Thursday, September 25, 2003

Another lost summer passes me by

Here is my latest column for The Winchester Star.
For the last two decades of my life as an adult, not a summer has gone by where I didn't yearn for the good old days of misspent youth. Sure, it wasn't always easy but it could be extremely exciting.
One of the benefits of being a child of divorce was spending summers with my dad. Sometimes, it meant being dragged to some strange or even exotic locale to live. Most of the time, it meant being holed up on a boat somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
My father and step-mom were "liveaboards," meaning, they lived aboard a boat instead of a house. A few times, they would buy a house or get an apartment and try to live on dry land but would then return to the seas because they couldn't stand living on land.
While it may seem beyond civilized, it wasn't all that bad.
One summer we spent traveling the eastern coast. Later, we spent time camping from New Jersey to Maryland, until my dad bought a boat in Georgetown. We carelessly spent the rest of the summer swimming in the Chesapeake Bay - colored brown at the time - never knowing what chemicals or wastes were being dumped in there.
Several summers we lived in the Florida Keys where my dad went through what I called his "Falwellite" stage - attending a strict church a number of times a week and forcing me to do the same.
One summer, before turning 16, we sailed to the Bahamas and spent over a month island hopping. No, we didn't do the ritzy hotel route. We got to see the actual islands, how the people really lived in places while fishing off the boat for food and visiting shipwrecks. The water was crystal clear, and you could see the bottom in 20 or 30 feet of water.
Late into the trip, a hurricane named David blew through the islands, and we weren't as protected as we thought we were. The waves were coming over the small islands we were anchored behind and bashing the side of the boat.
Looking at the charts, my dad suggested we cross from one spot to the other, in what seemed to be a mile or two at best, to a more protective cove.
The trip took all day - with the huge swells tossing our 40-foot ketch into the air like a rubber duck, only to crash back down again. My brother was gleeful the entire time, acting as if he were in an amusement park, while I was repeatedly hurling over the side, my dad with a very worried look on his face wondering if we were going to make it or not.
But by 17, I had grown tired of spending summers with my father. I really wanted to earn money, chase girls, and hang out with my friends. Constantly spending summers being shipped off was getting tiresome.
So, I decided to go out a get a job just before I graduated high school, busing tables at a restaurant and spent my first summer working. This isn't a decision I completely regret, but I can't for the life of me remember what, if anything, I did that summer.
My dad would later become a minister and a missionary to Haiti, building a 95-foot sailing freighter piece by piece. The Miami Herald did a story about it referring to him as "Rev. Noah," a nickname people gave him after finding out he was building this huge boat in his backyard.
The boat, named "Tre Bon Nouvel" or "the good news" in Creole, took quite a while to complete and my family made a couple of trips to Haiti, the last one being quite rough.
The ship struck coral during a storm and almost sank. Thankfully, the Coast Guard managed to get to the boat in time and tow them back to the Keys for repairs. After this experience - and realizing the twilight years were setting in - my dad decided to stop going to Haiti.
Of course, I was bummed not only because I was so proud of his work but because I would never get a chance to go to Haiti with him on the boat he built with his own two hands. Sure, I would lose scads of money taking the time off. But how often does anyone get the chance to do something so meaningful?
Too many summers fly by without any memorable experiences. Yeah, you might remember a vacation or two, or some major life change you made but before you know it - poof - the summer is over - again - and you have nothing to show for it.
This year was a little different than most in that I made a point to go to the beach at least a couple of times. It wasn't a lost summer in the classic sense. I did take some time off. During the remnants of Hurricane Henri, two weeks ago, I was on Marconi Beach, watching the swells and 12 foot waves crash over me.
But on the drive home all I could think about was the fact that another summer had passed me by even when I tried to make sure it didn't. And with at least 25 years to go before retirement, the chance to return to the days of blissful and careless summers is almost none.
However, like we say after every Red Sox season, there is always next year.