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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fringeville #108, June 15 2014 inability to dress well is apparently hereditary...

(If you have read this before, apologies. But I'm compelled to run it again, because I cannot pass a body of water or a boat on a trailer (or in a backyard "drydock") without thinking of my father. Had Melville written Moby Dick with my father as the lead character, it would have been a short work indeed. "Call me Wally. I joined a crew to hunt the great whale. But I sank the boat in the harbor." The End)

My Dad didn’t have much luck with boats.

His idea of a perfect day would have included an excursion up Maryland’s Little Choptank River in a small boat with a woefully underpowered outboard motor. There would have been a wire net for crabbing, and perhaps a fishing pole, but they would be optional. The boat was the thing. He believed he was in his element on the water, and on those extremely rare occasions when he actually got there and nothing went wrong, that seemed to be true. That hardly ever happened because, as I said, he didn’t have much luck with boats

Most but not all of his disasters happened in Maryland. I remember as a child being with him at a marina on Taylors Island on a bright, sunny day. He’d borrowed someone’s trailer so he could launch “the boat.” The water was murky, and he enlisted the aid of someone in a Gilligan hat to guide him as be backed the boat down the ramp. He put the car in reverse and eased the trailer slowly down the steep ramp as Gilligan beckoned with his hand and shouted “a little more!” every few seconds. This mantra was repeated over and over until Dad backed the trailer right off the ramp. Thick metal makes an odd sound when it snaps. The boat floated. The broken half of the trailer sank. I have been wary of people in Gilligan hats ever since.

Another disaster visited when the remnants of a tropical storm raged across the Eastern Shore. He went to the marina before the storm came to make sure “the boat” was secure. He tied the knots perfectly…the lines would have to break for the boat to come free. He didn’t, however, account for the abnormal tides.

The morning after the storm he left to check on “the boat.” He was gone a few hours, which wasn’t a good sign. When he returned, he had tears in his eyes. My mother asked what was wrong. “I sank my boat,” he said, choking on the words. He didn’t leave enough slack, apparently. I never had the heart to ask if Gilligan had anything to do with it.

The boat spent a long time out of water after that being “repaired.” Our dry dock was the driveway. I remember working with fiberglass patches and gradually making the boat worthy of the water once more. We were living in Woolford, Maryland by then and had a small dock on the property we rented. When the boat was launched…successfully and without Gilligan anywhere in sight…we took one of several uneventful trips up the Little Choptank. I wondered if the curse was broken.

A few weeks later, a junior high friend of mine picked me up with his father’s boat at our dock. We were going to his house for a day of BB guns and Beatle albums. It was low tide, and we got stuck on a sandbar. My father, sitting on the porch, noticed us struggling to get free in the distance. He decided to rescue us. We could see him hundreds of yards away in “the boat.” He’s started out for us and the motor must have stalled. He was bending over, trying repeatedly to re-start the balky outboard as the boat drifted and turned this way and that in the water. Meanwhile we worked ourselves free and began doing lazy circles on the river, wondering if he needed help. Finally we saw the boat had moved a distance up the creek, and knew he had started the motor. The boat was partially obscured by some marsh grass. My mother was on the bank in the distance, waving. We waved back and then continued up the river.

I learned the awful truth several hours later.

When Dad finally started the motor, the boat was facing the opposite side of the narrow creek. He shot straight across the creek, up the opposite bank, and flipped over backwards. He was trapped underneath for several minutes before working free. The boat sank again, of course, and spent more time in dry-dock once it was pulled from the water.

He gave up on boats eventually, but after he retired here in Pennsylvania he gave it one more stab. Things weren’t much different. I can clearly recall spending an afternoon on Harvey’s lake. It was a beautiful day. We were on the water for nearly two hours. The engine of “the boat” (a different boat by now of course…I lost track of what happened to the first) was dead.

On another occasion, I went to our old homestead in Harding to visit him. He had his own trailer now, and “the boat” was on it. He was about to hook the trailer up to his pickup truck. He asked me to come with him. “Perfect day for a boat ride,” he said. His eyes were alive, sparkling with anticipation. He bent over to resume the hitching. I watched, and frowned. Something didn’t look right. I spoke up, and was immediately silenced. “I’ve been doing this for years,” he said firmly.

We began the trek out of the neighborhood. I was in the passenger seat, looking at him as we talked. The truck hit a small speed bump near the edge of the development and Dad hit the brakes, slowing to a crawl.

Something caught my eye.

“Dad,” I said urgently.

He looked over at me. “What is it?”

“Look out your window,” I said, motioning with my head.

He did, just in time to see “the boat” passing us. It came to rest in someone’s flower patch. There were, fortunately, no casualties (other than Dad’s pride).

“I’ll pay for the flowers,” he told owner of the murdered begonias.

We dragged “the boat” back to the truck and hooked it up correctly. No words were exchanged and the rest of the boating excursion went without incident.

I am forever thankful Dad had no interest in aviation.

I miss him terribly. I know wherever he is he sits on a small boat on a great pond. The day is crisp and clear, a breeze is blowing gently over the water, and he is drifting lazily on the water.

Out of gas.
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