Saturday, June 04, 2005

Sailing-Part II

The boat turned out pretty nice, and I taught myself to sail it that fall. The next couple of summers I managed to plug most of the recurring leaks, dyed the sails a bright yellow, and even gave the boat a charming name. She looked good parked at a buoy at the end of our dock, especially at sunset, but as I got older and busier, I rarely went sailing.

The fall of my senior year of high school I had a decision to make. Because a good friend had essentially drug me with him to the test center, I had taken college entrance exams. None of the other kids in my family had gone to college, my parents had not gone to college, and, with the exception of my friend mentioned above, almost nobody went to college from my high school. Lake urchins were not expected to go to college. In my family, they were expected to work in the family "business." I had received my scores, which were good enough to get into a good university, and it was, to use an apt bit of ruralese, time to figure out where the "bear shits in the buckwheat" if I was going to get applications in on time.

I came home from school one day early to take my sailboat in for the winter. On weekdays, in the fall, the lake was essentially empty. This day was a windy, sunny, deeply clear Michigan day, unusually warm. The waters on the lake were a bright blue, and, on a lark, I decided to take the boat out for a go one more time before docking it. As I took her out, the wind immediately snapped the sails into place and the boat was gliding more sweet than I had ever remembered. Within a couple of minutes, the boat seemed to be barely touching the water.

The prevailing winds took me over to the side of the lake where--at least this is the way I considered it then--the "normal" people vacationed, well up the lake's steep banks, in picturesque cottages. As I took the rounded bend with the winds, my old boat actually pulled up on its side and I hung out over its edge, relying upon the ropes of the sails to keep me from dumping me into the cold water. I looked up at the sky. I looked down at the water just below my head. I looked again at the cottages up the hill. The colors on the lake that day were so rich, so deep, so crisp that I knew I was in the middle of a "moment" that really counted. I decided right there that I was going to college. This meant I would leave the lake behind, probably forever.

Sitting at this keyboard 26+ years later, I still recall my mind's eye making a decision that would change the rest of my life. Instead of being a bricklayer, I would become a lawyer. I am thankful for this memory, this recollection of a corner turned.

That evening, I told my parents that I had taken college exams and was going to college the next fall. My dad was belligerent. He asked me what I planned to do with a college degree. I told him I was going to be a lawyer. He laughed in my face, likely recalling the many times while working with him--he was the bricklayer I worked for during summers and vacations over the preceding 8-10 years--he told me I "would never amount to anything."

I said nothing in response. He wasn't going to ruin this particular day.

I never again stepped foot in the sailboat. To my knowledge, the boat was never was put out on the lake again. Over the years, when I would return home from college, from law school, with friends, with my wife, and now even with my young daughter, I would look in on the boat, lifting its tarp the same way an old friend might identify the dead body of an childhood friend. She still sits there today, steadily decaying and rotting away, not unlike the first time I ever laid eyes on her.

On these occasions, I have been asked about restoring the boat rather than letting her die. My response has always been the same. The boat has already served its purpose on this earth. And for that I am thankful as well.