Real Help for Real Living: A Mother’s Day story that doesn’t involve a mother… well, almost

by Rev. Tony Marciano

My father loved to fish. He didn’t care if he was surf fishing out of Sandy Hook, N.J., or fishing on a party boat off Montauk Point, N.Y. After I came along, he would go fluke fishing in the Raritan Bay in New Jersey… in a rowboat.

He always went to Dee’s Landing and rented 16-foot rowboats. They were wooden rowboats that leaked. He could have gone next door to the other boat rental company that had metal boats. They didn’t leak. But he felt bad for Dee.

Her boats were consistent; they leaked. Sometimes the paint on the bottom kept the water out. One boat had a knot in the plywood bottom that came loose. As it flew up in the air, the water followed in after it. We had to turn around and go get another boat. That one also leaked; just not so bad.

The Raritan Bay is not like Lake Norman. Ocean-going freighters come through this waterway. They often passed by us at just a mile or two away. My dad had his 9.6-horsepower Mercury Outboard attached to the back of this 16-foot rowboat (no, not 96 horsepower, but 9.6-less-than-10 horsepower). We sometimes encountered storms and miraculously made it back to shore. Since this was a different time and era, we had no life preservers with us, only life cushions.

After a few years of wet feet from leaky rowboats, my dad yearned for what would become his life dream, the ownership of a boat. He would spend the next few years going in and out of marinas looking at various boats. Finally, he came across a 26-foot cabin cruiser.

It was made by a boat builder named Trojan. They were famous for building wooden boats post World War II. The previous owner only used it a short time and outgrew the boat. He was trading it in for a larger model and wanted to unload it at a very good price.

My father began to drool. The deal was too good to pass up. He had achieved his life goal. There was only one problem.

My mother’s father was very, very old school. He was born in Italy and immigrated to America in the early 1900s. My mom was the first of her family to be born in America.

Being as strict as he was, she and her other sisters were forbidden to wear bathing suits. She never learned to swim and spent her life terrified of water. What was she to do now that my dad owned a boat?  Being the gracious person she was (and still is), she joined him on the boat each weekend. But I could see the fear in her eyes.

Each fall, he put the boat in dry storage. In winter, we drove 60 miles to the marina in order to prepare the boat for the next season. It became our weekly winter ritual.

Being a wooden boat, it required more maintenance than today’s fiberglass boats. Each year, we had to scrape the barnacles off the bottom and paint it with at least two coats of paint. Every few years the topside was painted.

One year, we fell behind in our schedule. Although we usually got the boat into the water by late March or early April, this particular year we found ourselves still preparing it on the second weekend of May. Because we arrived late on Friday, we needed to spend all day Saturday and Sunday getting it ready for the water. It was Sunday morning and we were still working on it. My dad looked at me and said, “It is wrong that we are here. This is Mother’s Day and we should be home. Pack up everything. We’re leaving.”

Thirty minutes later, we were driving up the Garden State Parkway to go home. When we got home, there were no big hugs and kisses by my dad. I don’t think he even bought my mom a gift. He just had his priorities right.

The next spring he sold the boat.

Rev. Tony Marciano is executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission and a regular South Charlotte Weekly columnist. He is available to speak to your group. Call 704-334-4635, ext, 213, to schedule him.

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