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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jim's Cuddy

We went on a couple of camping trips this summer, the Farmer and I, and spent just enough time in the old trailer to come to the realization that it is reaching the end of its days.
I’m sure someone who knows how to repair screens and bring rotting canvas back to life can get a few more years out of it, but that someone isn’t me.
Our main agenda when camping is to get away from the farm and onto the water, so we thought we might look for a boat. With a sleeping cabin. We weren’t actively looking – just strolling through marinas examining the myriad of styles, colours and price tags whenever we were near the water. I was pretty sure we couldn’t afford a boat. Not with me commuting to Ottawa and my little car on its last legs. What I need is a mini-SUV. With a “Farmwife” licence plate. But the more we looked, the idea of a floating camper started to grow on me.
I was raised in the boating life. My mom has a picture of me tucked under the bow of a speedboat in my baby seat. In the photo, I have a smile on my chubby face. I’m pretty sure that was gas or motion sickness-induced, but Mom says I enjoyed the ride. The waves put me to sleep.
For most of my childhood, we took the first two weeks of July and went camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park. Dad bought a boat that was perfect for water skiing. These were the days before wakeboarding, which everyone seems to be doing now. We would get up before 6 to get on the water while it was still unrippled and smooth as a mirror. Eventually the friends that we made at the campground joined us.
At my father’s memorial service last year, more than one person mentioned to me that Dad had taught them to water ski. Even when on vacation, he was a teacher.
Mom joked that Dad had “two-foot-itis”. Every year, his boat grew two feet in length. Eventually, the boat was too big to ski behind, and by the time Mom and Dad were empty nesters they had a complete floating cabin that served them well on long trips. Dad would spread charts of the waterways out on the table and plan these trips well before the start of boating season in May. He loved boating as much if not more than he loved snomobiling.
One day about a month ago the Farmer and I were just slowing down on River Road outside Manotick when we noticed a boat and trailer parked at the end of a long drive. It had a “for sale” sign on it. I commented that I could see a price was written on it.
“Let’s just check how much it’s going for,” I said, and he pulled over so I could hop out and take a look.
Well, that was reasonable. I was expecting it to be more than $10,000, but what do I know? I waved the Farmer over, who took a quick look at the price and then moved on to examining the rest of the boat.
It was twenty years old, but obviously well cared for.
“How much room do you have on your VISA?” he joked.
I jotted down the phone number, and we drove home.
The next day I came home from work and the Farmer was sitting there with a big grin on his face.
“I called the guy,” he said. “And he took me for a test drive. Wanna buy a boat?”
24 hours later we were the owners of a 19-foot cream-and-burgundy cuddy named Shylo. We can change the name if we want to, I suppose, but we don’t feel the need at the moment.
I climbed up on the trailer and lifted the canvas covering of the boat. I breathed in the marine and leather smell. A raft of memories floated in, Dad’s face in every one of them. Suddenly I could see Dad perched on the top of his seat, the wind in his hair, piloting his vessel through choppy waters.
I wondered what Dad would think of us buying our first boat. I told the seller the name of my Dad’s boat, and we chatted about the marina on the St. Lawrence where Mom and Dad had harboured for many years.
A few days later, we had some questions about the boat and called the seller again. This time he asked me, “what was the name of your parent’s boat again?”
“Thumper,” I said, “It had the bunny from Bambi painted on the side.”
“Well, it’s a small world,” the man said. “My son bought that boat from your father.”
Maybe Dad is up there orchestrating things. Maybe he isn’t. But I can’t help feeling sometimes that my father still has a hand in my life, he’s still watching, and he’s still there.
And I have a feeling he’s still on the water, his face turned to the sun.

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