The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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June 15, 2014

Dad kept son’s life afloat

HERMITAGE — Somewhere around 1960, when I was a young boy of 8 or 9 years old, there was a storm with winds high enough to do substantial damage to some houses and other buildings in our area.

This must have been a horrible thing for some homeowners, but it was a boon for my father, who was a roofing and heating contractor. One poor fellow that called on my dad for roofing repairs was hit particularly hard. Not only were shingles from the roof of his house ripped off in huge swaths and his spouting left dangling, but his garage had been lifted completely from its foundation. Its contents were strewn over his yard and neighborhood.

At least 40 years cloud my memories of this incident and perhaps some of the details are a little sketchy, but I can remember my family sitting at the supper table one evening and Dad making the announcement that he had bought a boat.

Now, my family did not have much money in those days and the prospect of my dad buying a boat seemed to me, at the time, to be an amazing thing. Must have seemed amazing to my Mom, too. She said, “You bought WHAT!!??”

“Yup,” Dad said, “I bought a boat, and it only cost me $5.” With that, Mom suddenly became disinterested and started yelling at my sisters that they had to eat all of the peas on their plate or they wouldn’t get any dessert. I was smart – sat over the register by the wall, so I had a better place to put them than in my gagging maw.

After supper that night, my dad and I rode out to poor Mr. Thomas’ house in his old ’53 Chevy. It had been discarded by the telephone company and had begun its second life as a roofing contractor’s get-along. It was cluttered with furnace parts. It was a starter on the floor, clutch slippin’, Army green pickup. I loved that truck. I learned to drive in it, which is probably why the clutch slipped.

Well, when we got to Mr. Thomas’ house, I was in awe at the damage the storm had done. My dad and Mr. Thomas talked for a while about his roof and how much the repairs would cost. That gave me a chance to survey the damage. Junk everywhere. After 5 or 10 minutes. Dad hollered out, “Hey Dave, let’s go see the boat!” I ran to catch up as Dad and Mr. Thomas were heading for the backyard. As we rounded the corner of the house, I was expecting to see our new boat, but there was nothing but more junk from Mr. Thomas’ garage.

That’s when my dad raised his hand and pointed to the top of a very tall tree. There, at the very highest part of the tree, snagged around the main trunk and bent beyond recognition, was an 11-foot aluminum rowboat.

My heart sank as I heard Mr. Thomas explain to my dad about insurance coverage and some guys with chainsaws cutting the tree down to get the boat and when they were done, he would call. My dad had bought the boat for scrap.

There is a lesson here: Look at your dad with the awe he deserves.

When we got the boat back to “the shop,” it seemed to me that there was no way that it would ever do anything but sink like a rock. Both sides ripped to shreds. Transom buckled like an accordion. Half a hundred holes poked through by broken branches and limbs. Rivets missing everywhere. Sheet metal repair god to the rescue.

Within a week of evenings of pounding, welding, riveting, and more pounding, the blob of aluminum began to take on the look of a boat again. At last it was time to test for leaks. This was accomplished by floating the boat in the pond of a family friend named Stan Stewart.

Coincidentally, the Stewarts’ pond was located in the same housing development that Mr. Thomas lived in.

The Stewarts were friends of my parents from as far back as my memory stretches. They had four children that were close in age to my sisters and me, too. Stan’s wife Ginny happened to be pregnant and expecting any day to deliver yet another new Stewart.

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