A long wknd highlight was taking some friends, John and Lorraine, for a ride in my little tin boat down the Burnout river where I’m camped this summer.
John starts in with a story about this boat old man built when he was a kid. It was plywood - based on a cabin cruiser design (without the cabin).
It’d been left up on shore and it banged against the rocks til a hole was worn in the hull. Dad took it to a friend who patched the hole and fibreglassed the hull.
For a test drive he took it and his two boys down to the shores of Lake Ontario where they lived for a ride in the bay to see if the skyline of Whitby had yet risen above the shoreline trees. As soon as Dad opened her up – gunned the engine – the shearpin broke (the nail that is – that he’d put in when the real shearpin’d broke on a ride the summer before).
So the boys paddled her back in to the gravel and rock Lake Ontario shore. Dad backed the car up and lowered the boat trailer right off the end of concrete apron - clunk. The boat was heavy and you needed her half afloat to get her up on the trailer so that was okay. But when he got back in the car and went to pull her out, the trailer wheels got stuck against the bottom edge of the ramp. Dad gunned her but the car’s rear tires were in the water and just spun on the wet ramp.
So dad backs her up a bit and guns her again hoping to pop the trailer and boat up onto the boat ramp. Instead he rips the wheels right off the trailer. ( I love this part of the story because I can see myself doing the same thing.)
There’s a local kid who lives with his family in a shack down by the railway tracks. He’s been watching all this from a distance. John knows him from school. He’s way big for his age but still childlike in his mind – John’s glad that he’s so friendly cause he’s also awed-scared of the lad’s brute strength. Dad gives him five bucks to watch the boat pulled up on the shore until they return.
They don’t make it back that night and of course a big wind blows up and there’s whitecaps on the bay. The waves take the boat out into the bay and when the boy’s mom sees it tossing around out in the dark waters she makes her son swim out in the dark stormy waves to retrieve it “That man gave you five dollars” she scolds him (only the poorest woman would put the value of a handshake deal over the safety of her young son. She knows that the dignity of her family is at stake and won’t be compromised for a mere five dollars).
The kid tells them this when they return late afternoon the next day. With help from a man from dad’s lumber yard, they get the wheels and then the trailer up on dad’s lumber delivery truck and off they go to the welder’s shop to put the wheels back on the trailer and then back to the bay to get the boat. As they pull it up onto the trailer they notice that the boat’s suffered a new hole where the old one was – from banging against rocks on shore – again.
For Dad it was just a big circle of misery and bad luck. Instead of cursing his luck though he kept his humour and just did what needed doing – patching things up to keep moving on – ever forward. For John it was an adventure and now a story to keep his dad’s memory kindled and alive in his heart. That memory stirs up like embers beneath ash when he and his big brother get together and tell each other the story again – putting fresh sticks of forgotten detail onto the fire for one another. Their Dad’s constant unseen presence flares up before them for a bit and dances stirring his light in their eyes. A tear comes and is quickly wiped away – “it’s the smoke” - they tell one another – young braves with a bold and resourceful father again.