Russ and I took the girls on a drive yesterday. We drove down to Lake Champlain, taking the back roads, dirt roads we’d not taken before, just to make it more interesting. We were headed to a marina. To look at sailboats for sale.
It was a trip I’ve taken hundreds of times in places all along the east coast with my own parents. Growing up, Sundays were often “mystery trip” days. At first, my folks wouldn’t tell us where we were going. Sometimes even my mom wouldn’t know. But over the years, we saw the pattern: all roads led to a boat yard. Seriously, we visited boat yards everywhere we lived, from New Jersey to Maryland to North Carolina all the way to Florida.
It never bothered me. I was the one who loved these adventures the most. Sailing with my Dad was the best of times. He’d call me his “chief mate” and then explain that it was my job to fix the sandwiches. Eventually I became the best of my sisters to steer the boat and when I was bigger, I was trusted with hoisting the sails or taking down the jib — which is up front and a bit more dangerous.
Sailing with Dad took us away from the strife at home. He and I would go out together. I think my fondness of sailing made it easier for him to escape home life as he could always say he was taking me along. We would go to the boat to work on it. I would help refinish the teak; buff the deck, stow the lines, just hose the boat. We’d sail. We’d motor around. We’d enter races. Looking back, I realize how big a part of my life sailing with Dad was.
Yesterday, I realized Dad would have loved seeing Olivia and Russ walking among the boat yard discussing the features of the various boats. When I was about the same age as Olivia, Dad and I would do the same things, would connect over a shared interest.
I didn’t really plan this trip. When we started the trip out Olivia had been in a cranky mood and railing a bit against authority, and I was expecting her to remain that way. Once she started looking at the boats, it all went away. She was at peace. She was delighted to be with her Father.
I kept to myself or walked with Katie. I was at ease in the boatyard. The biggest difference between walking among the boats now and when I was with my own father, is that we lived in the South, where most boats stay in the water year-round, so boat hunting involved walking along the docks of marinas. Here, because the lake has been so high, the boats are still in cradles in the boat yard, and most of what I saw of the boats were their hulls & keels, which felt a little like walking through a boat graveyard. It felt eerie, in a way, walking in the kind of graveyard feeling close to my deceased father.
Actually, walking among the boats, I felt closer to my father than I have in all the years since he’s been deceased.
Buying a sailboat feels like a huge decision to me; I realize now it is an emotional one for me. I have been reluctant to pursue this path, becuase I remember how divisive the boat seemed to be to my parents’ marriage.
But yesterday, walking among the boats, watching Russ and Olivia, I realized that I can make this a positive new adventure for our family, to endorse it, to shape it, and to pass along my favorite memories of Dad, of the ” Grandpa” my children will never get to know.
If only Dad could see me now.