It was clear from his gingerbread beard and far-seeing eyes that he had descended way back there from Vikings who went to sea and dominated the northern European islands. His more immediate ancestors had not been afraid to cross the great oceans, but then they didn’t want to be sea captains because it was good to come home at the end of the day.
So some settled on the Great Lakes of America to run a fishing boat and there it soon became clear that it wasn’t the family home that the shore man needed, but rather the tavern, the convivial company of roaring men where he could tell stories and sing out the hero songs about surviving impossible storms. The family home is where he went to eat and sleep when he was drunk and worn out — the family itself merely a necessary nuisance, always wanting more.
Sometimes he didn’t care so much about the tavern and came home before the children went to bed. He liked to wrestle with them, the puppies, and tumble about with them on the floor. So he got a little carried away with it sometimes and the kids refused to settle and sleep, but so what? His wife objected but what did she have to do with it? He made the babies. She was only a container. He was the maker, the owner, the ruler and his son would be him in the future to make him proud.
Women were a terrible nuisance, always trying to keep him away from danger because they needed the income, not because they really cared about him. Women were a hole where a man pounded in his money to make the investment that created the future. All that nagging didn’t make him safer. What could she possibly know about life on the water?
At least he was free from nagging out there, trying to develop strategy for catching the wily salmon. He was really good at it. People called him Captain and meant it as a title of respect. Sometimes home didn’t feel like home at all, but someplace where he was an alien and not a welcome one at that. Maybe he was so full of rage that even the tavern wouldn’t have him. Then he left. He just left. When his son got old enough to leave his mother — though his mother didn’t think so — he threw the boy into the car and took him along. What boy wouldn’t want to light out for the territories with his dad.
The shore man wasn’t into hunting so much. Too much warm and fuzzy.. Too much blood. But he was a good enough fisherman for the companies to ask him to evaluate their gear and he was literate enough to draw up an article about fishing strategy. He taught all this to his boy. And the boy came in handy when he began to drink out in the woods, on an alpine lake, or even on the ice when throwing a line down a hole. Talk about cold-blooded!
It was a great life and it lasted for a decade, which people didn’t quite think was possible. But then life began to slide and contract at the same time. The salmon catches diminished. The wilderness contracted. The boy was always gone somewhere and he could never figure out where, just slid away into some secret hole or other. Only the woman stayed, though he wouldn’t have minded much if she’d taken the girl and left. He’d get by. Eat out of cans, he didn’t mind.
In those days people thought families should eat supper together. His wife always made a fuss about it, telling him what time they would eat, and if he forgot all about that stuff — he didn’t go by clocks, he went by the sun! — keeping his food warm and sitting with him while he ate though he’d rather have peace and quiet. Once in the middle of a meal they all complained, ganged up on him, and demanded so much that he couldn’t stand it and threw the whole damned table against the wall, roast and all. Then they screamed and cried and blamed until he went down to the tavern. He knew his family wouldn’t shut him out for long because they needed him too much.
But then he began to see his boy with other men, big important politicians. What could they possibly want him around for? Running errands? He had told the boy he should get a job, but what kind of job paid enough for him to have leather jackets? He bought the boy a motorcycle. He knew nothing could top that. But something did. The boy never slept at home.
The thing about a shoreman was he knew his boat and how to handle it in every weather, out there on the water was freedom and self-reliance, but he still needed to come back to the dock to sell the fish and take on fuel, because sails didn’t always have wind or the right kind of wind. He didn’t like to use the engine — no skill to it. He respected the wind and felt his sails were wings, soaring.
The end was inevitable. There was a storm that it was stupid to go out in, but he did it because his wife nagged him not to. The engine broke somehow — lack of maintenance. The sails were fine but the wind was too much for them and in the end the boat capsized. He was a strong swimmer but too far from shore. The sinking boat created a vortex, a whirling hole in the water.
Anyway, as he went overboard somehow he got tangled in the sails, wrapped up under the water so he couldn’t use his arms. He wished he carried a knife. He wished for his son. He wondered whether his wife would miss him. That was a first. When he washed up on the shore, he was still cocooned in the sail, shrouded.
His son wore his motorcycle jacket to the funeral. His wife was genuinely heartbroken, because she had really loved him, but she found it easy to get a job now that people didn’t have to worry about him storming in to claim her back. The daughter? No one remembers.
No one suggested a Viking funeral, the Captain’s corpse aflame on his boat. What a primitive idea!