Boys of summer

We sensed bigger places beyond, but we lacked mobility. The rowboat helped.
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Reflections Boys Summer

By Jerry Dennis  |  illustration by Glenn Wolff

Ten was an age with some weight to it. Double digits. No more kid stuff, I thought. No more toys for Christmas. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time to get a job and start saving for college.

So I decided to have fun while I could. One morning my brother and I rose at dawn, when the lake was as smooth as glass, and set out on an adventure.

Our world was small then. It consisted of the lake, our house and yard, and a couple square miles of woods and meadows across the road. We sensed bigger places beyond, but we lacked mobility.

The rowboat helped. Somehow Rick and I convinced Dad to let us take it for the day. We’d been using it for years, but only with oars, and always within sight of the house. Now we wanted to borrow the little Johnson outboard our father had owned since before we were born. It was a temperamental motor, difficult to start and tricky to keep running, but we had watched Dad enough to know we could master its intricacies.

Our plan was to motor to the far end of the lake, four miles away, and dive for treasure. We had been there before, with our parents, but it always seemed like foreign territory. The kids at that end of the lake went to a different school and might as well have spoken a different language

That morning Rick and I loaded the boat with our life jackets and a can of extra gas, as well as a bag of sandwiches and a canteen full of water and our masks, snorkels and fins. Our plan was to motor to the far end of the lake, four miles away, and dive for treasure around the bays and islands down there. We had been there before, with our parents, but it always seemed like foreign territory. The kids at that end of the lake went to a different school and might as well have spoken a different language.

We made our way down the lake, the little engine chugging its reliable, one-stroke putter, until we reached the southernmost bay. That was where Long Lake exited through a narrow brushy creek. If we had been determined enough we could have made our way down the creek to Mud Lake, then to Lake Ann, and from there down the Platte River to lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario and the St. Lawrence, to the Atlantic and all the oceans on the planet. Our little world was growing bigger by the moment. 

All we had to do was go. 

But I got careless and steered too close to shore. The propeller hit a rock and sheered a pin. I lifted the motor and tried to remove the propeller, but I fumbled it and it fell into the water. The wind was blowing and we drifted away, and although we dove over and over into the lake, we never found the propeller.

So we rowed home. Fought the wind all the way. 

Rowed until our hands blistered, but we didn’t care. 

We were on our own, under our own power and intoxicated with our independence, rowing stroke after stroke into the future.

BLUE Reflections columnist and author Jerry Dennis lives near Traverse City and has collaborated with fellow regional artist Glenn Wolff on many books including “The Bird in the Waterfall,” now available in a new edition (jerrydennis.net; glennwolff.com).

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