Monday, June 30, 2014

Finding That Which Was Lost at Marlin Marina

Summer of 1976: I remember vacationing at my Great Aunt and Uncle's beach house at the Marlin Marina in Freeport, Texas. The big movie that summer was "King Kong" and I remember enthusiastically coloring a poster of the mammoth icon atop the Empire State Building while munching on Jiffy Pop. Each morning I and my brother and sis would walk the sandy block down to Addie Marlin's place, also known as the Marlin Marina restaurant. Addie would serve up cokes and ice cream as we sat on the deck, dunking our chicken legs on a string into the murky water in hopes of retrieving a few crabs for dinner. Long before the Dow Chemical Corporation took hold of the region and effectively killed off most of the local sea life, we enjoyed a successful haul most days, consisting of three or four tasty crabs each.

I remember the evening of the bicentennial quite clearly. As I walked to Addie's for a coke, a group of boys that I had seen around beckoned me in to play with some cool new toy they had procured. A kid with sandy hair and glasses enthusiastically greeted me and ushered me in to play. I had seen him before and believed him to be Addie's kid. We played and had a wonderful summer eve watching the fireworks as the cool salty breeze came in from the Gulf. The moment etched itself into my memory as the nation celebrated two hundred years of freedom. And that summer, I felt very free indeed.

Just a few months later, at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, I had my first liver biopsy. I remember the doctors gave me a butt-shot to put me to sleep before the procedure. It did not work as thought, so in an effort to stay on schedule they proceeded with the procedure anyway. I have a very vivid and horrific memory of these men holding me down to a table as they removed what appeared to be a small vienna sausage form my abdomen. It was indescribably painful. The trauma of seeing part of my body removed while awake effectively ended my innocence at that very moment and set me on the very journey that continued until very recently. Of course, in grand fashion, the medicine finally worked after the surgery and I slept for sixteen hours. Afterwards my Uncle Howie took me to Red Lobster and let me pick out my very own crustacean friend to take home.

In the following months, my first major surgery. I spent two more months recovering in that hospital as my body adjusted to life without a spleen. I went on to have a normal and happy childhood, albeit an unhealthy one. I conquered every challenge I took on. I became the Student Council President, was voted Prom King and Mr. WHS, and received scores of scholarships and awards. In college, my illness manifested itself once again as I found myself coughing up blood one morning. I died. I came back. I traveled. I married. I traveled more. I fell ill again. I watched as a head injury slowly and violently took my father from us. I found God again. I received the gift of life through a liver transplant. A month later, my elation at having overcome death ended as my wife asked for a divorce. I grieved. I mourned the loss in my life. And I found love again. But the tragedy, the deepening sadness, the knowledge that I was forever scarred by life, still sat heavy with me these past months.

During all this time, my Uncle Howie, a WWII submarine vet, had been living his life in the same place all these years. He had lost my Aunt Edith over ten years ago, and now approaching 90, he had settled in to a quiet life in Lake Jackson with his dog Ebby. After my dad's passing, my mom began to spend more time with the man who had raised her as his own when her own father passed at age thirty, coughing up blood just as I had many years later. She stayed with Howie for months on end, and last summer I visited once again as we all journeyed down to Quintana Beach to catch a bevy of Whiting for a quick shore lunch.
We went once again to the Addie's and I was amazed that after all this time, it was still in operation. Addie, now 87, was still in the kitchen cooking up burgers and fries as she had done for the past 60+ years. The sandy haired kid with glasses, her son, now my age, waited on us.

We returned to Addie's this weekend. She's still there, older and more tired, as she regaled us with tales of drunken patrons from the previous weekend. I surveyed the old bar and thought of the thousands of tales of old salty longshoremen and oil riggers who must have sat on those barstools, gazing down at the formica bar, drunk on cold beer, as the salt air of the bay whipped in behind their backs.
I though back to the innocent child that still looked at the world with wonder and trust that Fourth of July evening almost exactly thirty-seven years ago. As Mom, Howie, Meg and I sat on the edge of the dock after lunch, dangling our toes in the water once again, I thought of all the places I've seen and all the people I've been.
All the loss, pain, sorrow, and joy I've experienced in my life. And throughout it all, this place was here all the time, playing host to thousands of other memories, other lives, other heartbreaks and tragedies, other loves, other triumphs and other letdowns. And that is a very comforting thought indeed.

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