A Cigar and the Chain of Lakes
Traipsing around with my dad was like being with a rock star. I felt like a groupie with a one man band. My father was like 007 without the eclectic weapons and the skill to destroy; he was charm and class, smooth as silk and handsome and kind without the overflow of words - calm and crisp as a cucumber.
When we walked into school events, a bookstore, a grocery store and especially restaurants, whether they would be the culinary favorites of the North Shore Jews or the seedier, downtown Milwaukee, mom and pop joints, we were always greeted with,
“It’s Dr. Kniaz! How ya’ doin?!”
Every hello was infused with sincere, genuine enthusiasm, joy and a handshake; my father always mirrored back a paralleled excitement - people loved bumping into my dad.
With my hand curled into this, I had the VIP pass to all events.
Of course now I understand the VIP pass was, well, not necessarily a voluntary choice on my dad’s part; he had to take me with him most of the time or risk every bottle of liquid in the house being part of an experiment to see whether or not dish soap and toothpaste would create an explosion or even worse he would find me on the roof trying to connect with some alien presence I swore I saw on the cusp of the earth’s atmosphere and space; I was a handful. I know this because, as examples, when a detective is trying to solve a mystery or an attorney is trying to solve a case and ALL stories line up from all the witnesses that is usually a good sign that the truth is laid out as sharp as a lightning bolt in a storm; guilty - our friends and relatives will attest - handful.
One of the things we loved doing together was spending time in Eagle River, Wisconsin in the late summer. My dad loved fishing, peace and quiet, his cocktails, prime rib, a good cigar and The Chain of Lakes.
You may be wondering - how did he get that peace and quiet part if I came along? I always was allowed to bring a friend. We would spend hours on a pontoon boat during the day squirting worm goo onto the boat rails watching glittery fish line glimmer in the sunlight as the bobber played hide and seek. We would usually dock the boat at a supper club when it got dark and climb our way up a hill to plates of veggies and cheese dip, jello and and an Old Fashioned - my friend and I had Shirley Temples - someone had to drive the boat home!
After one of these long days and nights it was time to park the pontoon at our cabin site. The routine was that my buddy and I would jump off the boat before we securely hooked line to dock. We would be my dad's eyes and ears in the darkness as he went in reverse, straightened out and slid perfectly in place.
On one particular evening before the sun was completely set we went about this routine like well versed pirates without the scurvy or the thievery. The boat seemed to be sidled perfectly next to the dock. My father was still gathering his things as we were making our way back to the cabin when I heard muffled words coming from behind that sounded very much like profanity. We turned around to find my father with one leg on the dock, one leg on the boat and the space between his legs growing larger and larger as the ropes began to unwind at a very unfortunate pace. I looked at my dad with eyes as big as the moon rising and above the cigar burning ever so spicy and smokey in his mouth his eyes looked about as big as mine.
What I saw next is the reason for this story, this memory; may dad’s whole body, fully clothed, went under the chilly Northwoods waters except for his right hand and a half smoked Avo. This moment took seconds though it felt like years and years until I saw his head pop up.
He looked at me, looked up at his cigar and gleamed,
“Ah Ha! I saved it!”
What is silk, class and charm without the ability to laugh at oneself?
I learned so much about life that night. This man who never seemed to ever make a mistake, or ever get messy or ever get wet for that matter - taught me how to have a sense of humor.
Happy Birthday Daddy! I miss you.