As this post goes live – 10:00 a.m. on June 15th, 2015, it is the 99th anniversary of marine mail delivery for the Lake Geneva Mailboat in Wisconsin – a phenomenon so unique, I’m writing a novel about it. On top of that, this Sunday is Father’s Day. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered a deep connection between my feelings for the Mailboat and my feelings for my dad. The following is an adaptation from my personal journal.
Sam, my surrogate father, had accompanied me to one of my counseling sessions. He had convinced me to seek counseling to help resolve the deep issues I had surrounding the death of my father when I was only two.
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
I’d finally quit having nightmares about trying to escape my dominating mother, and instead I was dreaming about Lake Geneva and the Mailboat. The question in my mind was, Why? Like my dreams about my mother, my dreams about the Mailboat seemed too significant to be coincidental.
Val, my counselor, explained that there were theories about dreams, one being that the people, places, and significant objects in our dreams symbolized a theme we were conflicted about and trying to sort out subconsciously.
“For instance, what does your mother represent to you?” Val posed.
“Control,” I replied. Specifically, her control over my life.
“So your mother appearing in your dreams may reflect your search for control over your own life.”
I noded. That felt pretty acurate.
“What does the Mailboat symbolize to you?”
I turned my head and gazed blankly at Val’s book case. How funny. Why had I never asked myself this question? This was precisely the kind of question I would have asked. And yet, I never had.
“I know what the Mailboat means to my characters,” I finally ventured.
Val tipped her head sideways. “That’s a good enough place to start.”
For Bailey, a teen mail jumper and the main character, the Mailboat symbolized something constant, unchanging, and dependable. “For her, growing up in foster care, it felt like she could never depend on anybody to be there for her. And then there’s the Mailboat—delivering mail around the lake every day, every summer, for a hundred years. And Tommy, the captain, has been there for fifty of those years. She’s never seen anything that constant. Of course, I threaten all that in the story.”
Val smiled with interest, but didn’t ask for details. She correctly guessed that I wasn’t likely to give them. Spoilers, and all that.
Then there was Tommy. His feelings about the Mailboat were very similar. It was something that was always there for him. “When he lost his son, his answer was to show up at work. He could always depend on the Mailboat and the routine. Of course, I threaten that in the story, too.”
Obviously, the overall theme of the Mailboat, in the story, was something that was always there. But what did it mean to me?
“I have an idea,” Val said. “And this may be nothing. It’s just a shot in the dark.” She grabbed a fresh sheet of paper from her desk and leaned over her clip board for a moment, scribbling. She held up her board when she was done.
On the page, she had written across the top “Mailboat.” And underneath it she had written “male boat.”
“Sometimes our brains make subconscious associations,” she explained.
I frowned at the words on her page. This was not the first time I’d heard the word “male” used in place of “mail,” and the context was always off-color. So, no. There was no way I was subconsciously creating that connection every time I thought of and dreamed about the Mailboat.
Val determined by the frown on my face that we hadn’t quite hit upon the symbolic meaning of the Mailboat to me. Her gaze drifted upwards, searching. “What about just the word ‘boat’? What do boats mean to you?”
I slammed into the answer so fast, it left my teeth rattling.
“My dad,” I said in a heartbeat.
Val looked at me, her eyes illumined.
I sat a little smaller, almost embarrassed by how suddenly the words had sprung out of my mouth. In a softer voice, I explained, “My dad used to sail boats. So now any kind of boat reminds me of him.”
I had a face-palm moment. How had I never drawn that connection before? The Mailboat symbolized my dad to me. That’s why this whole story about fathers and daughters revolved around boats. Around a boat that symbolized everything I wanted in a dad. Someone who was always there. That connection had been right at the tip of my fingers, and yet I had never reached it.
“My mom says he used to have a hard time finding anybody to be his crew on his sail boat.” It was one of the few stories my mother had ever told me about my dad. “He used to take my half-brother John, but he would always argue with him about how things should be done. So he’d take my mom, and she’d just do everything he said. They won a lot of races. But she didn’t enjoy herself. She was kind of scared. They went to a regatta on Lake Superior once and they did a practice run. The waves were so high that when they got back to shore, my mom said, ‘Forget it. Find somebody else to be your crew. I’m not going out on that lake again.’”
I sighed and slumped my shoulders. “When I heard that story, I was like … I wish my dad had waited for me. I would have been his crew.”
Val gave me a sympathetic smile. If my dad had lived long enough to create memories with me, these were the memories I would have wanted to have.
I glanced at Sam, who had been listening to our conversation with deep interest, and something possessed me to ask, “You wouldn’t like to learn how to sail a boat, would you?”
To my surprise, Sam said, “Sure. I love being on the water.”
I sprang up straight in my chair. “Really?” Then I thought of how outlandish it would be to buy a sailboat. “It wouldn’t have to be a sailboat. Sailboats are expensive.”
Sam shrugged. “Any kind of boat. When Jen and I were in Superior last summer, we saw people with those stand-up paddle boards, and I thought, ‘That looks like fun.’”
“Or canoes,” I said. “Or kayaks. They rent kayaks at the state park.”
“Sure. Any kind of boat.”
“You’ll take me kayaking next summer?”
He nodded. “I will. We’ll do that.”
Unreal. The one thing I’d always dreamed of doing with my dad. And it was actually gonna happen. Sort of. Just not with my first dad, and not with a sailboat. Whatever. Close enough. Way, way close enough.
On top of that, I had at last unraveled why the Mailboat was so meaningful to me. Why this story about fatherless daughters revolved around a boat. It was the boat that was always there, as regular as the mail. It was a symbol to me of the father I’d always wanted. The one I had now. The one who was going to take me boating in the summer.
To Sam, the Daddy I waited for my whole life. The first daddy who was always there for me. You are my hero.
To the Mailboat. 99 years, and still going strong.