Friday, February 1, 2008

The Haggertys of Virginia

The water of the slow moving river flowed around the two men as they stood hip deep in the waterway, fly rods in their hands. The summer air was warm (for an Alaskan summer, anyway), and still. The only sound was that of songbirds who could be heard over the burble of the water. The two men weren’t swimmers, they were fly-fishermen. One man in his late teens or early twenties and the other a man in his forties. They had been fishing for several hours, and in that time, barely a word had passed between them. As the day wore on, the boy began to look as deeply troubled as the older man looked serene.

Young Cameron Haggerty looked at his father and quietly said: “Dad?” His father, standing only six feet away replied with an equally quiet “Yes Cam?” His son, sounding terribly upset, said: “Are you in trouble?” The boy’s father looked at his only child and said; “No, son… I’m not in any trouble… why do you ask?” When the young man didn’t answer, his father asked again, a little more forcefully: “Why do you ask that, Cameron?” The younger man, almost an exact physical copy of his father, knew he was about to tread in troubled waters, but he plowed on: “Two days ago… before we left home, there was a call at the house… it was the police. Some guy who said he was a Detective from Washington, DC. He wanted to speak to you” Thomas Haggerty’s stony gaze at his son was anything but loving as he coldly said: “and what did you tell the Detective? Did you follow the instructions that I gave you about what to say if you take a call for me?” “I sure did, Dad! I told the cop that you were unavailable, and then I took a message like you told me told me to do” The boy’s father relaxed a bit and said: “Good job, son! Do you remember what the cop’s name was?” The boy thought for a minute and said “I remember now, his name was MacDonald. Hamish MacDonald. Does that ring a bell, dad?” The father cocked he head in thought and his face took on the look of someone who was trying hard to remember something. He looked at his son and said: “No, Cam, that name doesn’t ring a bell at all.. Now let’s see if we can’t catch some more fish…This is our vacation, and I don’t want to waste a minute!

Back at the expensive and opulent lodge that served the wealthy would-be outdoorsmen & women on their fly-in nature vacations, Christopher Haggerty sat at the bar, feeling lonely. It wasn’t because his son Thomas and his grandson Cameron had gone fishing without him… not at all, at his age, it was best to take some things easy, and it was easier for him to take in the expensive, but not gaudy, trappings of the lodge, than spending the day in hip-waders, flicking around a fishing pole. “Besides, you never know what kind of action you might get in the lodge…. Lots of ladies love an older man, you know.” He had remarked to Thomas before he and Cameron had departed in the morning. His son and grandson left with smiles on their faces at the old fellow’s joke, but what Christopher Haggerty felt more than anything else that afternoon, was loneliness.

At age 66, when he was only newly retired, after having built a successful family business, Christopher Haggerty lost his wife, life partner, and best friend, to breast cancer. He missed Millicent terribly, and occasionally caught himself talking to her as if she were still at his side, as she had been for forty-one years. He sighed and looked into the glass that held his second hot buttered rum in the gathering twilight. “Well, Millie..” he thought, “Here’s to you, baby… Wait for me. We’ll have a good time together when I get there” Haggerty was looking forward to the return of his family from their fishing excursion, because he missed them. They were all had left that was living from Millie. He was proud of his only son. Proud of the discipline that he had instilled in his boy, who he had turned away from the study of music and directed him into business, where he belonged. He trained his son in the ways of business, and showed him, through hard work, how he had taken a small, struggling cement works, and built it into one of the largest home-building companies in the mid-Atlantic states. He was also proud that Thomas had taken such a shine to the world of crunching numbers and making them come to a profitable sum. Those years of making his son work under various managers at the works had really paid off. There wasn’t much that happened at Prince William Homebuilders, from pouring cement to securing capital, that Thomas Haggerty couldn’t do himself.

While he was working on his second drink, his son and grandson had returned to the lodge, taken showers and joined their patriarch at the bar. Thomas ordered a Tom Collins, while Cameron ordered a glass of white wine. “White wine?” his father said… you aren’t even old enough to order a drink, and when they let you have a drink… you are drinking white wine?” His son looked thoughtful and replied: “Dad, I like white wine, and if these people will serve me because of Granddad’s and your money, I’ll have a glass of white wine… at the very least, I’ll be drinking it because I like it, and not because it is what my father expects me to drink.” Before Thomas could reply, Christopher calmed the waters by proposing a toast: “To My Boys!, God bless ‘em!”.

Sitting down to a dinner of Chinook salmon, grilled to perfection on a cedar plank with wild onions, peppers, and a glaze made from scallions, red pepper flakes and a reduction of high quality maple syrup, the Haggerty men started to relax. They enjoyed the lodge's hearty fare, and afterwards, retired to the well-ventilated, glass enclosed smoking lounge with brandy & cigars. This time is was Thomas who proposed a toast: “A toast, to my father for building the family and the family business… and to my son, the future of our family and it’s business!” Young Cameron, who was feeling the effects of his wine as well as the effect of his Arturo Fuente Opus X, 47 ring-gauge, Presidente maduro cigar, kept his own counsel.

Eventually, the conversation moved into the business realm, and Thomas asked Cameron if he was done playing sculptor, and if he was ready to accept his resonssibility to the family business. The elder Haggerty admonished his son to take it easy on the boy, he had to make up his own mind about the company. "What?," he said, "you mean like I got to make up MY mind, Dad? You made me give up my music scholarship to learn the family business!"

"Well, son"..., the old man said carefuly, "I robbed you of the desires of your future so that you could give a future of possibilities to your own son. I hope you can forgive me for it. Now, please, it's the second night of our vacation, I was hoping that we three generations of Haggerty men would be able to celebrate our bonds to the past and future, and be happy about what we have been able to accomplish through hard work, honesty, and obeying the law. I don't know how much life I have left, and I would like them to be spent at peace with myself and with my heirs."

Thomas Haggerty seemed like he was about to relent until his father said something about obeying the law, when he flared back into full anger, "Obeying the law??? Do you have any idea how many times I had to bend or even break the laws to rescue the company from the things you did in the past?"

"No, dad... why don't you tell us?!" Cameron Haggerty had finally found his voice... He wen't on: "I presume that whatever laws you have broken, you are still breaking them, hence the call from the DC cops just before we left."

The eldest Haggerty noted that others were starting to notice their conversation and hushed his son and grandson, saying: "I think we have provided enough entertainment for the other patrons for tonight, boys... perhaps we should speak of other things. Anyone want to tell me about today's fishing?"

After the long day of fishing, and a long night of eating and drinking (too much), the new day came late to Thomas, as he awoke to the sound of an airplane engine, racing with full power for takeoff. This was no real surprise for him, as the hotel/lodge was where this particular fly-in outfit had their headquarters. When he could bear to open his eyes, he realized that it was already noon. He took a shower and got dressed, and then went to wake up the others. There was a note on his father's door that said the the elder Haggerty had gone to breakfast, and that he should join him. His son's door had no note, nor did he answer his father's knock, leading Thomas to conclude that he had just gone on without him.

When he arrived in the dining room, his father looked at him with sad eyes and siad the Camaeron had gone back to Virginia. He had departed, en route to the airport at Anchorage on the first flight out. When Thomas said nothing, Christopher invited his son to sit and order breakfast... or lunch, by this time. Once that was done, and the first cup of black coffee for the day had been poured, Christopher continued talking, he told his son that he knew more about what Thomas had been up to than he really liked knowing about. Moreover, he knew how Thomas was diversifying the investments of the business. While he thought that this was a sound business practice, he was upset that Thomas was investing heavily in a company call White Sands, USA... a private military company.

"White Sands is just a large contracting agency, dad... they do things for the armed forces that the armed forces can't do for themselves."

"They are a mercenary outfit, Thomas! How can you ignore that?"

"Well dad, good business is where you find it... now tell me about why Cameron left."

"Your son isn't very happy, you know. He isn't interested in business... he wants to be an artist. He didn't think that this vacation would be particularly fun for him, but he came becasue I asked him to. Last night was a bit too much for him. He just couldn't take what he saw as your disappointment in him. When he left, this morning, he told me that he was quitting school to take a job at the Smithsonian Institute, and that by the time we got home, he will have moved his things from your home."

"Moving out?" Thomas sputtered, "with what? He hasn't got a dime of his own, and I'm not going to subsidize his Bohemian artist's lifestyle"

"Well, you needn't worry about how the boy will live, Thomas, I'll see to that with a bit of management for his trust fund. Besides, Cameron says that he knows a guy who is planning to sublet his apartment on Capitol Hill, so he will be close enough to home for us to keep an eye on him."

Thomas was unconvinced, but kept mum for the rest of the meal. When they were finished, Christopher went to find their guide for the day's nature walk, and while he was doing that, Thomas made a call on his sattelite Blackberry phone, dialing the number from memory. When a throaty female voice came on the line, he said: "Caren?... It's me, Thom Haggerty... I need a favor..."


Today's story was inspired by Wholly Burble. Here were her story guidelines:

Setting: A fly-in vacation in Alaska

Create, in more depth, three characters:

A. Christopher Haggerty, sixty-six years old, retired CEO of his own company. Only retired one year and already realizing all he ever did in life was make money--and now he wants to see what living life is really all about.

B. Thomas Haggerty, forty-four years old, present CEO of what had been his father’s company. Wanted to be a musician, went to college initially on music scholarship. Father nipped it in the bud, and made him change over to Business major all the way through to Master degree. Then groomed him every summer of his life from sixteen years of age on, as a summer apprentice in every line of the workings of the firm. He now is so swamped with the CEO position, he doesn’t even have time to dream of the life he gave up, or “could have had”.

C. Cameron Haggerty, twenty-years old, ready to start his second year in college after the summer hiatus. There on an art scholarship, and wants to be a sculpture. His father expects him to change his major to business. He's promised him much in material goods to get him to change over. But Cameron sees more than “things”, and isn’t afraid to say so.

Create conflict(s) for these story choices:,

A. In my father’s footsteps . . . Giving up “self” for the family good?

B. The family legacy . . . Honoring father, by becoming father?

C. The business of life is in the living, not in the business?

I took some liberties with the story... and if a couple of additional names sound familiar, it isn't your imagination.