by Miv Schaaf


There was no factual reason for me to do so; he was an exceedingly good man. Misunderstood, but I did not realize this until after 30 some years. Then I flew back to Michigan to see him, to tell him that finally I liked him, I loved him.

My mother, always the pivot pin of the family, was somewhat shocked when I asked her to leave Father and me alone to talk. We sat on the porch, in the summer evening. Father, silent as ever, smoked his short pipe and nodded; he was always a listener.

The evening drew down, some fireflies came out, and the little green night bugs swarmed against the screen. Inside, alone, my mother read and listened to the radio. "But what did you have to talk about so much?" she asked later. "Oh, 30 years," I said.

Along about midnight, Father held his pipe in his hand and talked. He talked more than I had heard him talk in the whole 30 years I had known him. "You mustn't blame yourself, Mivvie," he said. "I understood; I understand a lot more than you think."

I had only a few days and the aunts in the Upper Peninsula wanted to see me before I went back to California. Father, who had heart trouble (such a stalwart oak to have heart trouble, out of character altogether), said he thought he would not take the long ride north with us. "If you don't go, I don't go," I said. "My whole point in coming to Michigan was to see you, to talk with you."

So he came and then we were there, in Crystal Falls, that tiny northern hill town I love, with the mournful trains running below the family house where the aunts lived now, and down below the railroad tracks, running silver gurgles in the night, the Paint River rolled under the bridge.

The aunts, Mother and I had all day to talk. After dinner I asked Father to walk with me down to the river. The aunts as well as Mother looked surprised.

It was beginning to rain, transparent glinty bursts, shining the railroad tracks, blowing down the hill to the river. Down on the bridge it began to rain softly, quietly, and we stood there, leaning on the railing, looking down into the silver sliding water.

"Let's have a drink at the Crystal Inn," I said to Father. "I've never been there."

It was the only hotel in town, small, quiet. The plain little bar had no aspirations of sophistication, it was not dark at all, just a place for deer hunters to have a drink. We sat at a table and Father ordered a beer; it was Silver Cream, brewed right there in Crystal Falls. I had never liked beer, couldn't stand the taste but, enchanted by the name, I ordered it too. It was heavenly. I never knew anything could taste like that beer did; like our reconciling words, it was cool, soothing, curiously warming.

No beer I have had since tasted like that Silver Cream. (My youngest aunt, Setty, amazed me the next Christmas by sending me a case of 12 Silver Creams from Crystal Falls.)

The next year my father was dead. That rainy night in Crystal Falls was, I always felt, the only Father's Day I knew.

Miv Schaaf, a resident of Big Lagoon, wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 15 years.


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