My father wetted my interest in a number of things – model railroading, gaming, but most importantly reading. Sure, mom hammered me when I wasn’t reading in school, and I thank her for that. But dad was the pervasive reader, his shelves stocked with heavy tomes of great men, or thick classics like Atlas Shrugged and Winds of War. I took after him on this, setting off on a lifetime journey, not of one road of literature, but of many.
I don’t even remember the specific incident – could have been after dinner, or in the car, somewhere. Just a moment in my childhood when he told me of a story he’d read as a young man, an eerie story about a light house keeper who, on foggy nights when he blows the lonely ship-warning horn, hears something, something way out in the ocean, answer back.
What an image.
That thought stuck in the back of my mind, this image of the isolated lighthouse keeper waking something best left to its slumbers. Sometimes I’d mentioned it to used book store owners for they are frustrated literatures but no bells were wrung. I’d mention it to reader friends, but frankly, I read more books (and of a greater span) than anyone I know, so nothing there. It wasn’t a burning desire, just just a wish – to locate this story and read it.
Years and years and years later, I’ve picked up a collection of sea stories at a little used bookshop in London (reviewed HERE). I don’t crack the cover until I got home. Then: reading night, the time my wife and I go to some little local restaurant and read at the table, sharing our books over desert (hey, this was almost a pre-nup for me). Needing a new book, I brought the collection with me, opened it up to the first page.
And there it was, the first story. The Fog Horn, by Ray Bradbury, first published in 1951.
‘I made up that story,’ said McDunn quietly, ‘to try to explain why this thing keeps coming back to the lighthouse every year. The Fog Horn calls it, I think, and it comes…’
‘But-‘ I said.
‘Sssst!’ said McDunn. ‘There!” He nodded out to the Deeps.
Something was swimming toward the lighthouse tower…
‘Closure’ is too trite a word for this moment of finding my father’s story. It wasn’t an earth-shattering moment, not sighting the white whale or anything like that. But I’d found it. Of course, I was pretty proud of myself when I carried it over to Daytona and gave the collection to dad, explaining to him that I’d found the tale he’d told me about as a child. He smiled in his moon-faced away, setting it atop his to-read stack. And he read it, too, and enjoyed it. And then he returned it and now it sits on my gold shelf, the place for all hardbacks of distinction.
A little over a year later, he passed away. I’m thankful that I’d found this story in time, that I was able to give it to him. In a small way, it was sharing the same gift he’d given me, the ability to pass on a literary gem forward over the years. He gave it to me, and four decades later I gave it back.
This is the reader’s moment. This is why I read.