Do you remember that scene in the movie On Golden Pond when Billy, the young stepson-to-be who has befriended crotchety old Norman Thayer, takes Norman's boat out alone for the first time?
So overcome is Billy by flying across the water, scribing enormous circles in the lake's surface, that he yells for the pure joy of it.
I was doing the same thing recently. The kids and I were zooming up the Severn River on a quiet spring day on Quill (much smaller and more humble than Norman's classic Chris Craft, but so what), and I was steering the boat in long spirals while the kids and I shouted and whooped as loud as we could. And I figured something out. Billy wasn't yelling just because he was going fast; he was yelling because he was driving, because the boat and the water were all his, because he had the whole thing-life itself-in his own two hands. He was yelling because Norman trusted him with the boat, he trusted himself, and he was free.
When I was much younger, every now and then I got a chance to drive our family's wooden PennYan. Usually it was when we were shorthanded and someone wanted to water-ski. I would perch on the back of the bench seat and feel that nervous thrill of having one hand on the wheel, one on the throttle, my senses plugged in to everything around me. When Dad or one of my brothers would compliment me later that I had done well, I felt like maybe I could walk on water too.
Thing is, we weren't shorthanded too often in a family of five kids. And over time, life made me busy, and I forgot about driving boats. When we got Quill, I drove her a couple times, but usually I let Johnny do it. Then I had babies, and suddenly driving was the last thing on my mind. I was too busy trying to keep my kids on the boat to even think about it.
Then this spring, something happened. I looked up and realized that my babies weren't babies anymore. They were strong, surefooted, up-for-anything little water rats who could handle a dock line as well as most adults. The perfect spring Sunday arrived, but Johnny was still stuck at work. The water was calling. If I mowed the lawn one more time I was going to go postal. "The boat's full of fuel," Johnny said when I called him. "Just go."
So we did. The Johnson fired up like it was waiting for me. Kaeo expertly tossed off the bow and spring lines. I backed out of the slip without bumping into so much as a crab. We cruised up the creek. We cruised back. We zoomed up the river. We flew back. We played in the boat all day, and on the way home I felt a little part of my life returning, a part I thought maybe I'd lost forever. The late day sun was turning the river into a golden pond, and I carved the boat in long loops across its surface, yelling for the pure joy of being there, driving my boat.