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At Sea in Nebraska

by Laura W. Haywood


I knew when I married Bill that he'd been in the ROTC. What I didn't know was that it was the NAVAL ROTC. Why would I suspect that? He'd gone to the University of Nebraska, which isn't exactly beachfront property. Nor did I know that he had nautical urges that might put a sea captain to shame.

It turned out, however, that he owned not one, but two boats. Both were in Nebraska, which we weren't. We were living in Brooklyn, New York, but we spent our first three vacations in his home town, preparing his family home for sale.

One boat was a jet boat that he used on a man-made lake for water skiing. It had a nasty habit of sucking up the tow line, which necessitated dismantling the engine, but he still loved that boat. But it wasn't designed for salt water and, regretfully, he decided to sell it. He turned it over to a boat dealer for sale. That was in 1966 and, to the best of my knowledge, it's still there.

The other boat was an aluminum canoe. He loved that, too, though why escapes me. The three stories he tells about it would make me hate it.

The first time he used it was on what, in Nebraska, is called a spring day. The temperature was barely above freezing and there was no ice in the river. He had two friends with him, one more than six-feet tall and the other barely more than five-feet. They'd barely gotten started when they capsized. The tall friend could touch bottom (rivers in Nebraska are often described as a mile wide and an inch deep, but this one was swollen by melting snow), but the short friend was in imminent danger of drowning. And the canoe was floating away at a decent speed. With his naval officer training, Bill knew what to do: He ordered the tall friend to rescue the short friend, and he took off after his boat, which he caught several miles later.

The second time he went out -- with the same friends, I think; clearly they didn't learn much from the first outing -- a tornado hit the area, and instead of boating, they wound up huddling under the canoe. They weren't hurt by the storm, which touched down several miles away, but that isn't my idea of a fun day on the river.

The other occasion he told me about took place in the summer, when the river was about an inch deep in some places. His brother was with him and, with fantasies of George Washington, Dale was standing up in the front of the boat, looking for sand bars. The boat found a sand bar that Dale didn't and came to a screeching halt. Bill's description is that Dale flew head first out of the boat and landed in the water. Dale wasn't hurt, but he could have been killed. Would that give you fond feelings for a boat?

It did Bill, and he decided to bring the canoe back to New York. He went to the hardware store and bought several miles of rope, which he used to tie the canoe to the top of the car. Everything was fine as long as we drove at 10 miles per hour. Anything above that set the canoe to vibrating -- making a noise that was like 42 B-29s flying in formation right above the car. The vibration could be stopped by a hand reaching out the window and holding on to the boat. The only hand available, however, was mine, and it took me no time to realize that if the sun was shining, I was going to have a sun-and wind-burned arm, and if it rained, I was going to be soaking wet.

I explained to Bill that he had a choice to make: me or the canoe. It was a tough decision for him, but when I explained about alimony, he reluctantly decided to let the boat dealer handle that one, too.

Anybody want to buy two boats in Nebraska?


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