In mid July, my immediate family and my mom’s brother’s family convened at a lake in eastern Oregon to have a family memorial for my brother Vic and to scatter some of his ashes. Most summers while growing up we spent time at this lake with my mom’s side of the family. My Mom’s parents had a boat, and we would meet at Paulina Lake, stay in small rustic log cabins and fish. My brother, sister and I each spent time as a baby, in a box, wrapped up in blankets, at the bottom of the boat, rocked by the gentle motion of the ripples on the lake. I guess you could say our earliest fishing lessons were more by osmosis than actual hands on. Since Vic loved to fish, and he loved Paulina lake, we felt that Paulina Lake was an appropriate and sentimental place to return him to.
My grandparents and my parents (who were taught by my grandparents) taught us kids to fish. Linda, Vic and I learned to bait hooks to “still fish” in an anchored boat, and how to hold the pole in the right position while “trolling”. We learned to reel in if someone caught a fish to prevent line tangles, and when a little older, how to net the fish. Managing the lines of 3 little kids was no easy task, and tangles happened. Mom and grandma patiently straightened things out while my grandfather told tales to entertain us. Our early lessons didn’t end with the techniques of fishing, we we were also taught to clean our catch early on. Standing on log round at the sink, we learned how to not only clean the fish, but how to determine if it was a boy or a girl, and what it had been feeding on.
Vic and my cousin Heidi had talked last fall about having a family reunion at Paulina this summer. When the Oregon and Washington parts of the family were here in December for Vic’s memorial service, the plan was put into action to carry through with this trip as Vic would have liked us to do. By January, a date was set, cabins reserved, and vacation time set aside to spend 5 days at Paulina Lake reminiscing and telling stories about Vic, and bidding him goodbye once again.
We hadn’t all been together at Paulina since the late 80’s when my grandmother was still alive, and there was much excitement about being together again at the lake. I was totally caught off guard by my emotional response to being at a place where I had spent so many happy times with my brother. I walked into my Uncle’s cabin the first night, and on the fireplace was a 11×14 inch picture of my “20 something” year old brother sitting in one of these mountain cabins. He was toasting the camera person, with what was most likely a rum and coke. What struck me was the memory of that the big smile on his face and how happy he looked. It totally caught me by surprise and I started to cry. It was as if I had walked into the room and he was right there with us.
Tears would well up and spill over many times during those 5 days. My emotions were raw and my heart ached. It didn’t take much for my feelings to surface and for me to feel that deep loss once again. No matter how much time passes, and how many tears I shed, there seems to be an endless supply where those came from.
My sister and my dad worked out the logistics and the plan for the memorial service. My mom and dad put some of VIc’s ashes in little bottles labeled with his name and dates of birth and death. There were enough bottles so that each family member, even the two and three year olds, had a little bit of Vic to with as they wished – to scatter, to keep, or to do a little of both. A quiet place on the lake with a narrow beach was selected and my sister would “officiate”(if that’s even the right word) the ceremony.
The day was sunny and warm, and the lake was smooth as glass, as our little flotilla of 5 boats, with all 24 family members, made it’s way across the lake to the cove. It was quiet in our boat, except for the drone of the motor, for the 20 minute boat ride across the lake. I drove the boat from the back with tears streaming from the time we left the dock. When we were all firmly on land, my sister beautifully summarized why we were gathered (through her tears) and read a verse my dad had picked out. My nephew Luke played “Summertime” on his trumpet as each person silently said his/her own goodbyes and scattered Vic’s ashes quietly into the water. After hugs and more tears, we loaded back into the boats and my father lead the way as we cut through the glassy waters, leaving a trail of rose petals behind us as we drove away from the beach.
I feel as if another chapter closed as I said goodbye to my brother once again – this time in both the emotional and physical sense of the word. I choose to let the memory of my brother during the good times in his life, when he was vibrant and happy, out weigh the tumultuous times that proceeded his death. I know he is at peace now which makes him being gone a little easier to bear. Though he is physically gone, he will not be forgotten now, or ever.