That sinking feeling

Columnist’s dashed dreams of a career as a boat racer

Whenever my father saw a car accident, he’d stop and direct traffic until the authorities arrived. He always wanted to be a cop.

The summer I was 10 he got within 12 square feet and a gallon of primer of fulfilling his dream.

Dad always wanted a speedboat too — a sporty, fast speedboat. My mother didn’t see the need for speed.

I, of course, was immediately on dad’s side. Imagining a career as a boat racer, I lobbied her relentlessly — to no avail. Dad was attempting to convince her one afternoon when my brother asked, “If you get a speedboat will you take us water-skiing, dad?”

Dad looked supremely irritated but then suddenly his visage changed. Unexpectedly he replied, “Why yes, yes I will.” He turned to mom and said, “If these boys want to learn water-skiing, I’ll definitely need a speedboat!”

Mom seemed strangely mollified by this logic and I made a mental note never to play poker with my brother.

The next morning we headed to the marina. The speedboats were much too expensive.

It looked hopeless until the salesman had a revelation. “I just remembered. We got a 75 horsepower police boat in yesterday. It’s cheap too.” At the mention of the word ‘police’ my dad’s eyes began to gleam. At the word ‘cheap,’ they positively glowed.

When dad’s new toy was delivered late that afternoon, it still had its ‘Pickering Police’ markings. The letters were a foot high and stretched six feet across the bow on both sides. Mom thought dad should paint over them but he wanted to patrol the lake and watch “the criminals straighten up” as we cruised by. Mom went inside to make supper muttering something about men and children.

After Jay and I climbed in, dad called the dog aboard and we took off with a tremendous burst of speed. Dad was positively gleeful as boat after boat yielded the right of way. An hour later he triumphantly pulled up to the dock, jumped out and headed inside for supper.

Early the next morning the marina called. “Mr. Smit, are you aware your boat is drifting in the middle of Cook’s Bay?” Dad slammed down the receiver and bolted out the door with my brother, the dog and me in hot pursuit.

When we got to the dock dad stared in disbelief at the empty space where a boat should have been. Suddenly both Jay and I got the sinking feeling we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Dad gave Jay a baleful glare and said, “What kind of idiot forgets to tie up a boat? You got off after me. You should have tied up the boat!”

Jay turned and glared at me with the same miserable face dad was just wearing. “What kind of idiot forgets to tie up a boat? You got off after me. You should have tied up the boat!”

I looked around dejectedly until I saw the dog. I gave her a baleful glare. “What kind of idiot forgets to tie up a boat? You got off after me. You should have tied up the boat!” I turned heel and left Midnight to consider her sins.

Jay and I decided to forgive, forget and flee. We headed for the hedges behind the cottage but dad was already there inspecting the shrubbery.

He seemed not to hear mom calling him. The Pickering police were on the phone. Jay and I beat a hasty retreat. We were fifty yards away when mom found dad in the bushes. My mother was soft-spoken to a fault but I could almost swear I heard her ask, “What kind of idiot forgets to tie up a boat?”

That afternoon, after the payment of a small fine, mom insisted that dad paint over the ‘Pickering Police’ markings. He reluctantly agreed. But, unbeknownst to mom, he used a temporary water-based latex primer. And that’s why every spring the words ‘Pickering Police’ mysteriously reappeared on the bow.

I think he hoped to slip out onto the lake some early spring morning before mom noticed. But she always did. So, for the rest of his days, dad fulfilled his constabulary cravings watching endless episodes of Columbo. Forty years of dreams dashed by twelve square feet and a gallon of latex primer.

— This is an excerpt from Smit’s book, The Trouble with Tapioca, available at the Vancouver Island Regional Library. His columns appear in The NEWS every other Thursday. He can be contacted at Raymondsmit@shaw.ca

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