lucky in his arms as I got settled in the car. I can still remember looking back at him through my rear view mirror as made my way back to school. Little did I know, this was the last glimpse I would ever have of my father.
As I write this twelve years later, I’m realizing just how lucky I am to be working a block away from the beautiful San Francisco bay. Whenever I find a few minutes to spare, I take the short stroll down to Pier 7. Once I pass beyond the concrete sidewalk and onto the wooden planks, I find myself returning to the channel at Barnegat Light. I feel the warmth of the New Jersey sun on my face, I hear the cry of the seagulls as they scavenge for food and I see the fishermen with their lines out to sea. As I gaze out at the end of the pier, I pause to experience the freedom of the waves. When I hear the purr of a passing fishing boat, it’s in these moments that I’m back at home, on my dad’s boat, without a care in the world.
Richard Walter Sadowski Jr.
December 30th, 1948 – October 2nd, 2002