A St. Lawrence Skiff is a rowing vessel between 18 and 22 feet long, about 4 feet wide in the middle and pointed on both ends. It weighs at least a couple of hundred pounds and is the perfect rowing craft for the strong currents and choppy water found in the 1000 Islands. Hughie had told me about their double-oared skiff called Helen during lunch at the picnic table. Following our softball game a few days after the fishing marathon, Hughie suggested that we take a row to town to load up on candy and see the sights.
The next morning – or maybe it was two mornings later – Hughie and I set out in the Helen to assert our independence. I remember kidding with Hughie about, “We don’t need no doggone motorboat to cruise the river.” We may have even made up a little song around this theme. Fact or fiction, I have no clear recollection of it now.
I was a captive to Dad’s schedule, and I had no way to come and go when I pleased. The Bobby project was languishing, as I was too busy playing with the Papworths to complete the work that still needed to be done. I figured rowing to town in the Helen would be a good trial run to see how to go about maneuvering a skiff to a chosen destination. With Hughie to show me the ropes, I felt this would be a great learning opportunity.
I recall the whole fiasco vividly. Hughie and I started out by rowing up the back channel to get the feel of coordinating the stroking motion in unison. What “unison,” I thought to myself. We clashed oars repeatedly, and eventually splashed our way to the Upper Town Dock. The fact that we climbed ashore without falling into the water was a major accomplishment. The skiff is far more substantial and stable than a canoe, but they do tip and bob from side to side. I’ve had occasion to lose my balance when being careless. I don’t recall anything about our shopping experience in town that day. Rowing to town on our own accord was the reason for my excitement, and I do remember that with a chuckle.
The softball games continued to be a daily occurrence, almost as predictable as the sunrise until most of the players returned home. Hughie was allowed to stay a few extra days, which made for a couple of more memorable events. I recall one morning when Hughie came and took a turn trying to start the water pump. “I’ll crank for a while, and show you how to start that thing,” he said with bravado. It wasn’t long before he’d had enough and I cranked for a while, and eventually one of us got it started.
I was filling him in on our latest bat encounter the previous night where a rogue bat had met an untimely death when the fury creature had a collision with the strings of my tennis racket. He said, “Where do those bats hide out? I’d like a shot at swatting a few myself.”
And so it came to pass that Hughie and I spent several hours in the attic up to our ankles in bat guano exterminating as many bats as possible. We took a long pole and a tennis racket up the narrow staircase past another of Uncle...