Age 5: The Young Boy and the Sea

By Cal Evans
My Grandfather on my mother’s side is known to two generations of yard-apes as Pop. He is a wise and gentle man and has been for as long as I can remember. Regardless of the stories my mother tells, I can’t image him speaking a harsh word. (I think she embellishes her childhood stories, but that’s between her and Nana.) Pop was a wise old wizard who, in the late 50s or early 60s had the foresight to purchase lake-front property in Orlando, FL, long before the mouse came to town.

So it came to be that summers as a child were always wet and wild. Many a summer me any my yard-ape cousins would spend dawn till dusk frolicking in the surf and playfully trying to drowned each other and hide the bodies. But before there were other yard-apes, there was only me and my drooling sister, and on the occasion of my fifth summer on this earth, I found myself vacationing with my family at “Crabtree Club Med.”

That year, my father, whom many of you will remember from the ice sliding story earlier, decided it was time for me to “become a man.” Yes, it was that rite of passage from childhood to manhood that every 5 year old boy dreams of, my first boat.

In all its glory, sitting on saw-horses in Pop’s garage was my baby. Mottled green and sporting one of the only 1 1/2 HP outboards Mercury ever made, she was a site to behold. To the untrained eye she resembled several piece of plywood left over from other projects that had been assembled and barely waterproofed but to me she was a work of art, a beauty to behold, my own S.S. Minnow. She took your breath away as nothing since our Datsun had. I was in love, and I knew that I was ready for the test. But that would have to wait because it was now nap-time and man or not, Mom said sleep.

The post-nap time jitters hit me as I watched Dad and Pop carry my beauty out to the water. I tingled all over at the thought of Dad and I skipping over the wake at breakneck speeds, he at the wheel and I with the wind in what would have been my hair if buzz cuts had not been all the rage. Gently they lowered her into the water. As Mom dragged me off to change into my sporty new sailor’s outfit (which, oddly enough, resembled a pair of cut-off jeans and an old life preserver) and Nana went off in search of a large towel to remove the drool and fingerprints from the window, I saw Dad and Pop go to work on the engine.

Later that same afternoon, after watching them trudge back and forth between the garage and the waterfront, Baby sputtered to life. She sounded beautiful. I smiled, closed my eyes and breathed deeply from the blue-gray smoke escaping from her cowling. She purred along like someone strangling a kitten until Dad reached over and put her out of her misery. He looked at me, smiled and said, “C’mon champ, let’s take her out”. He dropped me into the seat between him and Pop in the main boat and with my Minnow in tow, we shot out into the open waters of Lake Jessamine.

It was a fine summer day in Florida. By the time we neared the middle of the lake, you could fry an egg on my poor unprotected head. It reminded me that I needed to have a talk with Mom about this haircut. I really saw myself with long flowing locks.

Pop killed the engine and Dad pulled my Minnow up along side. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for all day, just me, Dad and the water, the excitement was building inside me as he picked me up and lowered me over the side into the boat.

Like all little boys, I sat behind the wheel. Well, knelt really, there wasn’t really a seat in this boat. Come to think of it I began to wonder where Dad was going to sit. The steering wheel was a little low for him. If he wiggled his way around, he may be able to get his legs up under the bow that is if we had some Vaseline and a shoe-horn. I silently pondered these facts as only a 5 year old is able to.

Dad dropped a gas can into the boat and hooked her up. He tugged on the rip cord leaning awkwardly over from the main boat and suddenly she sprang to life. Dad looked over at me, told me to sit down and grab the steering wheel. Feeling important, even if I thought it to be short lived, I did.

The kitten behind me screamed as if someone had lit a match to her tail and my Minnow lurched forward. Dad, straining with the bow rope, held me next to the main boat, looked me square in the eye and sad “Have fun son, see ya when you run out of gas,” and with a flippant wave and a very scary grin, tossed my bow rope into my Minnow and started sliding backward behind me.

Off she shot like a marble through molasses. I was out on the open water, all on my own. Over the scream of my engine, whom I was now sure was possessed by a demon, I could hear my father laughing and screaming for me to turn the wheel.
Turn the wheel? But that would mean that I was steering it. I was frozen with fright. Straight ahead I plowed through the water a ¼ model of a racing boat roaring towards the opposite shore, no less than ½ a mile away. At this rate I would beach within the hour. I had to think fast. Then something inside me snapped. My father had trusted me with this fine piece of machinery, he had faith in me that I could drive it or that at least he could catch me before I did any damage. I wasn’t about to disappoint him. I grasped the wheel with both hands and spun it like an experienced captain on the North Sea.

A quarter turn and I was facing into the wind. I smiled and gritted my teeth. I had to, if I opened my mouth to scream, bugs flew in. Onward I flew. I was now racing down the length of the lake passing pontoon boats like they were standing still. Onward I flew until as I looked back, Dad and Pop were a speck on the horizon, a speck frantically waving for me to turn and come back.

I spun the wheel to turn and go back, my Minnow, had other ideas. We went 3/4 of a turn instead of 1/2 and I began cutting across my own wake. I hung onto the wheel as my body was pounded by the pulsing waves beneath. My hands jerked back and forth as I tried to steer clear of the raging torrent I was caught in but the more I corrected, the more I stayed in its grasp. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was more like 5 seconds, I cleared my own wake and was aimed back at Dad and Pop.

Onward I flew, around the lake, again crossing my own wake but this time realizing that it was not a punishment by an angry God and bouncing around like a bathtub battleship until kitten started to gasp. She sputtered, reduced her scream to a whimper and finally gasped one last time and then lay silent. With my ears still ringing from her howl, the bugs in my teeth, the spray from the boat still covering me making me look for all the world like a skinny, blond, drenched toilet-brush that someone had put a life jacket on, there I sat, grinning like an idiot as Dad and Pop pulled up along side.

Dad tried to lift me out but I resisted, I wanted nothing more than to ride back to the dock in my Minnow. Dad gave in laughing and tied me up as Pop slowly nudged the big boat to wards shore. I was a man.

I’m not sure what happened to my little Minnow. Maybe it was used by my other yard-ape cousins, maybe it was sold off at a garage sale, maybe it was locked up in a hidden warehouse in Washington where they keep instruments of torture to evil to speak of. I can’t even recall if she ever saw the lake again. But there for one brief instant, for one quarter tank of gas, for one chance in my lifetime, the sea and I were one.

Thanks Dad.