Sunday, January 30, 2011

It Was a Tree

   I always liked building things out of wood.  I have this little cabin on Loon Lake, at a place called the Finn Camp.  The place holds a lot of memories and heritage because my Finnish grandfather helped build the camp back in 1925. My grandfather, or Papa as we called him, was a carpenter; and he also loved to build things from wood.   So, when my best buddy Steve started building an eight-foot boat in his basement, I took some interest in it.  After bending the wood for the frame, the boat was looking like a cool project.  At last, Steve’s interest in the projected died, like so many of my projects.  So, one day I was standing around in my good buddy Steve’s basement and having a few pops with him.  Looking at this half-built boat that had been sitting there for few years now, I offered to take the project off his hands for a few dollars.  At first he wasn’t to receptive to the idea since he had a good deal of time, labor and money in it already.  But my adding the fact that I was willing to finish the project and getting a few more pops down him and the money in hand, I was able to move the boat frame from his basement.  I was excited to build a little wooden boat for my Finn Camp cabin.        
     I took the project home, with the plans and a book on wood boat building.  I enlisted the help of my son Matthew, who was eight years old at the time. It took a few months and spending some big bucks at the lumber store.  Sure I could have bought a 14-foot new boat for the same price, but it was worth it to do such a cool project with my son.  We wrapped the plywood for the sides, fiber glassed the bottom, and glued and screwed hundreds of screws in it.  When it was done, we painted it bright red.  It looked great, but will it float?  So to launch it in Loon Lake, we needed a boat license.  I drove down to the Michigan DMV and waited in line to license our boat.  The lady at the counter asked me, “Where did you buy the boat, and how much did you pay for it?” “I got the boat from the lumber yard and have about $500 in it” I said.  “What make is it, and what’s the serial number on it?” she said.  “It has no serial number; I built it,” I replied. “If it’s a boat, then it must have a serial number?” she stated.  We went around and around about this a few more times.  Finally I said, “Look! It was a tree; now it’s a boat!”  She tuned around in disgust and went and got her boss.  He went over the same thing, and I told him the same thing, “It was a tree; now it’s a boat.” He finally got it and told me I needed to fasten plate to the boat with a number on it.   
     I had a nice little plate made for the boat that said, “Hand built by Steve and Jim.”  The plate also had a serial number on it.  I loaded the boat in my truck and took it to show Steve before taking it to Loon Lake.   The Finn Camp has no shortage of old guys standing around drinking and telling stories.  So, they were all more than happy to help launch the boat.  One of the old drunks turned to me with a strange look on his face and said, “Oh my god! Where did you get that little red wooden boat from?”  I thought I was going to have to explain it was a tree now it’s a boat to him.  Then he said, “A little eight-year old girl, Sue Reamie, was hit by lighting and drowned on this lake in a little red home-made boat just like that!”   Having heard that story before, and knowing the Reamie family, I knew this story to be true.  But now every time I took the little boat out, some old drunk guy would come up and tell me the same thing.  

    Years went by, one time I even made the mistake of taking the boat out on the water in a rain storm.  My wife at the time went into a panic.  She thought Matthew would fall victim to the same fate as Sue Reamie, as told by the drunks at the lake. 
The boat was stored behind the cabin, and the weather took a toll on the little red boat.  So, one day when I was shutting the cabin down for the winter, I loaded the boat in back of the truck and put other stuff from the cabin inside the boat.  I had hopes of fixing the little red boat up again.  The little red boat fit in back of the truck fairly well, and I did not have rope.  I told Matt, “That’s good enough; it won’t fall out.”  Matthew was a teenager by then, and being a smart teenager at that, kept telling me “it is going to fall out.”  I didn’t listen.   We were almost home and I was getting off of I-275 when the little red boat fell out of the truck into the middle of the road.  Other cars stopped, and the occupants helped load it up again. It wasn’t a tree still, but it was heavy as one with all that stuff in it.  I put the little red, broken-up boat behind the garage at our house and lost sight of ever rebuilding it. 
Then one winter day when we were moving, I tried to move the boat.  But, the boat was frozen to the ground and broke in half when I tugged on it.  So I built a bon fire in the back yard to burn it.  I was standing there with a tear in my eye watching the little red boat that was once a tree burn.  I heard a loud pop and a big spark from the burning boat flew in my face.  Now there were lots of tears in my eyes.  I slapped out the burning ember on my face with my hand. “That’s going to leave a mark!” I said.  And, it did.  The next day everyone asked me what happened to my face.  All I could say was that “it was a boating accident.”  
We saved the little plate with the serial number, and Matthew framed it and wrote “It was a tree.”  I still have the framed plate and lots of memories and a great story to tell.