My boat story
I was a “city” kid.
Born and bred in Brooklyn. I walked to Our Lady of Perpetual Help school every day for seven years, endured the encroaching violence that crept up from third avenue and yearned for the life I saw in movies…you know the Andy Hardy town with the barn where you could put on a show?
When things got really “bad,” my parents began the search for, if not the Andy Hardy town, at least one where they wouldn’t have to worry about the safety of their children.
They found it in Lake Carmel, New York. The house was not new to us. It was my grandmothers’ bungalow where we had spent two glorious weeks every summer.
Living with her for those two weeks was an education that couldn’t be bought anywhere.
We lived a very spartan and, for those times, primitive existence. But it was wonderful.
There was running water in the house for the bathroom and the kitchen sink. It was collected off the roof into a large tank that, with the blessing of gravity, allowed us to flush the toilet and wash dishes.
Potable water was another thing.
Twice a week, my grandmother would “go for water.”
She would fill the little red wagon with glass gallon jugs, separated by dishtowels and head for the spring on Beekman Drive. We’d fill each jug while being careful not to annoy the yellow jackets that always seemed to be there. On the way home, the jugs would frost up and tempt us with their coolness.
The filled jugs were kept under the kitchen table. The table resided in what we called “the back porch.”
Grandmother’s house was a true bungalow, that is, a single story house with a porch in the front and the back. My uncle had closed in the back porch and it had become the kitchen where we cooked…on a kerosene stove.
I learned to cook and bake on that stove from Hades. I believe that I can cook on a hot rock after that training. The back porch was furnished with the stove, the smelly kerosene heater, the refrigerator and a table…the one under which we kept the “bottled water” and on which we prepared the meals.
My grandmother didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. She had a broom and the house had to be cleaned every day.
She was born in England and was a champion tea drinker. Each day the cooled tea leaves from the previous day became part of the cleaning ritual. She would sprinkle them on the living room rug and then we would sweep. The damp tea leaves kept the dust down where it belonged.
We played outdoors in the sand pile in the back of the house. We picked berries; made jam, played Crazy Eights, pick up sticks and Bingo. We would walk across the causeway to Bloomberg’s grocery store to shop. We would swim at the Spa beach or sometimes at the Barrett Hill Beach. It was a fabulous two weeks.
The house was, in city parlance, one block from the smaller of two lakes. Ogden Road began at our front door and proceeded to Route 52, a distance of about a football field.
That was an auspicious intersection.
It was where we would later, after we had moved, catch the school bus. You cannot imagine the excitement that I had at the prospect of riding in a bus to a school where there were boys and girls in the same classes.
The intersection also marked our access to the lake.
A small path led from the fence on Route 52 to the rickety dock where we would go fishing with our homemade poles.
We would look longingly at those who had the freedom of the lake in boats. But we had no money for a boat.
I knew that my parents had exhausted their savings buying the house, having a well dug and installing a furnace and hot water heater.
I was the eldest and I was learning practicality.
My dad was a resourceful man. One day he came home with an old boat that he had found submerged about 15 feet from the dock.
The boat was a mess and in my thirteen-year-old eyes, I thought my father was crazy.
He put the boat upside down on sawhorses in the back yard and went to the police station to report the “derelict” boat.
Now, my dad came from the same streets where we grew up, but his was a much wider experience than ours.
We lived only three blocks from Brooklyn Bay and were lulled to sleep at night by the deep basso sounds of the ships as they passed through the narrows. In all the years that I lived there, we never ventured lower than Third Avenue.
But, my father played on those docks, swam in that water and had, as he said, many, many boats…the best he verified were the flat bottomed boats, like the one he found…less able to tip.
A month passed and no one claimed the boat. It was ours.
I was not thrilled. But my father insisted that we work on restoring the boat to the fresh water version of “seaworthiness.”
We scraped all of the remaining paint off the boat. We primed it and gave it three coats of dark green paint. We caulked it, bought brand new oars and proudly placed it in the lake. We were “rich.”
We had a boat. And, more importantly, we did it ourselves.
So many memories are tied up in that little craft. We fished from it, entertained friends in it, rented it out by the hour or the day as a means to make some money when I was too young to work.
When I was 14, I became an entrepreneur.
My neighbor who was from Czechoslovakia, taught me how to catch worms. I found the top of a barrel that was used to hold dishes in a moving van, painted the word WORMS and an arrow leading upward on Ogden Road and I was in business.
I sold worms and as an added source of income, I rented the boat out. I made over two hundred dollars that year…I split it with my brother, a not so silent partner.
Much later, I brought my fiancé home and took him down to the lake to experience the skill that it took to aim the boat at the tunnel under the causeway between the lakes.
With one expert push of the oars, we would glide through, listening to the unique sound qualities of the low concrete tunnel. When my in-laws to be came for their first visit, we took them out in the boat to fish. They didn’t have a boat. They were impressed.
The boat was only a small part of a life that couldn’t have been any happier despite much family sickness and other problems. We did find that Andy Hardy town, complete with a school that gave us a first rate education, life long friendships, good values and wonderful memories.
I hope that I have been able to give my children something of the wonder of those days.
While there is no lake within walking distance from our home, we do have a summer cottage on a lake with water so clean that we drink it unfiltered or chlorinated.
Our dock is a lot fancier than the one of my youth and the boats that my children use are far more sophisticated. There is the 13 foot whaler that has taken us all over the 17 miles of the lake and served as a sedate party barge for teens when the owner’s mother is along.
Our son has used the boat to rescue becalmed boaters as thunderstorms approached.
True to the modern desire for speed, the boat is powered, but the original 35 horsepower motor wasn’t enough. Without more power, only the smallest of skiers could get up…heaven forbid such a faux pas…and so began the seemingly interminable search for a motor that would provide the power and fit the transom.
The motor that he found…two actually with long and short shafts produced something called a rooster tail that added a bit of spectacle to the boat.
Both of my children sail. They took lessons at the local country club and developed considerable skills as racers. Our daughter will often borrow a friend’s Lazar (we sold ours) and head out into the wind. An unforgiving boat, the little one man craft with the enormous sail goes like the proverbial “bat out of hell”.
Yes, they have boats, but they are fiberglass and unsinkable. No adventure, no creativity. Hull cleaner is about as difficult a task as they have with them.
Would that I could have found a derelict wooden boat and shared my history with them.
Maybe these words will do.