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Another romantic tale of a mother and son. If this type of relationship disturbs you, please read no further. This is not as ambitious nor as lengthy as “Beyond the Borderline,” but is nevertheless a long story. As usual, the buildup is slow, so if you like your stories short, this will probably not be of interest. Your constructive comments and votes are appreciated as always. Thanks for looking.
All characters are over 18.
Thanks to LaRascasse for editorial assistance.
Home is the son, home from sea:
His far-flung journeys ended,
His desires pour burning on the shore
The plunder of his secret heart.
(with apologies to A.E. Housman)
It’s October 14th and the eagles are here. It’s just now getting cool enough that you can see your breath when the sun slips behind the Takhinsha Range. There are still a few patches of residual seasonal greenery and flashes of explosive deciduous color left in the landscape, but everything is now slipping inexorably into the sere, muted palate of oncoming winter.
We’ve been living near Haines now for the better part of ten years and I still am awestruck by the arrival of those magnificent raptors, numbering in the hundreds, if not thousands. They’re all over the shifting, complex, watery web of the Chilkat delta, perched in every available tree branch, on the rough gravel bars of the waterway and in amongst the deadfalls lining the banks of the river. The few Grizzlies which have not already slipped into hibernation are with us as well, their hulking, shaggy company a constant reminder of how truly wild this place is.
The eagles, the bears and I, we’re all here for the same reason. It’s the last salmon run of the year and the final chance to fill bellies and larders before the long winter. The Chum salmon are here for spawning, the final silvery visitors to the river this year. Serious snow could begin any day now and that means you have to hustle if you’re going to be ready for the next cold, snowy six months.
I like coming out to the riverbank near dinnertime. Looking southwest, the Cathedral Peaks are backlit in brilliant orange and yellow as the sun drops below the ridge of the Takhinshas and if I turn around, I can see the early snow cover on the peaks of Mount Ripinski, extending along the ridge of the Takshanuk Range northwards to Tukgahgo Mountain. In the late afternoon, those newly born snowfields appear almost molten in the failing, late fall sun.
I doubt I’ll ever tire of those sights, nor of the rhythm that the change of seasons and the pulsing flux of salmon in the river imposes on our lives. Such are the simple things I take the most pleasure from. I have everything I ever wanted or needed, right here in this unspoiled glacial valley.
It’s at these times I often reflect on my journey to this place and count my blessings, being where I am and whom I’m with. I also often turn my thoughts to the dark times of my youth and how those shaped everything that followed.
I’m not terribly introspective by nature, enjoying the cycle of my simple, day-to-day life most of the time. But I do occasionally wonder how I can distill what’s happened in my past into some coherent picture. It’s probably a wasted effort, for as the saying goes, “Man plans and God laughs.” If there is one underlying theme in my life, though, I think it is secrets.
I believe that it’s our secrets that make us who we are. Secrets of our own and those others withhold from us as well. How can you know who you are if those around conceal the past from you, even for the most compassionate of reasons?
This story is about secrets and the power that they have, for good or ill. It’s also about how sometimes, against all obstacles, the heart finds its way to the truth and how those secrets are then banished into darkness, rather than causing it.
My life began with dark mystery and was surrounded by unspeakable deception, but along the way, those black ramparts were broken down and I found myself.
I also found someone else, someone who I thought I knew, but that was only partly true. In that discovery though, the circle closed again and what started with secrets ended with one all over again.
But for me, the ending secret is a great goodness. Most would never understand it, but that is not my concern. In telling my tale, I will share with you my most carefully hidden confidence and you can judge for yourself if it should have stayed buried within my heart.
So, let us begin with the genealogy of concealment and deception…
My name is Peter. Peter Heimdahl. Actually, It’s Lars Peter Heimdahl, after my late, unlamented paternal grandfather. It was my Dad’s idea and Lord knows, Dad always gets his way. Peter was the one concession to my Mom, Magda. That’s the name of her late father, who she lost as a child. Magda Christine Heimdahl, nee Stenstrom, that’s Mom.
Like me, she doesn’t really cebeci escort like her first name, preferring to go by Chris. Dad also must not like it, because he’s never used it to my knowledge. Come to think of it, I don’t really recall him ever calling her by her middle name, either. I think he believes her name is “Get me another god damn beer!” Well, enough of that.
My so-called family has been living in or around Homer, Alaska since bestefar (grandfather) Lars’ time, back in the late 40’s and early 50’s. While he was alive, he used to tell us about the times when there was no Highway 1 and what passed for the Seward Highway was a dirt track. This was back when Homer was a booming metropolis of around 350 souls.
My grandfather had a brother, Olaf, who came with him from the old country, but he perished in the Good Friday earthquake in ’64, swept off the Homer Spit and out to sea by a tsunami. His body was never recovered.
My father’s mother is a void, a complete cipher. Her memory is as insubstantial as blown snow, dispersed into swirling nothingness. Dad never, ever talks about her. Depending on how you read the family tealeaves, either she ran away from my grandfather when Dad was around 6 or 7 years old, or she just…vanished.
What I do remember from my own childhood is that while Dad simply refused to discuss her, the mere mention of her name was enough to send my grandfather into a towering rage, followed by the blackest, bleakest moods imaginable. In those states, I thing even Ingmar Bergman would have found bestefar Lars too depressing to be around.
Knowing my father’s side of the clan the way I do, I don’t envision my grandmother’s happy escape from this family. I suspect her unremarked absence conceals a dark secret, a terrible mystery. Whatever her fate was, I hope my bestemor sees from on high that her grandchildren are not like the man she married or the beast her son has become.
For that, she would have my mother to thank.
Since all I can offer her is this mental cenotaph, my monument for my grandmother is to simply remember her name, so she is not forever erased from memory. Rest easy wherever you are, Ulla Marie Henriksen.
Beyond my paternal grandfather, I know next to nothing about my father’s side of the family. Grandfather Lars and his brother, Olaf Heimdahl seemed to materialize in Alaska out of the arctic mist sometime after World War II and eventually found their way to Homer, of all places. It’s been described in the past as “As far as you can go without a passport.”
I don’t think I’ll ever know the full story of how they came to be here, but I have a suspicion that the choice of the brothers Heimdahl to settle here was by design rather than chance. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time trying to understand my roots, but all I can say with even a modicum of certainty is that the Heimdahls, well, they simply aren’t.
I believe that the two brothers took the name of a town near their old stomping grounds as a surname of convenience. I suspect that, as the town of Heimdahl is slightly south of Trondheim near my mother’s birthplace, that this is where the connection to her side of the family lies and where my name comes from.
My grandfather and great uncle must have left Trondheim for good reason, though. There have been a few disquieting, cryptic clues among my bestefar’s belongings. There’s the old Luger, which by itself isn’t particularly damning. But then there are the daggers, black-handled, with the Nazi eagle on the grip and the inscriptions etched on the still-sharp, cruel blades. One says “Blut und Ehre,” or “Blood and Honor.” The second is more disturbing: “in herzlicher Freundschaft, H. Himmler.”
I may only be a high school graduate, but between my rough translation and a basic knowledge of history, I have to wonder why my grandfater has a knife inscribed with, “In Cordial Friendship,” from one of the most evil men to ever walk the earth. Then there’s the scrap of an old uniform, with the sui generis skull and crossbones shoulder patch.
No, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that my grandfather was not a nice man. He was a man of secrets, secrets of surpassing darkness.
Just on this basis, I can see where my grandfather and granduncle would have needed to make themselves scarce when the war ended, but I have an inkling, a vague intuition that there’s even more to this story, something even blacker than what can already be deduced. It’s a notion that has troubled me in days gone by, but I have never felt compelled to look any further into those shadows of my ancestor’s past.
The remainder of our family on my mother’s side seems to be mostly living honestly as fishermen. It appears as though many relations of my mother have been making their living on the water of the North Atlantic from Stavanger to Trondheim for at least six generations. Although I’ve never been, I been cebeci escort bayan told we have a whole flotilla of cousins, aunts and uncles once and twice removed still in that area of the Norwegian coast.
As far as the rest of my father’s family is concerned, ignorance is bliss. I don’t want, never want to know more about them. I value my sanity and self-respect too much to follow that bloodline any further.
So, maybe not so much of a family, but definitely fishermen to the bone, for better or worse. Speaking for myself, I really don’t have any deep affection for the sea, but fishing is what I know, like it or not. For reasons I’ll explain later, I’m compelled to work with my father, and one way or the other, father always gets his way.
Mom doesn’t talk much about her past. It makes me sad sometimes, that she won’t share any of that with me, but I have deduced over time that her childhood was not a happy one. From what little I have been able to uncover on my own, I know that my mother’s people were Sami, from near Trondheim, probably fisherman and trappers. She was raised by her maternal grandfather from the age of 13, after her parents died.
She’s never told me what happened to them. The memory is too painful, I suppose. I’ve always had a suspicion though, that somehow my father’s side of the family was connected in some strange fashion with what happened. It’s just a feeling I have, but I can’t shake it.
I suppose the feeling of things being not quite right also comes from not understanding how Dad’s side of the family reached out all the way back to Norway from the then-tiny backwater of Homer and somehow plucked Mom up and brought her to the United States. It just feels…off somehow.
I’ve never had the courage or desire to push Mom to find out more. I desperately want to understand, but I long ago decided that it would have to be Mom who would make the decision to tell me.
I do know that she grew up poor and that it is likely that her marriage was somehow an arranged one. I don’t know exactly how Mom and Dad ended up together, but she found herself married at the age of eighteen. About two years later, my brother Sig was born. Tack on another four years and you’ve got me. There was then another long gap and my baby sister Astrid appeared on the scene.
Mom became a naturalized citizen while she was carrying me. Her English is very good, but she still speaks with that wonderful, slightly musical Scandinavian lilt, her conversations still interspersed with Norsk vocabulary and expressions. Her sound of her voice is absolutely captivating. She could read from a phonebook and it would sound lovely.
Although her accent and some colloquial expressions she uses betray her origins, she has adapted remarkably well to the U.S. of A. If not for her beautiful accent, there are times when you’d be hard pressed to tell she’s not a typical suburban Mom. She’s even picked up a lot of American slang. I don’t know where she dug it up, but she seems to delight in calling me her “big lug.”
When you live in the shadow of Gunnar Heimdahl, my father, there’s not much in the way of room for anyone else on the stage of life. We’re all bit part characters and walk-ons in a play totally centered around dad’s life on the water, whether it’s summer charter work, the odd run of halibut or cod fishing or crabbing through the winter. For him, it would be inconceivable and completely unacceptable for any of us not to totally dedicate our lives to supporting his work. That’s how he is, intolerant, dictatorial, overbearing and just plain mean. I’m ashamed to call him blood.
My father is a big bear of a man in his fifties, about 6’4″, with an impressive beer gut, long, lanky black and gray hair and a fearsome-looking beard. Powerfully built, he is still strong as an angry grizzly, but gradually going to fat. He has the coldest, deadest, pale blue eyes you’ll ever have the misfortune to stare into. There’s not much that’s recognizable behind them, except when he’s mad, which is pretty often.
Then you can see the devil himself.
I’ve been working as a deckhand on Dad’s boat, the Anna Katarina, since I was 18. I graduated from Kenai Peninsula High School on a beautiful, sunny June 9th day and on June 11th, found myself 50 miles southeast of Sitkinak Island on the Albatross Bank, nosing through fifteen foot swells and dense fog while fishing for cod.
With the exception of breaks for maintenance, inter-seasonal downtime and the odd holiday, I’ve been on board ever since. I don’t think that Dad really cares if he’s back in Homer or not. He lives to be on the sea. I’d be surprised if he’s actually in our house for more than twenty or thirty days out of the year, and then usually no more than five or six days at a time.
Me, I get homesick sometimes. I’m always looking forward to getting back to our small place, even if only for a couple of days.
Mostly, escort cebeci it’s because I miss Mom.
Why would a twenty four year old man, hardened by the better part of six years on the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea feel this way? I’m no Mama’s boy, but this woman has been the center of my life for as long as I can remember.
She’s the one person in the world I feel safe in showing myself to. I can and do tell her everything in those brief times we can be together. If I wasn’t able to do that, I’d go mad; mad with frustration, anger and despair at the course of my life and the trap I feel myself to be in.
God forbid that I would ever let Dad have an inkling of who I really am, or what I truly think. My father is a hard, uncaring man. He drives all of us to the limits of endurance every day we’re on deck, with no thanks or acknowledgment for work well done.
He’s crude, cruel and heartless, but also crafty and manipulative. He has a sixth sense for a person’s emotional Achilles’ heel and never fails to press home any advantage he gains from that knowledge. Even so, he knows me only a little better than any other member of the crew, except for one bit of extra knowledge. He uses that to keep me on the boat.
Dad knows how close Mom and I are.
How could he not, even in the short times he is on shore in our home? He has never said or done anything directly or obviously, but through many veiled comments, innuendos and clever, half-finished remarks, he has managed to imply a clear, chilling threat to me.
The events surrounding the departure of my older brother from the family still sting him, so the unspoken subtext is clear – stay with the Anna and everything will be fine. Leave if you dare, but then you’ll have to “worry” about your mother’s health.
So, I stay.
I stay through forty-hour stretches of hauling and setting pots, storms that would make Davy Jones himself puke his guts out and bitter, bone cracking cold. I stay, because I know my father is not a man to make idle threats. Once a warning is issued, he won’t talk again – he’ll act, and act with a cold ruthlessness that would take the breath away from a Mexican Cartel chieftain.
I’ve often wondered how it was that Mom ever came to be married to this brute. Knowing her as I do, her quiet strength, her determined optimism and carefully concealed, but fierce, courageous spirit, I can’t even begin to comprehend what horrible twist of fate must have brought them together in the first place. Mom would no more willingly marry a man like that than she would cut her own throat.
When it comes down to it, I’m left with the forlorn hope that at some point in the past, Dad was a different person. If I’m going to be completely honest though, I think that’s a fool’s dream. The reality is more likely that for the Heimdahl men, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
At this stage, I have no real clue what keeps them together. It could be as simple as the fact that Mom could force the sale of the Anna Katarina in the event of a divorce. Given father’s obsessive control of the family finances and his legendary iron-fist, I think this must be part of the explanation, but my gut tells me there’s more, much more.
In any event, when I think about Mom and Dad splitting up, I get a chill up my spine. I think that my father would never sit still for such a blow to his ego. And then, I inevitably think about the unacknowledged absence of my paternal grandmother. Beyond that point, I dare not let my thoughts continue.
It’s a bitter thought that it is fear alone that keeps Mom tied to my father. I sometimes fantasize that Mom must have a hold of her own on Dad, something that gives her some of her own leverage, something that keeps her relatively safe from the worst of Dad’s temper and sadism.
Whatever it is, I speculate that it must be a deep, black secret of the worst sort; the kind of hidden rot that a man like Dad would do anything to keep from seeing the light of day. Knowing Dad as I do though, I can’t see him sitting still in the face of a threat of any kind – he’d much more likely take matters into his own punishing hands than sit still for any kind of blackmail.
So, I guess when it comes down to it, I really do believe that Mom has some way of protecting herself, which gives me a little comfort. Even so, I still wonder if Dad is just biding his time, weighing all of the variables and risks on the scale of his ice-cold heart.
When I lie in my berth on the Anna, tossed in my clammy, soggy bedding by rough winter swells, my mind often turns to this question. I worry that the marital cold war between my parents is inherently unpredictable, wherein the only stabilizing influence is that of mutually assured destruction.
The detente Mom shares with him must be grounded in the mutual knowledge of some truly horrible secret, and I fret endlessly that if that secret exists, the threat of its use will eventually take its toll on her, dragging her down to his Stygian level.
Worse yet is the idea that perhaps Dad has more to hurt Mom with than just his words and fists. Does she have some secret of her own, something terrible in her own past?
I can’t bear that thought.
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