The Gulf of Love|
Part Two of The Gulf Series
by Rick Beck
"Dylan, Pop, and Me"
On to Chapter Two
Rick Beck Home Page
Proudly presented by The Tarheel Writer - On the Web since 24 February 2003. Celebrating 20 Years on the Internet!
Tarheel Home Page
I pulled into my parking space in front of the biology lab at the conservancy. Before my Wednesday afternoon dive I dropped Dylan off at Pop's shop. The afternoon visits with his grandfather were something he enjoyed. It was a nice change of pace after spending the day in school.
The scheduling gave Mama a break. With Dylan burning off some of his stored energy at the conservancy, she could prepare dinner without distractions. Mama loved having Dylan around but she wanted to give him her full time and attention when he was.
Pop's day was winding down when Dylan got out of school and my son was fascinated by my biology lab. Once he ran out of things to do in there, he went to help Pop.
Harry called my son, "A chip off the old block."
There were plenty of chores to keep Dylan out of Pop's hair while I went diving. Pop's schedule wasn't as hectic as it once was before his heart attack two years before.
The conservancy hired Pop two full time employees. Extra trucks were purchased for beach duty and errands. Pop was responsible for the two employees and mostly supervised them, while taking care of the routine things at the conservancy himself.
Pop was bought a new truck for his use only.
Once back on his feet, Pop came back better than ever. The conservancy was smart enough to make John Olson's employment easier on him. They'd stepped up to make it possible for him to stay on the job at a time when he worried about being put out to pasture.
Pop and I had found a home at the conservancy and it had become like family by 1978.
I was as comfortable there as I was anywhere.
Dylan didn't require much supervision. He liked to read. He jumped at the chance to help in the lab. I thought he was more focused than the average nine year old, but I'm sure all fathers felt that way about their sons.
While Dylan helped at the conservancy, Mama was doing her magic with the evening meal. When Dylan was home, he wanted to be outside in the Gulf after school. Mama didn't allow him to go swimming unless she sat on the beach in her outrageously big hat and giant round sunglasses to keep an eye on her grandson.
Mama did not swim.
Dylan, on the other hand, was a better swimmer than I was. Mama still babied Dylan and you didn't argue with Mama. They both enjoyed this aspect of their relationship. Dylan never knew his mama, so my mama and Lucy provided him with mothering. They spoiled him but in a good way.
Dylan had begun to ask questions about his origins when he was five. I told him it was complicated. If I addressed the question he asked at the time, he stopped there. He settled for what I told him and I told him no more than necessary. I wouldn't lie to him but by nine he'd put the pieces together.
Growing up had become complicated in the 60s. Vietnam meant you needed to live fast because you might not live long. It wasn't most young men's idea of a good time, but our government insisted we face death before we'd begun to live.
My number never came up and then I had a wife and a son. My best friends brother had gone missing in Vietnam. Dylan was going to have better choices. I'd see to it. I wasn't raising cannon fodder, even if there was a reason he should consider being put in harms way.
My generation was forced to grow up fast and I wanted my son to stay a boy for as long as he wanted. Dylan wouldn't need to grow up until he decided it was time. Then he'd do it on his own terms. There were plenty of Olsons who intended that Dylan had it his way and he took the time to be the best he could be.
Taking Dylan to Pop's shop after school turned out to be good for both of them and Mama too. No one wanted to distract Mama while she cooked dinner. There was plenty to keep Dylan occupied at the conservancy. He was given responsibilities and he had plenty of time with his grandfather. Pop was the only one who could keep up with Dylan's mechanical brain.
Pop loved having him under foot and if he had to go out and couldn't take Dylan, he got the broom and had him sweep up. There was plenty of sand to go around with a beach out the front door. Before Dylan agreed to sweep, he'd opt to come to my lab to see what was new in my world. We kept him busy.
There were more houses, more visitors, and more beach to keep clean in 1978. There were still arguments over who would patrol the nude beach to keep an eye on the sunbathers. Each time one of Pop's employees left, the remaining man became aware of the nude beach if he wasn't the one patrolling it. Once the discovery was made, the senior employee didn't want the other fellow on his beach.
Before Dylan got out of the car, he waited for his Wednesday instructions from his father. With his hand on the door handle he only half turned his head to see me, as he waited.
"On my desk, Dylan, are the compass readings for today's dive. I need you to give those to Grand Pop. I've laid out the labels for the new specimens. You can make the labels for the jars. You've got the best handwriting in the crew. That will get me up to date if you do that."
"No, I don't. Aunt Lucy's is way better than mine. Have you seen her handwriting, Daddy?"
"Yes, but Aunt Lucy isn't here and you are," I said. "We'll have to settle for you today, kiddo. Your handwriting is quite good and way better than mine."
"Any filing, Daddy?" Dylan asked, sitting low in his seat.
He appeared to be looking at me out of the corner of his eye.
"Yes, on the corner of my desk. You can file those. That will be a big help," I said. "I never seem to get around to putting things back where they came from."
"OK. Anything else?"
"No. You have books. I assume you'll do your homework. It's the first thing Grand Mama will ask you about when we get home."
"I know," Dylan sighed. "I'll do it after I do the labels and filing."
"You go ahead. I need to talk to Grand Pop before I leave for the marina. You come to his shop when you're done."
Dylan opened the door and was gone in a flash. He slipped through the front doors of the biology lab and disappeared.
I smiled feeling good about myself and my life. Dylan made it far more enjoyable than it would be otherwise. As hard as it was on me when he was first born, I wouldn't change a thing.
I had to be there in order to get here.
"Hey, Pop. I brought Dylan. He's at the lab right now. I'm going to the marina. I should be back before you leave for the day, but don't wait for me. Take Dylan with you when you go home if I haven't made it back."
"You ask him about his science project?" Pop asked.
"No, I forgot about it. You're way handier than me. Can you give him a few hints if he asks?"
"You're plenty handy when you want to do something, Clay. I'll see where he's at. Your mother will worry herself sick over that boy's lessons. You know how she is about his homework. You'd never know we had six kids before Dylan came along."
"Yes, I know how Mama is. He's going to get it done in his own time, just like I did."
"It's what I keep telling her," Pop said.
"You're the only one who has a chance of figuring out what his science project is about. He lost me when he explained what he intended to do. I smiled and thought I should be impressed. Dylan's smarter than Mama and me put together," I said, not checking the door before speaking.
"I am not," Dylan said, plopping down in the chair beside his grandfather's desk.
"Don't argue with your father," I said.
"Yes, sir. Mama knows way more than I know. When do I get to go diving with you anyway, Daddy? I want to go with you."
"She's your grand mama and my mama, Dylan," I explained for the umpteenth "I know," he said, not using the grand word for Mama or Pop, no matter how many times I used it. They were Mama and Pop to him.
"We have the discussion about diving at least once a week. You can go with me today and we'll snorkel for an hour if you want. I need to make a dive to check on the reef I'm studying. You'll need to wait in the boat until I'm done with my work and then you'll still have your homework to do once we get home."
"No, I want to dive with you, Daddy. I want to study the reef with you."
"What's the rule about you diving with me?"
"When I'm ten or when my head reaches the line on the doorjamb in your office," he said, having it memorized.
"When's the last time you measured yourself against the line?"
"Two and a half minutes ago."
"How much growing do you need to do?"
"Four inches and a smidgen."
"How old are you?" I asked, causing him to squirm.
"Ten," he said, fudging by most of a year.
"How old?" I asked. "I recall you having a birthday a few months back, and you weren't ten then. Remember the cake with nine candles and the Rocky Road ice cream?"
"Nine, but I'm in my tenth year," he said unhappily, looking for some kind of wiggle room.
"You'll be ten next July. Unless you get a sudden growth spurt in the next year, you've got a while before you go diving with me."
"It's a matter of safety. The equipment isn't suited for someone your size, Dylan. You don't get second chances if things go wrong while you're underwater, son. You need to be big enough to manage the equipment and smart enough to know when it's time to split."
"I know. I know," Dylan said exasperated.
Pop sat with a file and some papers in front of him. I could see the tiny smile appear on his face as he listened to me and my son.
"You're grandfather will help with your science project if you need advice," I said.
"Yeah, kiddo, we can talk it over and I'll tell you what I think," Pop said. "Maybe I'll have an idea or two for you."
"Cool," Dylan said, his mood brightening a bit.
"Did you bring the paper with the compass readings on it?" I asked.
Dylan dug into his shirt pocket and handed the paper to Pop.
"That's where Daddy is diving today," Dylan explained to Pop.
"It's the same site I've been diving. I wrote it down in case Bill Payne drops by. He's been there but give him that to refresh his memory. He might decide he wants to dive with me."
"Bill Payne? Haven't seen him in a coon's age. I didn't know you still saw him," Pop said. "You finished college years ago."
"He called last week. Told me he'd be on the island today. He might drop by to see what's shaking in the lab. He mentioned we hadn't done a dive in a while. He likes to look in on his marine biologists to see what they're up to," I said. "He's working on the Atlantic side these days, keeping an eye on the Gulf Stream. Monitoring the flow and temperature. He expects to see some sign of change there if the pollution continues to rise at the current pace."
"Way beyond my pay grade. I pick up the trash. You boys got to figure out how to keep the water clean. Wouldn't want that job."
"He told me ten years ago that things had begun to be impacted by man's presence in the Gulf. We worried about over fishing back then. The clarity and color of the water is definitely deteriorating. It took until 1975 for the changes to become apparent. It's just how he said it would happen. He seems to think the Gulf Stream is the key to what the pollution will mean to waterways."
"Better hope Harry doesn't see him first. He'll talk his leg off," Pop said. "Being reelected congressman certainly agrees with the man."
"Harry's here? I should say hello before I go. He's been gone for the past month," I said. "He usually lets me know when he's going to be home."
"He came in just before lunch. He's home for the weekend. Needs to schmooze with his campaign workers and donors. He asked about you when he dropped by while you were out. I told him you'd gone to Fort Myers to talk to donors about the lab. That got a smile out of him. The man likes the sound of money coming in."
"It went well. They want the Gulf kept clean. They all fish and a couple have been diving. Most of their businesses depend on tourism. They need to talk to Harry. He knows how to get the big bucks for the cause. They were quite interested in the hands on approach we've taken at the conservancy."
"You've certainly earned your keep, Clay. If anyone knows what's going on in the Gulf, you do," Pop said. "You learned your lessons well, son."
Pop didn't fish or dive. He rarely went into the water if it wasn't a holiday, but he paid attention to what was going on at the conservancy. His livelihood depended on it.
I left Dylan and Pop to share the rest of the afternoon together. I headed for Harry's office to touch base with him before my dive. We hadn't talked since his campaign for reelection went into high gear.
My history with Harry ran through my mind as I went from one side of the conservancy to the other, saying hello as I passed through the main office.
Harry was the first to recognize that my interest in sea creatures could go beyond being a hobby. Since my interests merged with his, he was immediately working on the idea that by training his own marine biologist, he could bring the conservancy into prominence in the field, while the Gulf was still relatively healthy.
Harry went to school with Bill Payne and they'd remained friends. From Bill, Harry was kept up to date on the conditions in the Gulf. By the time Bill was certain that pollution was going to ruin the Gulf, I came along and Harry decided to take me under his wing while I was still young, and he'd point me where he wanted me to go.
Like so many people who spent a lot of time on the Gulf of Mexico, the subtle changes disturbed Harry. Without a healthy body of water surrounding Sanibel Island, its value decreased remarkably. If Sanibel Island could be changed by pollution, Florida was at risk.
The growing tourist industry and the increasing population on the island was growing faster than resources were capable of handling. To keep the island viable the Gulf had to stay clean and healthy. Harry's conservancy would lead the effort.
Saying we could save the Gulf of Mexico got my attention. Save it from what? I was nothing but a kid but the Gulf was at the center of my life since I arrived in Florida. It looked fine to me. Mainly I liked to look at things that came out of the Gulf, but being a boy, it didn't take much flattery to excite me about saving a body of water that I didn't know needed saving.
Harry put his money where his mouth was. It's how he got me to see that my future was at the same place Pop's was, when he first brought us all to Florida. I was the fourth Olson to work at the conservancy but the first who was interested in the Gulf.
This Olson was selected to go directly to the head of the class.
Without Harry's insight I'd have been a ship with no wind in its sails, once out of high school. I didn't have many options, but at the time I met Harry, they all involved the Gulf of Mexico.
His interest started with Pop talking about my fascination with sea creatures.
Because of this, I was on my way to becoming a marine biologist before I graduated from high school. He recognized the conservancy, he, would be the biggest beneficiary if I was educated properly.
Our mutual interests met at the water's edge. While he was away making legislative progress to preserve our environment, I was learning what I needed to know to join the fight with him and my chief instructor, Bill Payne.
I began my studies with Bill, who introduced me to the underwater world that was where the battle started. A few months later I was taking classes in Fort Myers to secure the credits I'd need for my degree.
I was still going to high school and fishing for Mr. Aleksa at the time I met Harry, but once I went on my first dive, I came a world closer to the intriguing sea creatures I wanted to find out about.
A few months after graduating from high school, I was weaning myself off the Vilnius Two. That fishing boat had taken me a step too far from the turn I was making into marine biology. I found myself trading one love for another, and both connected me to the sea.
As if to prove things happen for a reason, and to make me feel less guilty for leaving Mr. Aleksa's employ, the Vilnius Two, Mr. Aleksa, Kenny and Arturo, sailed out of the cove one day and didn't return. Had I still been fishing for him, I wouldn't have gone.
I had college and my work at the conservancy to occupy me. Each time I went diving with Bill Payne, Harry, or alone, I walked past the empty slip where the Vilnius Two once docked. Up until I went diving the first time, the slip for the Vilnius Two was as far as I went down that dock.
The slip stayed empty because of Captain Popov. He wouldn't allow another boat in Mr. Aleksa's slip.
The boat I used was docked farther down the dock and it belonged to the conservancy, Harry. The boat would change over the years, but not the slip. Harry rented one of the largest slips, because his father had rented it when Harry was a boy.
No matter how far I went over the years, the empty slip gave me a tremendous feeling of loss. I'd learned so much on that missing boat and I'd learned so much from Ivan's father. He encouraged my curiosity over the sea creatures that fell out of his nets. He even insisted they not be harmed and returned to the sea once I was finished looking one over.
I had a career, because as Ivan's best friend, his father allowed me to work on his boat beside his son. Before that my view of the Gulf came from the shoreline between my house and Ivan's.
Had Harry not come along when he did, I'd have been left high and dry in more ways than one, after Boris was lost. I felt as though I was preordained, starting with the worst moment of my life, when I left Tulsa at fourteen. The friends I knew all my life were left behind.
I hated Florida until I walked out the backdoor of the conservancy house for the first time and saw the Gulf of Mexico. My tragic uprooting became a faint memory as I considered the possibilities of my new life in what seemed like paradise.
Then I met Ivan and I saw him fly. My life would never be the same again. I'd never had a friend until I met Ivan. We became inseparable and life was good.
One step at a time I was led to the Gulf, onto the Gulf, and then under the Gulf. Each step had a greater grip on me than the last. This was where I wanted to be. The Gulf was the doorway to my future.
Ivan had gone in search of his brother and the Gulf was what kept me going while he was gone. There's no way to describe my emptiness without him beside me, but my work has helped me pass the time while I wait.
My entire being was invested in this place now. Even if Ivan asked me to go with him, I couldn't go. There were things I needed to do and then there was a wife and son that weren't planned but came along anyway.
I did see how this sequence of events could just happen to me. It was if I was on a road and I wasn't going to get off. These were the things that came about as I continued down the road.
It couldn't simply be an accident. Was Mama's God making sure I got to where I was going? I hardly thought so. He'd only caused me grief over the years. He was Mama's God and so I played along.
The summer I turned eighteen everything in my life changed. The family I'd withdrawn from took center stage. The Aleksas, who had so much influence on me for so long, all but disappeared from my life. It all took place over a few months.
It took one visit by two United States Army soldiers to Boris' Tampa residence to rock the world in which I lived, but that was nothing compared to what it did to the Aleksas. A family already under stress, was torn apart by the news the soldiers brought.
Ivan would never be the same. There was little I could do for him but watch and continue to love him. Ivan was at the center of my life even when he was absent from it. Dylan had taken much of the time I'd have spent with Ivan, after entering our lives early one July morning in 1969.
He was a gift that eased my aching heart.
He was proof that everything happens for a reason. Had it not been for my son, I'd have worried myself to death over Ivan by now, but there was little time for worry once Dylan arrived.
Being completely responsible for another human being had a way of taking your mind off your troubles, and Mama made it clear, 'You made your bed, young man. Now you get to lie in it.'
Mama took care of Dylan when I couldn't at first, but when I could, she insisted I did. Along with sister Lucy, Dylan got more care and love than the law allows one tiny little guy.
The thing I learned as a young father, babies are messy suckers. There was no faster way to grow up than to become responsible for another human being.
Dylan kept my mind off Ivan and the conservancy kept me from losing sight of where I intended to go. The focus of my life shifted from fishing on Gulf waters to diving into them. I had a job at the conservancy and in my spare time I was discovering what the biology lab could do.
Worrying about something I could do nothing about wasn't wise, but I couldn't be whole until Ivan came home. I could take care of my family and career in the meantime. I couldn't see the value in what I'd learned fishing but Harry did.
Harry saw the future when I could hardly keep up with the present. He recognized my raw potential and its value in his quest for a clean and healthy Gulf of Mexico.
I was an Olson. That didn't hurt. He'd heard about me from Pop long before he met me. I was young. Harry's ideas hadn't coalesced yet. We'd have to meet before Harry knew what he wanted to do. The best thing about it, his plan benefited both of us.
Once we talked and he could feel my passion for what he was passionate about, he knew where I fit into his plan. I'd be the marine biologist in his biology lab. I'd study the sea creatures and the waters they lived in, and the Sanibel Island Conservancy would take center stage as custodian of the Gulf of Mexico. This is where he was going and he intended to take me with him.
Harry introduced me to Bill Payne, college professor, renowned marine biologist, and recently an environmental activist. Bill would teach me everything I needed to know to be a first class marine biologist. He'd instill in me the consequences of inaction concerning the affects of pollution on the environment and the Gulf waters.
Starting me early, they were convinced by the time they needed me to be the point man for the conservancy, I'd be educated and ready to take the lead at the conservancy. I'd take our case for the Gulf to the legislature so they could counteract the ability of the polluters to pollute.
It wasn't put to me in those terms but this was the program I was in. From the start I was introduced to an in-depth understanding of the science of the sea. Bill Payne became my primary professor for marine biology. When he taught me, he gave me his undivided attention. He knew where I was going before I did.
After the handful of students Bill taught each semester went home, Bill stayed with me in the conservancy lab and we went over information the other students didn't get. Bill was educating me to see the world as he saw it. No amount of time was too much to give to save the Gulf.
While I was having fun learning what Bill was teaching me, and feeling good about it, my two mentors were educating me in a way that would pay off once the chips were down.
As my career gave me great satisfaction, each time I went to see Harry, I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming. I was about to walk into the home office of sitting U.S. Congressman Harry McCallister.
He'd stand and meet me half way to his desk to give me a hug and he'd want to know how I was.
Truly he wanted to know. The man cared about me.
My life could have been a dream, except for the absence of the man I loved.
Send Rick an email at email@example.com
On to Chapter Two
Rick Beck Home Page
Suggested Reading | Suggested Viewing | Links
Send a Comment
All Site Content © 2003 - 2023 Tarheel Writer unless otherwise noted
Layout © 2003 - 2023 Tarheel Writer