It’s been thirty-three years today since my dad died and I’m still wrestling with the large hole his early departure from this world left in my life. But far greater than the size of that hole is his inspiration and love.
This following is a story that no one in my family fully believes. For the record it did happen —exactly as I’m going to tell it, and it’s further reason I miss having him around.
My Father and I are paddling a canoe on Cedar Lake. He’s an Eagle Scout and as such, he’s in the stern controlling the direction of our boat. I’m in the bow doing my utmost to provide the forward momentum. To the west of us are the homes of some of Minneapolis’s wealthiest denizens. To the north, nearer to the noise of the freeway, is the purported nude beach. Every kid older than nine has heard about this fantastical place where you can get a look at a real pair of tits, although no one I know has actually seen one —there or any where else for that matter.
To the east, toward downtown, are the rough gravel beaches, strewn with garbage and overgrown with thistles. This is the part of Cedar Lake where drunken Indians come to avenge themselves on hapless Jewish adventurers like my cousin, Jeff Victor who had his Schwinn stolen at knifepoint, or like Mendel Meltzer who was punched bloody and dragged into half-freezing water in his ski jacket.
I hear the dip and swish of our paddles as we approach the center of the lake and then, the sound of men yelling from far away. One man, a shirtless, muscular little Indian dives into the water and backstrokes out to our canoe. The other Indians on shore crane their necks to look, all of them pointing at us and laughing. When the little man reaches our canoe, he grabs it and rocks it back and forth, trying to tip us over and into the lake. I’m terrified but my Dad just laughs and gives him a solid whack between the shoulders with the broad blade of his paddle, hard enough to matter, but good-natured enough to show absolutely no fear.
The Indians on the beach double over with laughter at this. Obviously one of their own being humiliated by two Jews in one of their native watercraft is too much to take. As the little man swims shamefaced back to shore, I’m know my Dad will quickly steer us to another beach and out of harm’s way. Instead, he yells, “Who’s next?”
Now we paddle toward the men assembled on the narrow beach, thirty or forty of them in all. Amazing to me at any rate, when we reach the shore several of them rush to drag our canoe up onto the sand. An older guy in a Ritchie Blackmore tour jacket offers me a can of Diet Rite and my Dad, a swig of Ripple wine from a communal bottle.
My Dad and the men speak for an hour or more about adult things like subsidies, foods stamps, local politics, and sports (my dad knew shit about sports.) With their voices droning behind me I busy myself at the edge of the water by making a fort of twigs and trapping minnows behind a seawall of small stones. And then, as the sun begins to lower itself behind a canopy of basswood trees, the men help us cast our canoe back into the lake. They wave good-bye and wish us well as we paddle out toward our car.
It’s early evening now and the loons can be heard above the din of the dragonflies. From the north, I can hear the distant roar of the Burlington Northern line, which passes by here each day near dusk.
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. He is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which uses music to help unlock innate creativity. Clients include The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, The UCLA School of Nursing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. Himmelman is also an alum of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern. His latest book, Let Me Out(Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016 and is available on Random House Tarcher/Perigee
“Fear is one of life’s biggest roadblocks, which is why Peter Himmelman’s book is so important. Let Me Out gets to the heart of how we can keep fear from limiting our potential by tapping into our inner resilience, creativity, and strength. There’s deep wisdom here along with very practical tools for translating our ideas into the real world.” – Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post