We woke to the fog horn groaning out a two-toned warning over Lake Superior. I chanted along with it, as we made hot coco and pancakes, dry under the pavilion of traps Dad had engineered over the campsite. “Dan-Ger, Dan-Ger, Land Here, Dan-Ger, Dan-G …” My sister’s eyes narrowed, I stop, teasing accomplished.
Dad drove us safely through poor visibility, 20 miles of highway and 7 along a twisting dirt track to the parking area. We walked down the path, four abreast, laughing at inside family jokes, fanning the air in vain attempts to improve the view of shrouded tree-trunks .
The abandoned houses’ silver-grey wood melted out of murkiness into reality. My sister’s clear voice, rose. “The ghost town of Gargantua was abandoned around 1960, when the fish ran out. People immediately left, some abandoned their belongings.”
We wandered through shifting cloud, past rock foundations with sodden cinders from BBQs. peering in broken-out windows, running fingers along the rough rickety walls of once houses, counting collapsed rooves. Our feet lead us down the shore where a dock rested on the rocky beach, long ago washed ashore by years of Superior’s winter storms.
On a rain-poncho covered driftwood tree we sat, like starlings on a phone wire, eating lunch in silent companionship. The fog shifted in layers of white, giving momentary glimpses: steel-blue water, blinding defuse light of thinning clouds, darkness of momentary twilight. With a sift of wind a patch opened from above, revealing a peep-hole into a blue cathedral sky.
My father has become a ghost town. Dementia turns one memory after another into abandoned buildings, leaving us staring at empty foundations and counting collapsed roves – memorials of loss. Here his personality started to fade. There he stopped driving. Here he phoned me the last time without help. There the frustrated violence started. Here he forgot my name.
Here his mind floats in the fog of forgotten memory, leaving us on the shore. We wrap arms around each other, standing strong together. As our worried eyes strain for a glimpse of him, we are comforted by the touch of family. The wind shifts, a shaft of sunlight cuts through fog and he is almost on shore. He smiles, recognizes, laughs with us. Just as quickly clouds fill the gap and he drifts back into grey oblivion.
One day he will not return.
In the distance, the lighthouse’s beam cut through the darkness and the fog horn warns boats away from the fog-shrouded rocky coastline. Dan-Ger, Dan-Ger, land here. Danger.