Tribute to a Fisherman Lost at Sea

“You were the one who told me that all points along a journey should be named, given the names of the heart. There should be no excuse for the journey. Your simple reason of “let’s go and see what we can see” should be reason enough.”   (The Tao of Pooh) 

In August of 1995, I celebrated my 21st birthday at the First City Saloon in Ketchikan.  

Well, that isn’t exactly true. I actually celebrated my birthday on board the Vis looking for salmon jumpers on the fishing grounds outside of Ketchikan. I was the “leads-and-web gal” on the seine crew.

The only other boat in the area that day was our good friend, the Spartan. In fact, one of the crewmembers on the Spartan was celebrating his birthday as well.  I’ll never forget the way he leaned over the top house rail as the two boats bobbed side by side and handed off to us what was left of his chocolate birthday cake.

It was after we returned to town following the opener that I entered the First City Saloon and my sister Cassandra’s new boyfriend, Danny, bought me my first–and only–beer of the night. (The evening turned out to be one where things just never picked up, and I went back to the boat early–a fairly rare event.)

Danny was a crewmember from a different boat. He was a lively and gregarious guy, and a professional rock climber. He just had an aura of “cool” about him. Best of all, he really dug my sister.

When the summer was over, Cassandra and Danny moved to Capitola, a town near Santa Cruz in California. That year, they became engaged and started working with my dad to prepare for the dawn of a new business venture, Vis Seafoods. The plans were ambitious:  Farmer’s markets, custom processing, shipping, retail outlet, canned and smoked salmon, gift baskets, flash-frozen, all-wild product, direct from boat-to-store.

Danny was the son and brother for whom my family of girls had been waiting all its life.  He was a guy’s guy; a rascal, a tease, a go-getter. He already had a sister of his own, but he accepted my sister Stephanie and me–and gave us grief–as though we, too, were his own. He called us his “girly girls.” He loved us all, you just knew.

My uncle died unexpectedly that fall. Before flying up with my sister to attend the service, Danny sent me a card. The following is a short excerpt:

November 28, 1995

“I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your uncle. Life can be so cruel sometimes. As long as we remember that it is that, a part of life, it will help in the healing process.

That is why it is so important for us to do everything we can with our lives. Sometimes life sucks!

But we move on and heal—so keep kickin’, girl, and if you need anything, just call!

I’m glad you and Steph are coming to visit at separate times. Three Karuzas are more than any man can handle.

Well, take care, write us soon, and if you need someone to gab at just call.

See ya soon.   Danny 

The next summer, Danny joined us on deck as part of the Vis crew.  (My dad had all three of his daughters working on deck for several summers, and he’d had a rule as well: No Boyfriends Allowed on Crew. Because Danny and Cassandra were engaged and an October wedding date was set, Danny was no longer just a “Ketchikan Boyfriend,” and was welcomed aboard.)

I looked up from the galley table on my 22nd birthday that summer to find Danny standing before me. He reached out his arm and offered me the wrapped gift he held in his hand, vibrating with a mischievous sort of glee as he waited for me to open the present.  Inside I discovered two books:  The Tao of Pooh,” and “The Te of Piglet.”

“Have you read them, Jen?” he asked eagerly. I saw the hope that spread across his face, the anticipation that filled his brown eyes. 

I had not, as a matter of fact.

“Ahh!” Danny said, triumphant. “You’re gonna love them.” He went on to explain in exuberant detail just what the books were about, and how he had been so lucky as to stumble upon them himself.

That fall, Danny and Cassandra got married, and the doors to the new Vis Seafoods opened. Four months after the wedding, Danny went to Alaska for the Snow crab season. I won’t pretend to know or understand exactly what happened next, other than to say that it was the worst:  He died.

On February 17, 1997, Danny was lost at sea. It was President’s Day. He was 27.

It’s been eleven years since he was lost and almost twelve since he presented me with the books for my birthday. Those two books have traveled with me all this time to different cities, different states, and lived with me in different apartments and different homes. I know what Danny would ask if he were here now.

“Did you read them, Jen?”

He’d stand merrily before me, smiling in his impish way, waiting expectantly for my answer.

“What’d you think, Jen? Weren’t they amazing?”

He’d look straight at me with eyes that gleamed so bright, I couldn’t turn away if I wanted to.

Yes, Brother, I’d say. I read them. 

I don’t quite remember now what they were about, but I read them. I’ll keep them forever, because you gave them to me.

But you know what, Brother? You’re wrong about one thing.

It’s you that was amazing.

Danny at Ocean  

“If tears could build a stairway,

or memories a lane,

I’d walk right up to Heaven

and bring you home again.”

(Anonymous)