This weekend, my hubby will take his baby to the lake.
Um, I’m not talking about me. I’m referring to his boat.
The love affair started like any other, as the dream of what could be. He could see himself, the captain of his own 16-foot speedboat, teaching his kids to ski and motoring them to the best fishing spots in whatever lake he visited.
He watched, envious, as other men enjoyed their boats during our summer jaunts to a northern Minnesota lake. He overlooked the differences between himself and those boaters – namely that most of them had grown up in Minnesota, where a guy having a boat is a given, what with those 10,000 lakes and all.
And then one summer, he casually told me that he’d rented a Lund fish-and-ski for the week. The writing was on the wall, although he tried to deny it. But I knew there was no going back.
Next came the lobbying, subtle at first. Spotting boats on trailers behind cars and SUVs on the highway. Casually dropping the names of his friends who owned boats. Surfing the Internet to look at boats. Dropping by boat dealers just because. Looking through the classifieds.
He’d read Waterline, a book by a Minnesota guy named Joe Soucheray, who lovingly restored an old Chris-Craft. That became my hubby’s dream, to restore an old Mark Twain boat, the brand of boat he’d learned to ski behind during summers at the Lake of the Ozarks.
A Mark Twain became the object of his relentless searching. He turned many a pre-owned boat away as too fancy, too expensive, too ostentatious. He scorned as bourgeois my warnings of “you get what you pay for.”
So he ended up with a $700 1985 Mark Twain boat that, sorry to say, lived up to my expectations and left him and the kids (and me, once) stranded twice in the middle of a lake. Having to ask for a tow humbled him, and like a teen-ager experiencing romantic heartbreak for the first time, he realized he’d have to adjust the dream.
That’s how he ended up with his current 3-year-old fish-and-ski boat.
His relationship with his Tahoe is in the honeymoon stages. He’s still got great hopes – so great, in fact, that he’s confident he didn’t need to get the boat serviced for summer before taking the kids tubing on a northern Missouri lake this Memorial Day weekend.
Now, I’m not a nagger, but really. Haven’t we learned anything from twice asking to be towed to shore and sinking a hunk of money into a rebuilt engine for a boat that wasn’t seaworthy?
Apparently not. And we haven’t learned any lessons from what happened last summer either.
He got the Tahoe about a year ago. He wanted to take it to a lake immediately, but other things got in the way. Work, for one. And baseball, for another. So it wasn’t until mid-June that he was able to hook the sweet thing up to our Suburban for a quick trip to a lake near Marceline, Mo., not far from my parents’ farm.
June can be a stormy month in Missouri, and this Sunday was no exception. By the time my hubby got the boat cleaned up and everything ready, it was noon. But he was undeterred by the wind and the gathering clouds. And to save time, he took our three-person tube to QuikTrip to inflate it so he wouldn’t have to do that at the lake.
It seemed like a good idea to tie the inflated tube to the boat for the trip until the tube slowly raised itself up like the sail of a schooner. I lost count of how many times we stopped to add yet more rope to the tube, which would not be controlled. I kept muttering that the difficulties we were encountering were signs to turn back, but he ignored me.
Somehow, we finally made it to the lake, four hours after we started. As we topped the hill to go down to the boat ramp, I saw whitecaps on the lake. “I don’t know,” I said. “It looks kind of rough.”
“It’ll be great,” he said, through gritted teeth. And he began giving me instructions on how to back the boat down the ramp. He jumped out of the car, grabbing a few things as he went, and hopped into the boat.
I sat in the Suburban’s driver’s seat and slowly backed toward the water, my eyes glued to the side-view mirror as I watched for his signal to stop. When I got it, I jumped out and went to the back to help. We unhitched the boat from the trailer, and he let it drift a little before he went to turn it on.
That’s when he discovered that he didn’t exactly know how to turn it on. It started differently than the previous boat, and he just wasn’t sure. The waves started pushing him toward the rocks. The kids started yelling. I reacted in the only way I knew how: copious profanity.
A few teen-agers pulled up to the public dock in a boat and eyed our situation. They finally asked if we needed help, and one jumped in. He showed my husband how to start the boat, backed up a little and expertly docked. He hopped out and took off with his buddies. My hubby said he’d be right back, and he took off for a frenzied drive around the choppy lake.
Meanwhile, on shore, the kids told me to lay off. What was I trying to do, ruin the day? All I’d said was that you’d think a person would ask at the boat store how to start the freaking boat. You wouldn’t buy a car without knowing how to start it.
Hubby came back, docked the boat and told us to jump in. I said I’d grab the beach towels. But I couldn’t find them anywhere.
Then realization dawned on my husband: he’d set the towels on the back of the boat when the teen ager jumped in to help. We looked around the boat. Towels were nowhere to be found. All the beach towels we owned were drifting to the bottom of the lake.
All told, we spent about two hours on the water. We were the only folks out on the 250-acre lake. The kids froze as they tubed. Rain started falling. When I glimpsed lightning, I demanded that we go back. He reluctantly agreed.
As we docked, some teen-age girls were pulling a boat out of the water. It looked so simple: they just lined up the boat with the partially submerged trailer, and away they went. So I hopped out and went to get the Suburban. I backed it toward the ramp.
An older gentleman came ambling by and decided to stop and watch as my hubby tried and tried to line up the boat just so. The rain was falling harder now, the wind picking up. The old fellow began making conversation.
“Man, that’s a tough one,” he said. “I had something like this one time trying to get my boat out of the Mississippi near Hannibal.”
You know how some men don’t like to ask for directions? Some don’t like to ask for help, either. Not saying that description fits my husband. I’m just saying.
Finally (FINALLY!) the boat was out and trailered, and we headed for home. Only the kids were starved. So we went into Marceline to eat at Sonic. And that’s when I noticed the black clouds. We’re talking thunderhead, honest-to-God storm clouds that could contain hail, tornados, gale-force winds, you name it. The clouds were coming from the northwest, so I, only one generation removed from the farm, suggested we take the southern route back to Kansas City.
We were almost to the bottoms between Carrollton and Waverly when a gust of wind hit the Suburban, pushing us into the eastbound lane. Huge, fat raindrops began falling, and the kids in the back started whimpering. I turned on the farm radio station to get the weather report just in time to hear the announcer say, “If you’re in Carroll County, you should be taking your tornado precautions now.”
We were in Carroll County, and we were pulling a boat.
And we knew those bottoms would be like a wind tunnel. So we pulled off at the first spot we found, a BP Amoco station, and waited out the storm. The kids were crying. But my husband and I sat like statues, listening to the radio announcer tell us exactly where the storm was headed. I pulled out a Missouri map so I could watch the progress.
After an hour or so, we thought it was safe, so we turned south to cross the Missouri River. We only encountered heavy rain for the rest of the drive. I think we got home around 11 p.m. No one said much.
We didn’t use the boat much until our Minnesota trip. Yes, we pulled the boat 650 miles to the edge of the north woods and back again. And since then, it’s been in storage.
Until this week, when it’s coming out, and this Sunday, when it’ll hit the water again. And my husband, who doesn’t have much of a working knowledge of engines, will be in his version of heaven, the one where he’s captain of his little part of the universe. At least for a day.
This time, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut. It's not much fun serving as the Greek chorus, anyway.