Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Red Right Returning

my father would work for 2 weeks at a time on the tugboat without coming home. followed by his constant presence at home for the remaining 2 weeks of the month. my fondest memory of his time at home related to helping him study for his Captain's license. i was responsible for yelling out maritime navigation questions from a stack of index cards. i would ask these questions regardless of where we were at. it could be in the aisle at B&I, or on the dock at Point Defiance, or walking the railroad tracks between Titlow Beach and Narrows Marina. i was too young to understand the logic behind the answers, so i made up my own version of what the answers were about. one question that sticks with me relates to the color of the buoys on the waterway. the maritime rules dictate that when entering a harbor or waterway, the red buoy needs to be on starboard side of the vessel, and the green buoy on the port side. this rule is known as Red Right Returning, or Red on the Right when Returning from sea.

as a child, i had my own understanding of what Red Right Returning meant. while my father was at sea, the house became a calmer place to live. we developed routines without him and i enjoyed the stability of knowing what to expect during those 14 days. in short, i missed him and welcomed his absence at the same time. leading up to his return, anxiety and tempers grew as my brother's and i would test all limits with the knowledge that our window of freedom was closing with each passing day. my father would dish out 2 weeks of punishment as soon as he got home, as a sort of retroactive discipline for perceived wrongs that, in his mind, must have occurred while he was gone. as a result, my definition of Red Right Returning related to his wrath when he got home from being on the tug. his returning right hand turning my butt a bright red.

after his initial disbursement of punishments, things would settle down into new routines and rituals while he was home. some good. most bad. and as the days passed on the calendar and his departure grew near again, i would find myself cherishing the fact that i was helping him become a Captain of a tug boat. while at the same time, secretly wishing he would stay at sea for ever.