Pappa Doe: The Dolphin Whisperer

My niece, Paige, wrote the following for her creative writing class.  Her piece moved me so much, that I asked asked her permission to post it here.  Paige has passion, love and a true gift.  I am so proud of her and her sisters.  They have grown into such wonderful beautiful ladies.


by Paige Dadich

My Pappa-Doe was not a normal, cookie-cutter grandpa with reading glasses, cough drops, and stories of “the olden days.” His smile was just a little too crooked, and when he laughed he always ended up wheezing. His death-defying allergy to nuts meant we couldn’t enjoy pecan pie at Thanksgiving, trail mix in the summer, or special treats at Easter, and to make up for all of these absent holiday goodies, he would drink just a little too much “Wild Turkey” and tell us one too many times that he was “OK” to drive home.  His opinions were overbearing, he was always telling us to “learn something today,” and he almost always got his way; but he meant every word he said and we all knew that.

Nevertheless, my Pappa-Doe was an extraordinary person. He worked in customs for the majority of his life, helped coach a special needs hockey team until the day he died, and most importantly made sure his family knew they were loved. He had five granddaughters, and shared a special relationship with each of us. We range in age from twenty to seven, and he loved us all equally.

With how unusual of a person he was, it only seems fit that he died in a very unusual and unexpected way. And how selfish is it that he left for a month long vacation and decided he would never come back? Well, that’s what we all thought at first, but then we heard this story. The Hawaiian locals told it like this:

It was a warm September day in Waianae, Oahu. The damp morning breeze blew through the open windows, ruffling the off-white linen of the curtains, and giving him a chill that traced down his spine. It was his last day on vacation with his brother, Wayne, and sister-in-law, Liz, and he intended for it to be full of adventure, just as his whole life had been.

After opening his eyes and pulling back the baby blue cotton sheets, he maneuvered himself to the edge of the bed. There, he raised his perfectly tanned arms above his head, arched his aging back, and let out a deep breath. He stood up and proceeded to walk into the bathroom to refresh face with a quick splash of ice cold water which trickled down his neck, and quickly evaporated into the hot Hawaiian air. He grabbed his old-fashioned hairbrush with the wooden handle and horse-hair bristles, and as he ran it through his rich, shiny black hair, he was pleased to see that even at almost seventy years old he had not a single grey hair.

Upon entering the kitchen where Liz and Wayne were preparing coffee and toast, he was greeted by their warm smiles and good-morning hellos: a hug from her, a slap on the back from him.

“How’d you sleep, Chris?” said Liz.

“Sleep? What is sleep when you’re on Hawaiian time?” he said.

They shared a few laughs over breakfast and enjoyed their Oceanside view for one last time before discussing how they would spend their last day in paradise. While Liz and Wayne agreed on a laid-back day of playing cards and hanging out by the pool before having to pack their bags and leave at the crack of dawn, Pappa-Doe had more adventurous things in mind.

“I want to go snorkeling,” he said. “It’s our last day here and I want to spend it doing something memorable.”

Though Liz and Wayne had bags under their tired eyes and were exhausted from Pappa-Doe’s non-stop energy, they knew they would not win this fight. He had his mind set on snorkeling, and that’s what they were going to do, so after cleaning up from breakfast, they got in their bathing suits, packed up their snorkeling gear, and headed for the beach.

After making it to the end of the building’s patio, the powdery white sand made the journey to the water a difficult one for Pappa-Doe. Trudging through the dunes, he dragged along his snorkel gear keeping an eye on his brother a mere fifty feet in front of him.

When he finally caught up to them, they had already set up camp on a semi-flat part of the beach and were putting their gear on. Standing there catching his breath, he looked out to the horizon, and drew in a deep breath smelling of the ocean’s tangy salt and glimpses of the sweat beads forming on his hairline. He looked to his left and saw two of the people he loved most in the world. Not long ago had they lost their brother, Carl, and though the experience was tragic, the three of them became closer because of it. He looked to his right and saw one of the places he loved most in the world: endless amounts of clear ocean water, endless amounts of waves with lips of white cresting at the tops, and endless amounts of possibilities for his day.

After taking in the beauty of the sights before them, they checked to see that each snorkel was placed correctly. When they were sure that all were working properly, the three of them made their way to the water’s front. They waded through the warm water as their feet lost and found the ocean’s sandy bottom with each passing wave. Soon they were at the drop off and with a single look to one another, they put their masks over their eyes, leaned forward, and started their day’s journey.

The morning’s waves were calm and didn’t seem to carry them far off their path. Swimming was not a task at this point and they enjoyed floating through the bay looking down on the orange, cliff-like reef that lay directly below their weightless bodies. Upon diving down about ten feet or so, they saw silvery fish swarm from one anemone to the next like stopping places for bees finding nectar during the spring months back home. Soon, they found what they had been searching for since their arrival in Hawaii: a rare sea turtle native to the island. It swam directly in front of them as they all floated lifelessly in astonishment. Its maroon shell contrasted vividly with its olive skin tone, and all four of its legs moved in synchronization as its head bobbed back and forth while it progressed along through the coral reef below them. This one instant of disbelief stunned all of them, but they suddenly felt changes in their above surroundings.

When they surfaced to the water for air, they realized something had gone terribly wrong. A bellow of clouds roared above them and swarmed towards the shore. The water, which was crystal clear minutes before, turned a murky dark blue, and they could feel the temperature change to a crisp cold against their bare legs. They tried calling to one another to devise a plan of action to reach land safely, but the wind was far too loud and growing stronger by the minute. They signaled to each other to head back and to do so quickly.

Pappa-Doe was not far behind Liz and Wayne when the storm began, but when the two of them looked back to see if he was keeping up, it was obvious he was in trouble. The vicious currant had caught him and thrown him into a deep spiral bellowing down to the ocean floor. It was as if something had grabbed on to his legs and dragged him down… that was the last time Wayne and Liz saw him.

They said he never looked scared; he was calm and it was almost as if he was one with the ocean. However, Wayne and Liz felt guilty that he has alone and in such terrifying conditions; little did they know what had happened to Pappa-Doe beneath the surface. As he held his breath tightly against his aching lungs, he looked around violently for a way out. Left, right, up, down: nothing. Then, far in the distance, he saw five grey shadows growing right before his eyes. He never thought that any animals would be lurking in the water when such a rough storm was upon them so he considered it to be the lack of oxygen finally starting to take its toll on him. He was ever so wrong.

Soon the shadow-like blurbs turned into shapes, and eventually these shapes turned into what he could make out as a pod of dolphins. He could tell they were young because, well, Pappa-Doe just knew that kind of stuff.

When they approached him, their faces looked almost human-like to him and he could recognize some obvious similarities. Suddenly, he could breathe again. The pod of dolphins was leading him to something in the distance. It looked like a palace, or an underwater city with tall stone pillars laced with gold showing him the way. He couldn’t see exactly what it was at first because a bright light flashed and stayed directly into his view of this glorious place for quite some time.

Then he could hear Uncle Larry’s music playing in front of him and the laughter of his loved ones in the distance. The aroma of spicy Maryland crabs and tangy Blue Moon accompanied by a slice of orange filled his senses almost entirely. The dolphins continued moving forward until the bright light was behind them, and Pappa-Doe realized he had grown his very own pair of wings. He was no longer gasping for air, looking around for a way out; all of a sudden he knew he was exactly where he needed to be.


The Dernetz Clan 2008 Reunion

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