This is the last of a three-part essay. We will publish the series each Thursday through its completion. Find part one here.
So while my dad bought a boat, his dad built a boat. That’s pretty cool, right? My dad was young, very young. He lived in Maryland, on the Bush River on the western Shore. His father was a machinist for the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. It was a kit boat, the boat he built. You know, the kind you build from a kit. Sold by Chriss Craft, it was a 14 foot runabout with a 10 hp Martin motor. Dad says Martin is no longer in business, making motors anyway. He remembers fishing on the boat with his father. Cruising out to the Chesapeake, racing other boaters, spending time with his family, it was a different time for sure. While my mother insisted my sister and I learn to swim, in case we fell overboard or something happened, my dad’s mother insisted he was was restrained by a leash. A leash fastened to his waist with the other end tied to the rail. So he wouldn’t fall out of the boat. Apparently, my grandmother and grandfather won Parents of the Year that year. My grandmother would tell this one story, and with no sense of shame, or embarrassment, or I-should-have-known-better attached to it, she would say with pride that she used that same leash system to keep him safe in the yard. One end fastened to his waist, the other to a clothesline. You know. She could run about the yard. And he would. Back and forth back and forth, on his own little run. It is rumored my grandmother also crate chained her children, but that rumor has not been verified.
“Seriously, Grandma?” I asked.
“My mother told me to do it.” Was her answer. Grandma Casey, was a sturdy German woman who married an Irishman. Oh the stories one could tell about the wisdom and missives and habits of my Grandma Casey, and my grandma always listened to her.
My father’s family moved to Florida when he was ten. His father started working for NASA as a machinist. The boat came with them, much like Hesperus would travel with us. And like Hesperus, they rarely, if ever, went out on her. And there she sat, in their yard, for a long time. Eventually and unceremoniously they sold the boat to a family friend. This friend also allowed her to sit, unused, in their yard. I find it interesting, that, that bit of nostalgia.
Or perhaps it is just a sentimental me grasping at a connection with my father and his father. A man I never knew. And yet, like my own time, my father’s time to be raised on the water, raised by the water, raised by that vessel, that boat that safely carried our lives across the water. Well, it was ended at the age of ten. Nothing remarkable, I suppose, but a coincidence, a thing we share, an unspoken and perhaps until now, un-thought of thing we share. Yeah, it’s kind of sad in a way, the selling of the boat; my grandfather’s, my father’s, and in a sense mine. A sad demise of a boat, and maybe of a childhood. Oh, that may be a bit dramatic. For certainly my childhood continued. My father’s as well. Mine lasted quite a while, I thank my parents for that, my father’s was cut short by an early marriage, child, and the death of his father. Allow me one more indulgence, one more comparison, one more coincidence … As I’ve said, the sale of the boat for my father was clearly more than a sad demise of what was always far more than a boat. I say clearly, as it is evidenced by his continued desire to have a boat. His first boat he bought maybe five years after his father died.
We moved back to Orlando. Hesperus had finally and also unceremoniously been sold for a second time, and the horses went with her. We were free of horses, we were free of boats. And we were free of the ties that bound us together. Times were good, times were bad, times were as bad as they could ever be. So my Dad bought a motorcycle. That lasted a very short time. It was never the same. It didn’t work the same. My dad, my mom, they couldn’t fight and scream, and yell, and laugh and love and work together. Not on a motorcycle. And not in their lives. They could do some of those things. And they did; thy fought and screamed and yelled and there was still love, but the love was now like Hesperus, or the old kit boat. It sat in the yard, unceremoniously. All but forgotten. And the work, there was no work. Or the laughter, that had gone too. So they didn’t: they didn’t laugh and they didn’t work.
Then along came a no named Scout 165. For while time may heal all wounds, so too does a boat. This one was a small 16-and-a-half foot skiff for fishing and tooling up and down the rivers of Central Florida. They went out on it, my parents did. Sometimes just the two of them, sometimes with others. My mother’s mother went with them a few times. Some friends, my sister. I regret that I never did. And while it was just a small boat, it was also a small step in their learning to work once more. That small step, I suppose, held a lot of significance.
The first time we went for a ride on this new boat of Dad’s, it was a little bit of an ordeal. Mike had gone with him to get the boat in Delaware. They drove together back to my parents’ house, and bright and early they set out to launch the boat and bring her out to the boat slip my father had secured at the Eastern Shore Yacht and Country Club. Mike and my father are quite close. Mike and my father are quite similar. Mike and my father had a long day. I drove down to meet them. Our plan was to have lunch and go for a ride on the boat. Getting the boat secured was evidently less than fun. The slip was not the best of slips, the tying of the boat was not easy. My father and Mike rigged up or invented some weighted system that would allow for movement of the tide and current and all sorts of things that could potentially go wrong. What they did not account for, however, was the simple fact that the docking system for my father’s kind of boat was not really suitable. Not to mention we were all a little out of practice. And then on top of all of that, the accessibility to the bay and other rivers and inlets and creeks, it would not be a suitable and easily accessible location for my father and his boat. It was, at first, a disappointment.
What was not a disappointment was my father seemed to fall right back into the old swing of things. His boat owner swagger, if you will, had begun to come back. I offered to help Mike and Dad with some of the set up, I was essentially told to go below. Yep, “Get down below,” was the phrase my sister and I would often hear when things were about to go awry. When it became necessary to drop or raise the sail. Tie some lines or lower the boom and batten down the hatches or whatever nautical thing might arise. I’m so technical here, because, you see, although my sister and I grew up on a boat, our knowledge of sailing consists of hotdogs make good bait, colorful language and what we could learn while we were banished to down below. And what we learned was we always got sick when we were down below. Especially my sister. And so, as I have said, my offer of help to my father and my husband was unceremoniously declined. I chose to have a beverage with my mother instead.
We made it out on the boat, however. My parents, Mike, Sam, and I. Mike and my father had figured out whatever it was they needed to figure out. We took a quick cruise down Taylor Creek, into Puncoteague Creek and we returned once we met the Chesapeake Bay. It was not a long ride. It was a windy ride, beautiful scenery, much to look at, and much to remember. And that old bit of arguing came back, highlighted by my mother’s attempt to assist with docking and my father’s shouts of protest and my mother’s comments of how she has done this before and my father’s insistence that she get out of the way. “I used to do this all the time!” She complained to me once we were safely ashore and Mike and my father wrestled with the tie up once again. I shook my head. Things really hadn’t changed. They were on a boat, fighting and yelling.
We’ve made other trips. Mike, my parents and I went up and down the Pokomoke River. A beautiful ride to be sure. The dark waters and amazing wildlife, it is a real treat. My parents have made that a few times. My sister has joined them and my father’s oldest friend, Ronnie. My father has boated with other friends as well, and one of his newest friends, my husband. They have fished and cruised and laughed and even argued. My father in-law joined them on one such venture. My father brings his boat up here, to Salisbury, and they launch in the Wicomico or Nanticoke. Sometimes the fishing is not so good, sometimes it is very good. But it is not about the fishing, not really. Nor is it really about the ride. It is about the boat.
It is always about the boat. And what we learn, and that it brings us together. The boat does. The boat brings us together. Some of my greatest memories of real and true togetherness are on a boat. My dad’s boat sinking is one of my earliest memories, a broken engine, too many mosquitos joining us when we tried to sleep down below, a cool breeze and gentle sway and listening to our parent’s tell stories when we moved out to the deck. Swimming, diving, jumping laughing. Being afraid, being sad, being angry … and working it all out on a boat.
Fifty years my parents have been married. Actually, it has been a little over fifty years now. I figure they have, God willing maybe another thirty year run. At least twenty-five. I don’t really like to think of my parents in terms of their mortality, I guess no child ever does. But they have time. Another quarter of a century or so for fighting and laughing and yelling and loving and screaming and, well, growing. Of growing up, learning to live and love. Learning how to navigate their twilight years, together. Absolutely together, still, on this no-named boat.
So my Dad bought a boat. Big deal, right? But this time it’s different. This time it has done something else. It means something else. He didn’t just buy a boat. But then again, maybe it is not so different after all. The boat, owning a boat, it has never really been just about the boat. I think that my Dad has figured that too. So my dad bought a boat.