Friday, May 26, 2006

My Father's Boat

Dad's BoatIn the spring of 1956, a few months after my grandfather died, my father and I took an unusual Saturday morning trip to Riverview, the family farm. We did not stop at the then empty home but went straight down the riverbank to the boat house. There my father took measurements from the small rowboats my grandfather had built over the years.

These were Pamunkey River working boats, boats made for fishing and hunting. Nothing fancy; definitely not "recreational." I remember they leaked. We always had to bale them out before using them, and often while my father paddled, I baled. Baling is a good job for a small child; the idea of the boat filling with water - sinking - was a powerful motivating force for an otherwise easily distracted boy. That morning they were in even worst shape than I remembered, but they served the purpose. We went back up the hill and drove home.

The following year, or maybe 1958, Dad started building a boat in our backyard based on the design he documented that Saturday. However this boat would be larger, large enough to easily seat the four members of our family. It would also have a motor. He built it from oak and marine plywood, half inch on the bottom, with 3/8 sides. He covered it with newfangled Fiberglas cloth and a white gelcoat. It was just over 19 feet long, almost twice the size of its progenitors. It very definitely did not leak.

Our family used the boat for week-end outings on the large, newly build lake close to home. Daddy and I fished and hunted from that boat. We took it to my other grandmother's farm on the Potomac; one particular morning we caught more spot than we knew what to do with. Under full power it planed, but was very stable. We could make almost 20 mph; not bad for an 18-HP Evinrude pushing a heavy flat-bottomed boat. I even water-skied behind it.

After my sister and I went away to college the boat received less use, but it remained in our backyard until after my father died in 1981. After our local minister admired the boat my mother sold it to our church to give to him as a going away gift. She had asked me if I had any objections, and I had told her to go ahead. Just looking at it reminded me of my father and the times we shared. The pain of his loss was still too fresh; not seeing it I thought would hurt less. Besides, I had no use for it then. He would have approved; boats need to be used.

In doing research into my family's history - and the history of Pamunkey Neck - I have been reminded over and over of the dominant role of the rivers in people's lives. According to a letter I recently found and my latest conversation with Uncle Pickett, as late as the 1940's my grandparents helped support the farm by fishing with nets when the shad were running. They used those very boats I later baled from. And my grandmother could not even swim. I decided if I was going to write about Pamunkey Neck I need to spend some time on the water. And there would be no better way than in my father's boat.

A few months ago I located the now retired minister and gave him a call. He certainly remembered my family and the boat. But, unfortunately, he said that in a weak moment years ago he had sold it. Worse, he could not remember the name of the buyer, only that he lived near Lynchburg, a community called Forest. It was to Forest I drove that morning looking for a boat.

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