Over time, the memories we have of people can almost become analogies for who they are to us—especially those who are no longer in our lives to make new memories. We hang on tightly to those vital reminders of what is no longer tangible to us.
My dad died just after I turned 21, and I am now well past the mark where I have lived longer without him than with him. Thankfully, even with my fuzzy brain these days, I still have many important memories of him, as I’ve shared here before.
My dad loved to swim. When we went on vacations, we always tried to find the motel or hotel with the pool. I mean, aside from the joys of the “magic fingers” bed, a pool was a huge delight. And if it had a slide…oh, my. It was like having a slice of heaven pie. But the recurrent memory that is threaded through all the trips that we were blessed to take is that no matter what, if the pool had a slide, my dad was always at the bottom of it catching all the kids. And I don’t mean just his own kids—I mean every kid that was in the pool. We would climb up and slide down over and over…and over…and over again. And my dad was always at the bottom of the slide, making sure no one was left to fend for themselves or sink too deeply. He would laugh and goof around, and all the kids loved it. We couldn’t take another turn fast enough.
He was always at the bottom of the slide.
When I was 14, I read The Catcher in the Rye and loved it like most teenagers do. It spoke to me in many ways, and the passage where Holden describes being the catcher in the rye (see the fifth quote down for the reference) resonated deeply within me then, and still does today.
Little did I know that years later, as an adult, I would reflect upon that passage and make the connection that my dad was the catcher in the rye. At least he was my catcher in the rye.
He was catching those kids just like Holden wanted to, and more directly, he was catching me. Again, and again, and again.
I’m sure he wasn’t aware that this simple but recurrent action of his of always being at the bottom of the slide would stand to represent so much to me many years after the last kid was caught. As is so often life’s reality, he was merely living life and had no idea which memories would matter over others. He was just being himself—the guy who was happy to catch everybody else’s kids while their parents sat on lounge chairs and relaxed.
And several years later, when he was in the process of succumbing to a devastating and horrible illness, he didn’t ask me to remember him in any particular way. The most I can remember him trying to purposefully teach us or leave with us during that trying time was his reminder to love one another and to take care of each other.
After all, he was my catcher in the rye. I like to think of him still waiting at the “crazy cliff” wanting to make sure I don’t fall. But life, unfortunately, is full of falls—crushing and painful falls that leave us reeling and wondering what the next right step is and what all of this is supposed to mean. And that is why—as he reinforced—we need to be there loving one another and helping each other up every time we stumble over that cliff—or wildly splash into the pool at the bottom of the slide.