A first look at knots

The following is a sneak peak at David’s forthcoming book, “Beyond Mermaids: Life’s Tangles, Knots, and Bends,” content that will likely appear as the preface of the book.

David Roper and his father. Photo courtesy David Roper

It’s tempting to draw out the world you want from a picture. A lot of what we remember is fiction.


Here, a first look at knots. I remember. No, that’s not true. I think I remember because of what’s in the picture. The picture tells some apparent truths: I was about five years old. That was my dad with me. It must have been around 1955. We were standing on an old wooden pier in Hingham Harbor, Massachusetts. It appears to be early spring. And the knot: it looks to be part splice. And one end is frayed.

One thing is certain: it’s a picture of my dad showing me about knots. But, from there, I can only speculate. I can’t remember the circumstance. Maybe we had gone down to look at the water after Easter Sunday dinner. Or maybe to get out of the house due to a fight with one of my older brothers.

It appears there’s kindness and attentiveness in the picture, though I don’t remember the kindness, or the patience, that the photo seems to indicate. Dad does look patient. I do look attentive. But that photo, like a very short piece of line, is only a tiny sliver of time the length of a shutter click, forever preserved. Good, bad or unpleasant things could have happened right before or after. Perhaps my mother took the photo, having set the scene and the shot in a manner that preserved things the way she wanted to see them. What she hoped for in our relationship. And maybe I lost my attentiveness right after the shot. Or my mother started shivering in the damp March air and hurried us along.

It’s nice to believe that image really was what it seemed to convey. And that life went on that way from there.

My dad may have leaned down and handed me the length of rope. Or perhaps I picked up the stray piece and handed it to him. Maybe I asked him how to tie a knot. Or what that particular knot was. Or maybe he wanted to show me. Perhaps he said that there are all kinds of knots. Perhaps I asked him how many? And why there needed to be so many. Maybe he told me that different knots did different things. Perhaps then I looked up at him and asked, what kind of things? Good things? Maybe he got thoughtful, perhaps philosophic, and said, well, there are good and bad, or wrong things. To which, I may have asked, what wrong things? There are wrong knots, like the granny, and those get too tight sometimes, and then it’s a mess, hard to untie them, he may have said. And then, perhaps, he thought of the metaphorical side, but changed the subject. He would have known I was too little for metaphors, and that I wouldn’t understand about knotted stomachs, being tied up in knots, undoing Gordian Knots, or living a life with frayed ends.

Maybe we went home, bringing that piece of line with us. Perhaps that evening, after supper, instead of reading me a story at bedtime, he showed me how to tie a square knot. Or maybe he helped me make my first bowline, showing the way through an imaginative process: making the loop-like hole be the rabbit hole, telling me how the end of the line is the rabbit, and how the rabbit comes out of the hole and goes around the tree – the other part of the line – and then back down the hole again. And then, maybe he showed me how, no matter how hard I pulled on the knot, it could always be undone. Maybe he said that to give me hope. Or simply because it was true for this knot. Maybe there was a lesson there. But it would have been too much for a five-year-old to grasp.

So maybe it was then that he put down the knotted line, and began to tell me that first story about mermaids, of two particular mermaids, Minnie and Maisie, who lived under the pier in Hingham Harbor.

That story I remember for sure.

Dave Roper’s novel, “Rounding the bend: The Life and Times of Big Red,” was released in last June and is available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

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