Friday, July 4, 2014

So far from shore

July 9, 1980
(Recollection from 1964 or 1965)

The outboard motor boat glided to a stop in the middle of Greenwood Lake, the motor at the rear coughing a few times before it did.
Was this supposed to happen, I asked Uncle Frank, whose bear-like shape filled the front of the boat so it tilted slightly in that direction, despite all of the weight of gas cans and engine in the back.
No, he told me, and locked the steering wheel in place as if he expected the boat to go anywhere, when all it could do was bob like a cork in the middle of the lake, victim to other boats passing closer to shore on either side and whose wake shook us.
He moved passed me towards the engine and the whole boat shifted and I feared for a moment we might capsize, but did not.
Frank was not the mechanic in the family, Ted was, and so when he lifted the lid off the side of the motor and peered into it, he wore a bewildered expression that told me we might not get back to shore soon.
The sky had foreboding gray clouds just over the tip of the mountains suggesting the onset of a storm, if not soon, then soon enough, as was typical this time of year. It would start raining with us exposed, and night coming on as well.
Worse the green trees growing on the shores to right and left looked remarkably distant, if not quite as far as the even more remote shores in front and back of us.
I asked him what we were going to do.
He just stared into the interior of the motor and shrugged.
I asked if we had a paddle.
He shrugged again.
The lake grew gray beneath us.
Frank went back to the front of the boat, shifting it with each step. He picked up the handset to the radio, spoke briefly, listened, then slammed the handset down, telling me that the Coast Guard Auxiliary’s boat was somewhere on the south end of the lake and the guy on the radio didn’t complete understand what Frank was saying or where Frank’s boat was.
I felt a bit of wet on my cheek.
Frank fell back into one of the passenger seats and the whole boat sank a few feet before bobbing up.
Lightning flashed near the mountain.
I could swim, but not so far as the shore, and so I sat, too, feeling the rain and the drift of the boat, and hearing the sound of thunder.
I kept thinking about my grandfather who had gone from building houses to building boats, and that only one of his five sons had inherited any of that ability, and I was not with the one who had.
I loved Frank, like a father, but he wasn’t a man I trusted to get me out of this or any mess like it, and I wondered why I had taken his offer on this maiden voyage when I knew he was no sailor or mechanic, and had too little sea salt in his blood to even claim the right as a fisherman.
I kept thinking we would float out here until lightning struck us or the rain sank us, or some other less than natural disaster overtook us when night fell.
I kept thinking that maybe I was better off in the water, trying to save myself.
I kept thinking the only reason my uncle even had this boat was to prove to the rest of the family that he could, that he wasn’t the loser they kept making him out to be, and how utterly humiliated he would feel when we finally did get towed back to shore and had to face them.
I suggested we tell the family we were taken over by pirates.
His large head rose as he glared at me.
What about UFOs?
He looked hurt and desperate.
I finally suggested maybe he should try to start the engine again.
What’s the point, he asked, having already given up, having accepted the fate our family had created for him.
I said it couldn’t hurt, but secretly hoped he would keep the pirate story as a back up plan.
He sighed, rose, rocking the boat as he made his way back to the engine and gave the rope one good yank.
And remarkably the engine started. Even more remarkably, it kept going until we got back to the dock.
I vowed never to get into a boat with him again. I didn’t have to worry. He sold the boat two weeks later, and bought a pick up truck.
But oddly enough, he also bought an oar, and kept it in the back, and never said why.

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