Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

My dad loved the water. He didn’t care if he caught a lot of fish because to him, it wasn’t about the fish, but the fishing. It was about being outside far from the industrial fans and the flying ash of his welding rod.

He wasn’t a welder because he loved his work. He was a welder because he needed to feed his family. He left his tools at work because he wanted to keep that separate from his home life.

The river was an escape from the mind-numbing tedium of his job, and he spent a lot of time on the Warrior. He loved it so much that he saved his money and bought a small lot by the water down in Rocky Hollow.

We then started scrounging around for building supplies and we cobbled together a small two-room cabin that by today’s standards would be considered a shack. But to us, it was like a palace.

Later on, he saved up and bought a 14-foot V-bottom aluminum boat with a 10-horse power Wizard motor which was built by Mercury, as I recall. It didn’t have gears, so you had to be mindful when you cranked that baby up or you’d find yourself in the river.

It was a very small motor but it made our boat scoot.

One sunny July day in 1964, dad and I went fishing and he let me drive the boat. It didn’t have a steering wheel, so you had to sit at the back of the boat and steer by holding onto a throttle handle. If you wanted to go right, you had to pull the lever to the left and if you wanted to turn left, you pushed the handle to the right.

That took some getting used to, but I quickly mastered it and my dad rarely steered from that day forward if I was in the boat.

Dad was a patient and understanding man, which was fortunate for me. On my maiden voyage as a captain, I headed down the river at full speed. Dad sat in the front and pointed out logs floating just beneath the surface and I got good at dodging them.

I was doing great when all of a sudden, he stood up. He saw something in the water that I had missed.

He shouted back over the noise of the screaming outboard motor “TURN AROUND.”

“WHAT?: I shouted back.


Daddy had seen a cottonmouth as big as a gator and he wanted to shoot it with his pistol.

An experienced captain would have cut back on the throttle prior to the turning maneuver, but that’s not what I did.

At top speed, I shoved the steering lever hard to the right, which made the small boat veer to the left and tilt precariously to one side.

I fought to stabilize the boat and managed to keep it from capsizing but unfortunately, my dad was no longer standing in the bow of the boat. In fact, he wasn’t in the boat at all, but in the river with an oversized snake.

Fortunately, gravity kept the tackle box and most of the other gear in the boat so all I had to do was turn off the motor and paddle back to pick up my dad before he was eaten alive.

I kept a watchful eye out for the snake as I headed back for dad. Apparently, the splash (when dad hit the water) spooked the snake because it swam quickly toward the bank.

Once I realized that dad was not hurt, I fretted a little. I thought he’d be angry or worse, that he would never let me drive the boat again.

When I reached down to help him back in the boat, he was smiling. He anchored his foot and snatched me into the water head first, and then he laughed as hard as I’ve ever heard him laugh before. “If you don’t like the water, you have no business owning a boat,” he said.

Even today, whenever I go near the water, I think of my dad and that always makes me smile. Happy Father’s Day.

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