THE FIRESIDE CHRONICLES
THIS MONTH: The Boat
NEXT MONTH: Getting Tuned
“Is the pickup going to be able to pull that?” My wife asked.
I laughed, “Of course, don’t be silly!”
She gave me one of her looks and my nervous laugh turned into a sudden cough.
“It’s huge!” she said.
We’d just completed the first half of our journey, after driving from Eastern Montana to Portland Oregon. Along the way we’d stopped and visited friends and relatives, making the trip into a real vacation, but the mission had always been; my new, used fishing boat. We came to a stop in front of the albatross and got out to look it over. I’m truly blessed in the fact that my wife isn’t one to shy away from beating a dead horse.
“It’s too big.” She said. “The pickup won’t pull that and the camper.”
Her considerable support for the entire prospect now had me thinking she might be right. Although, as any fisherman worth his night crawler knows, there would be an icy layering over my grave before I’d admit it. My wife doesn’t quite trust me on certain things, like; what I say, what I fix, what I do, and the ever popular “I know where I’m going.” I think most men know what they’re doing; my dad did, even when I was just a boy.
Dad’s boat was a hand-me-down from Grandpa and had an old, I’m sorry- ancient, Sears motor. It was so old that it didn’t have horse power, as horses had yet to be invented. The upside is, within a week of burning the midnight oil dad could get it to creep to life. I remember walking out and seeing dad’s feet sticking out from under the boat.
“What are you doing dad?”
“What… huh, just trying to get the boat going. What are you doing out here?”
“Mom told me to come help you.”
“She’s just full of good ideas.” He said.
I stopped, not sure what he meant. “So… did you get it fixed?”
“Are you working on the motor?”
I looked at the motor, unashamedly sitting there topless, on the back of the boat; a cigarette dangled from its carburetor. I suddenly felt dirty and looked away. “So… what are you doing under the boat?”
“Looking for peace.”
“A piece of the motor?” I asked.
“Is your room clean?” he asked.
It was the ultimate conversation stopper. My sister and I shared a room, and though my side was virtually immaculate, hers was a disheveled disaster area that had been quarantined for fear of alien life forms. “Pretty clean.” I said.
“We can’t go camping until that room is clean.”
Dad knew my weakness. “I suppose I better go check, if you don’t need any help.”
“I’ll be alright.” He said.
Eventually he did get the motor running. Somewhere in the cloud of exhaust, it choked, gagged, sputtered and wheezed. One time the smoke cleared for a brief moment, and I realized it was dad, who choked, gagged, sputtered and wheezed, as the torrents of sweat ran down his face. There wasn’t much quit in dad, however, the same couldn’t be said for his stuff.
With the motor working, it was time for our family to make the annual pilgrimage to Fort Peck, where the entire family got together for a week of summer fun. Keep in mind this was done in the days before sun-block, skeeter repellent, child safety laws and cell phones.
For those who don’t know what Fort Peck is, it’s a rather large body of water in Eastern Montana. As with most places in the plains, the wind usually blows, and on a large body of water, that means waves.
Naturally the first thing we would do upon arrival is take the little fourteen foot, red and white, fiberglass death skiff out into the middle to see if it would actually keep running. At the time, it was just my sister and I, and after that trip I don’t know how my younger brothers ever came about. My sister and I wore our life jackets that looked like three pillows wrapped around your neck and dad always wore his, having never learned to swim. As with all boats, ours made it to the deepest and roughest part of the lake before shuddering to a halt.
Amidst the silence dad uttered something he should have been ashamed of, and then cranked on the engine for a few brief seconds before the battery died. Quick as a cat, he slid his way to the motor past the look mom kept trained on him. If it wasn’t for the water splashing over the side, his back surely would have burst into flames. My sister and I tried to keep busy by bailing water instead of fishing, as was my recommendation. It was discarded without as much as a vote.
The earliest models of outboards, as dad’s was, were equipped with a backup plan. They came with a starter rope. In order to pull the starter rope, you had to wrap it around the flywheel first. This ingenious setup gave you one pull; at best. He worked feverously, wrapping and pulling, wrapping and pulling. Eventually dad ran too short of breath to continue the vocabulary lesson my red faced sister and I had been paying close attention to. He finally dropped his rope, too weak to even throw it, and accepted the paddle mom must have been going to hand him, because she was standing right behind him with it. Even though I was young and not very smart, as my older sister pointed out every hour on the hour, the exchange seemed odd. I never really understood the look on dad’s face until I took my own wife on a boating excursion…
We decided to try for walleyes that fateful night and motored over to a point we’d seen earlier. As usual, we didn’t catch anything, but the wind started to blow putting nice two to three foot rollers on Lake Sacajawea. With my vote rudely tossed out on a technicality, we departed for camp. The ride home was wet and rough and loud. I could hardly hear the engine over the constant weather updates my wife was sending in from her side, two feet away. She was completely insensitive to the fact that I was getting wet too. With a play by play of how much water was coming over her side of the boat, we made better time than we probably would have otherwise. She seemed angry and vowed to never go night fishing with me again. I wish I could say that was the only thing she vowed never to do at night with me again, but we won’t discuss that here.
It must have been something in that exchange between mom and dad all those years ago, because I still don’t carry a paddle on the boat, and I think it’s saved my life more than once.
One cold windy day and the second voyage with the new, used boat, I discovered a problem with the shifter. I knew it would be difficult to load the boat in reverse, but was beginning to think that would have to happen. After messing with the shifter lever, I finally got into forward, only to turn and see my loving wife standing behind me with her Ugly Stick and the vengeful glare of an Egyptian slave trader.
“Quit fooling around and sit down!” I said as she hit me with the fiberglass whip. “You need counseling!” I said as I took one to the head.
The boating regulations say that you need a paddle for safety. I say you shouldn’t have one for the same reason.