It’s doubtful that you know my father. If you do know him, you probably know him as most do: as a good and decent man. This much is true, and cannot be debated. However, my father, the man most instrumental in making me who I am today, is also a liar. There’s no easier way to put this. The man lies. He’s lied to me since I was a little boy, and now his lies are not so much spoken as they are inferred. He lies without saying a single word, but he used to lie while speaking. The lies stopped being spoken when I turned 30, but the audible absence has made the sting of those previously spoken lies no less painful. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and I can tell you need a little background on the issue of my father and his lies.
I don’t know exactly when they started, these lies. Probably when I was six, but I might have been four. I also might have been ten, but I doubt it. For all of my thirty-two years, my father has owned a 1960 Chris Craft Sportsman. It’s a handsome twenty-four foot boat, powered by a marginal 283 Chevy engine. The boat has fit my eye since childhood, and for as long as I can remember, I wanted nothing more than to captain that boat. Sure, I was able to sit on his knee and steer the wheel, but as my son Thomas can tell you, that’s not that much fun once the first five minutes pass. I was a lake kid. Born of the water into a world where the only thing more important than what time exactly lunch would be ready, was the time spent swimming, fishing, and yes, boating. Growing up there was only one option if boating was on the agenda, and that option was the piece of powered mahogany furniture that has hung in place in my fathers slip since the day he bought it. The boat wasn’t just something I got to look at and enjoy occasional rides in- it was something that I, David Curry, age four or six or twelve, would get to drive one day.
And this was when my father started to lie. He assured me, and my brother for that matter, that there would always be a time for that boat. There would be a time in the future, when cars drove without touching the road, and at that time I would be able to drive that beautiful big boat, all by myself. I dreamed of that day. Oh, how I dreamed of it. I’d scream around the lake with the throttle wide open, and my life would be complete. Luckily for me, that day in the future had a name and a date. The day of my classic boat reckoning would come when I turned 30. I knew it would happen then, because my dad told me so. Whenever talk of the boat surfaced, whether I was six or fifteen or twenty-nine, my father assured me that my time would come. If I could only hang on to age thirty, the boat and its power and grace would be at my sole command.
My father, the liar, would remind me of this often. And then on one day in May two years ago, he wrote me a note. It was a birthday card, of sorts. On the top of it, and on the bottom, he wrote in his twisted left-hand style the most simple, most beautiful combination of words and numbers that I had ever seen. 30 = Chris Craft. That was all it said. And that was all it took. It was the culmination of a promise, and my father, the as-of-yet-undiscovered-liar, had kept his word over the first two full decades of my life. I turned thirty that day, and the Chris Craft was to be mine. Best yet, it wasn’t mine to own or maintain or fix when it broke, rather it was mine to drive and enjoy. It was the realization of a smoldering dream that burst into uncontrollable flames on that morning in May.
Then something strange happened. My birthday came and went, and with it, there was no Chris Craft. There was no more promising of the Chris Craft. There were no more equal signs after the numbers 3 and 0, and behind door number 30 there was no magical wooden boat. As I write this morning, I have been aged in excess of thirty years for roughly 28 months, and the closest I have come to a ride in the boat occurs each spring when I sit in the boat for roughly 50 feet when the boat is being launched at the Williams Bay lakefront. There are no joyful rides. There is no screaming around the lake. The engines are silent when I approach, and they remain silent until I leave.
When a child is six, or ten, or eleven, the thought of the day when that child will turn thirty is a distant one at best. For my father, the age of thirty seemed like an age that I would only achieve on some mythical date far into the future. The shame about those dates is that they inevitably arrive, and they carry with them luggage crammed full of the crushing burden of a lifetime of promises. Today, that boat hangs like a forbidden fruit. A fruit that I was promised I could consume but when I finally grew tall enough to climb the ladder to the highest rung and pluck that fruit, my father grabbed a saw and cut a few feet off the bottom of that ladder. Now you know the painful story of my father, the boat-hoarding liar.
While I am not allowed to actually drive my fathers classic boat, I am allowed, as are you, to attend the 11th annual Geneva Lakes Antique Boat Show, taking place this weekend (Saturday and Sunday) at the Abbey Harbor. This event is one of my fall favorites, and nothing says fall on Geneva to me louder than the sight of Lymans and Gage Hackers and Sheppards and Chris Crafts and Streblows moored in quiet waters, polished into varnished mirrors. The show is a can’t miss event for me, and I hope you’ll make the trip up to our utopic lake to see these classic boats. New boats are both beautiful and trustworthy, but old boats have personalities that new boats have had no time to develop. Each boat has a story, and if you take the time this weekend to peruse the extraordinary Lake Geneva display, you’ll find out exactly what it is that I’m talking about.
Some day, I’ll be at that boat show not as a spectator, but as a participant. Some day I’ll captain that slippery smooth Chris Craft into the Abbey Harbor, and park it where everyone can see. I’ll tell whoever will listen about the days and weeks and years that I waited to drive that boat, and with any luck, that day will come sooner than later. The last thing I need is a birthday card in eight years that reads, in scribbled left hand slant, 40 = Chris Craft. See you at the lake.
(For those of you concerned now that I called my father a liar like sixty times in this post, I assure you that I don’t really mean it…)