So we’re on a ferry going from Whidbey Island to the coast of Washington State.
His name is Paul and he’s a writing colleague of mine, an American from Chicago who has the same name as my best friend when I was a boy.
He and I are students studying an MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University – and he’s telling me about his father.
‘So, my father,’ Paul tells me, ‘was really into boats and for our family holidays he’d take us to this little town in Ontario called Thorold.’
‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘you’ve probably never heard of the place, but we’d stay at a little hotel called The Lock 7 Hotel. We lived in Ohio at the time, and he’d take us there to Ontario for these weekend holidays. The hotel was right on one of the locks of the Welland Canal.’
‘Really?’ I said.
He continued. The boats were from all over the world and dad would sit out there and watch them go by and take notes.
Now a father doing this sort of thing is interesting in itself. To take everyone in the family van clear across this state border and that Great Lake in order to view some ships from wherever is the sort of entertainment lost on most of us.
What makes this all the more interesting is that I happen to know Thorold quite well. I grew up there.
In fact, if you stood on my back porch and it was a clear day, you could see Lock 7, and whatever ship happened to be in it. Once in a while, that other Paul and I, my boyhood friend, would even jog alongside it.
Of course, Paul, the writer on the ferry with me, was as surprised to learn all of this just as I was surprised to learn what he had told me.
And encouraged, I think, after I said, ‘Listen, when you graduate, as a gift from me, you and your wife and daughter come up for a weekend from Chicago to the old Lock 7 Hotel.’
I told him that they’ve fixed the place up since the last time he was there. But he’d still recognize it.
Just like any of us will recognize those places that are important for us to return to, places that are important for our souls.