Allison Batdorff: Nostalgia or 'home ache' starts early

Batdorff

Before Art, I’d only known diving in warm water.

My freshly-minted SCUBA certification came from Thailand where wet suits were pretty much only for looks and protection from jellyfish stings and coral scrapes.

Art changed all that for me.

He was salt of the earth, his house literally steps from the Morton’s salt plant on the factory side of Manistee.

“Yah, this is Art Krause. So you like diving?” This random, SCUBA match-making call between strangers started awkward, but the resulting friendship was easy.

And difficult and tragic in places. But Art and I had an elemental connection. Water.

Art didn’t expect much from the water — he loved it when it was cold, or mucky or when we had to cut a triangle in the ice to get to it.

He took the water as it was, and he taught me to do the same. Diving didn’t need to be fancy to be good. In fact, it was better if you were self-reliant enough to jury-rig your own equipment together, get something cheap, or find somebody’s downrigger to make some money.

So we racked up dives, and we racked up stories. One winter day was so windy our SCUBA gear literally froze to our bodies as we walked out of the water. Once a lower-laker almost hit the drawbridge and the force of its quick stop tossed the Manistee River net pens filled with salmon fingerlings all akimbo, and we geared up and set the fish free. Once, on a night dive, I told him I saw a cow skeleton on the lake bottom — and I never heard the end of it.

We found bottles, collected crayfish, speared burbot, took pictures of underwater groves of weeds, slabdocks and shipwrecks.

It didn’t matter if we found treasure or just swam in water where you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face for an hour — Art taught me the joy was just in being there, being suddenly weightless and graceful, that the simple thrill of breathing underwater was worth the effort.

We went on like this for several years, and Art loaned me his oldest daughter Laura’s equipment while I slowly accumulated my own. Laura was his first choice of dive buddy, but I was an acceptable replacement until she wanted to come back.

She did return one summer. And in a horrible accident, she drowned, Art holding her, above a shipwreck near South Manitou.

Laura’s death changed everything. It changed our relationship with the water, and each other.

Especially for Art, who’d been half merman and our ringleader. After some months, his warm, wonderful wife Cheryl thought it was important for him to try to get back in the water.

We made a few halfhearted efforts, but the light in his eyes wasn’t there. So our friendship moved from the water to the lawn chairs in Art and Cheryl’s backyard, where we sat and talked.

I moved away from Manistee not long after, but would stop and see Art and Cheryl whenever I came through town. His younger daughter Angela had a daughter, and it sounds like being a grandpa put the light in his eyes again.

Art joined Cheryl and Laura in the great beyond this week, and I’m bereft that the man who showed me the way to just be there, isn’t. But I take comfort in knowing he is how I knew him best, weightless, graceful and free.

Email Allison Batdorff at abatdorff@record-eagle.com.