Decades Later, an Answer

September 6, 2008

It took more than a half-century, but I finally learned why we ended up living on a lake in Central Florida during my childhood. Not one house but three as we moved clockwise around Lake Sybelia in Maitland from the late 1950s to 1970.

At his eightieth birthday party a week ago, my father recounted how as a boy he cherished summer days spent on a lake near Flint, Michigan, at the vacation home of a friend’s family.

I haven’t asked why he took so long to explain this to my two brothers and me. Aspects of his childhood were unhappy. No, tragic. When I was a little boy, I thought it odd that he remembered so little about his boyhood. But he wasn’t yet thirty. Now it’s clear he didn’t want to talk about his past, even the good times.

His decision to settle on the lake changed our lives. For three boys and their two water-loving dogs, Sybelia and the orange groves surrounding it were paradise — before Disney tried to manufacture one. Or that’s how it seems in memory, which has a way of air-brushing unhappiness.

Knowing the prologue, I picture my father differently than I did all those years ago. He’s rowing along the weeds at dusk, alone. He dips the oars into a sunset cast upon the water. Each slow stroke glides him forward yet back.

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