My Turn: My dad and his boat of dreams
The boat set sail in our garage the year I turned 10. It all began when my father, Joe, a Navy man, returned from World War II. He worked as an electrician by day; attended engineering school at night. He married his sweetheart, Arline, and began to build his dreams on John Street in Bethpage.
He envisioned a simple cottage and poured life into his plans. He was a do-it-yourself man. If you had no money for cinder blocks, you made them. If you needed help, friends would appear. With a grit born in a simpler time, the dream of a home and family came true.
Our family grew up with the idea that life's treasures came from within, time alone was never lonely. Your life was discovered in art, music, wood and paper. Song filled our home. We were not rich, but we were the richest people I knew. Nightly dinners were loud and lively, laughter or arguments erupted equally. We ate like kings on leftovers and finished every meal with dessert.
Dinners were together in our kitchen, never in front of a television. We never asked to leave the table early, because the table was where we wanted to be.
It was during dinner that my father would share his dreams: He would bowl a perfect game, his Little League team would win the tournament on Grumman field. He was going to build a boat.
For as long as I can remember, my father was building something; model airplanes and rockets, cabinets and furniture, and even an ice-skating rink in the yard.
His basement workshop was filled with tools. Pinned to the ceiling beams, his worn and creased blueprints floated like sails.
One evening after dinner, a long tube appeared and fresh drafting plans were rolled out across the scarred Formica table. The blue lines formed the outline of a boat. This was his plan, to build a boat in the garage. We would be going to sea!
The building began, and he labored day and night. He soaked the wood to curve into the ribs of the hull, braced them to dry in perfect symmetry. Long arduous tasks, he did alone most nights after dinner and on Saturdays. As each week passed, the boat took shape.
The day came when the ribs were set, wood hull in place; it was time to turn the boat over. With help from family and neighbors, the boat was gently turned and laid in its new cradle. The garage front was built out to hold the full length of the craft. The unfinished hull, its curves, softly outlined by drop light, sat wedged against the garage walls. It waited there each evening for the skilled hands of my father to bring his dream to life. There were now two of us who headed to the garage after dinner, a captain and his crew.
Our world revolved around the vessel. When the berths were put in, I would crawl under a quilt and lie staring at the slowly forming deck above and dream. I would finish my homework by droplight and my dad would often stop and help. I kept my dolls stowed under the berths. Barbie and I would head out to sea. My crayons and paper were always at hand; books always near, I would nestle in with a Nancy Drew mystery. With Dad's music playing on a reel-to-reel tape deck, and the gentle sanding of the hull, sometimes I fell sleep.
I watched the determination on my father's face as he scrutinized the cuts of his saw. I listened to him speak of the Pacific, the roar of the guns on his war ship, heard the high squeal of his hearing aid, a trophy won as a gunner. He spoke of palm trees, poker games, friends he met and lost. I listened as I sat in the boat inside our garage. Each night as he worked, his dream came closer.
Soon, it was clear the boat had outgrown the garage. The makeshift shed was pulled off. The cradle beneath the boat was replaced with a trailer. My dad's truck was hooked up to the trailer and she was gently tugged out of the cozy womb where she was born. The cabin roof was now lifted on top and fitted with glass, the inboard/outboard engine tested. Mom made curtains and cushions for the cabin.
On the day of the launch, lining the driveway and sides of the street were all of our neighbors and friends. John Street was filled with cheers and smiles as Joe's boat crept down the driveway and slowly sailed to its backyard dock in Babylon; backslapping and toasts with Champagne and whiskey sours. Everyone on the block wanted to be a part of this day. She had a fine sendoff and my dad's smile was as wide as the ocean!
My father patiently spent 21/2 years building his dream. We spent 10 years on Dad's boat exploring the bays and shorelines along Great South Bay. We fished and swam, water-skied and crabbed. We cannonballed off her bow and sunbathed on her deck. We watched the stars and slept, lulled by gently lapping waves. This was his first boat and the one he loved best.
My father was a dreamer and he taught me that with hard work, dreams do come true.
Thank you, Dad.
--Ann C. Kenna, Bethpage