There was something about lighthouses that excited him, that perplexed his five-year-old mind. He leaned forward in his seat, staring out the window whenever he saw one, and if we had time to stop, he awed at its shape, its design–a tall, concrete tower with arched windows, a vent ball, and, what he imagined was in-tact, a cellar, an engine room, office, kitchen, and watch area.
“It looks like someone’s in there,” he said every time, even when nothing but darkness emanated.
“I don’t think so, buddy,” I informed.
“I think there is,” he insisted.
“Well, what do you think the person is doing?” I humored.
“He’s looking out at the water…sending signals to the boats.”
“Where are the boats?”
“They’re coming,” he assured. “When they get here, I’m going to wave.”
“Okay,” I said, doubting we’d still be there when one did finally pass.
“I’m going to wave to grandpa.”
“You think grandpa is going to be on the boat?”
“Yes,” he shook his head.
We found a place to sit and waited. I did not have quite the same fascination as he did, but I didn’t mind staying, enjoying the smooth ocean air, the last of the sun’s milky rays. Every once in a while, Patrick stood up and paced, his hands on his hips as though he were working through one of life’s great mysteries.
“It’s time,” he said,
“Time for what?” I asked, but he didn’t clarify.
In the distance, I saw the front end of a boat cruising towards us.
“See,” he said. “It’s grandpa.”
“But, grandpa’s at home,” I explained. “He can’t be at home and on the boat.”
“Uh huh,” he insisted. “The man in the lighthouse is going to give him a signal so he’s safe.”
“Oh, okay,” I agreed, deciding not to argue with a five year old.
Patrick jumped up and down as the boat approached.
“Grandpa, grandpa…” he screamed.
The long, commercial boat seemed to inch along, my interest piqued as the red and white vessel got clearer. I knew my father was not on the boat, but I wanted to see what was.
“It’s grandma,” Patrick said when my phone rang, and he was right. She was calling again, checking in, having already forgotten our previous conversations.
“Hey, Ma,” I said. “We’re at the ocean.”
Her voice quivered, her words like needles sliding off her tongue and into my ears. The weight of her news brought me to my knees.
“Wave to grandpa,” Patrick sang, waving with all his strength.
“He’s safe,” Patrick said once the boat had passed. “And see, the man in the lighthouse gave him a signal, a shinning light so he could see where he’s going.”
“That’s wonderful,” I managed a smile, wondering how at five he had navigated his way through life’s murky waters and found his way back to shore safely.