Dad bought a powerboat when I was in seventh or eighth grade. One of those real sleek, fast boats you see in the Twin Cities but not so much up here. Most of the guys around here with boats have old ones they picked up at an auction somewhere for a steal or else the old aluminum ones with an old motor — lots of those guys have more than one old motor, since they never seem to work when you want to go out. You want something easy to get in and out of the water when it’s dark and you want to get out to where the fish are biting, you don’t want to be getting a big boat off a big trailer and be crawling down below deck to get the engine to crank over or to get transmission unstuck or whatever. That boat my dad bought always needed a lot of patience to get it going. But maybe that was the point. I don’t think my dad really liked fishing anyway. Too slow. He hunts and fishes along with everyone else, but I think he just wanted to go fast.
Like in that car he bought about the same time. This is around the time he sold off the farm machinery, when we started leasing out the land. Bought himself a fancy German car. The inside was all black leather. It would make you feel like a king to sit in it. My great-uncle, he was pretty old then, he said, “Why is he buying that car? Didn’t we fight the Germans? Now we buy cars from them?” He thought it was some kind of Nazi car or something. But that thing could scream down the highway. A hundred miles an hour and you’d be sitting there, feeling like a king. A king screaming down the highway. I know about it because one summer when my folks were out of town, some trip my dad had to take, Chris and I took it out and drove it all the way out to the Turtle Mountains. I don’t even think I had my license yet. We tried to take Cross. We said, “Hey, quick trip home! Quick visit to your family.” And he said, “That’s all I need, is to be speeding way over the limit with a couple of drunk white boys.” My sister threatened to tell my parents. She said, “Who’s going to pay for it if you crash?” Sometimes I think that was the point.
My dad was buying expensive toys then. My mother said it was his mid-life crisis. She didn’t say that to his face. I said, “Why did we sell off all the machinery, the tractor and the combine and the baler? And buy this stuff?” She said it was a mid-life crisis. I asked what that was and she says, “He wants to feel young again.” I felt like saying being young wasn’t all that great, but I knew she wouldn’t understand what I meant. Then I thought, well, he will feel young again when he realizes how weird people think he is, driving this strange car around. He used to ask me if I want to go for a ride in it, instead of my Mom’s minivan. Like it was some kind of ride at the county fair. “Do you want to ride in my fancy car?” I thought, you don’t have any idea how to have fun in that thing. You should take it up over 100 and drive out to the Turtle Mountains in it. He really thought it was great. That’s when I decided that whenever I bought a car, I was going to buy an old pickup. Something that wouldn’t impress anybody. That’s all I’ve ever owned.
I didn’t like the powerboat either. I went out and bought an old canoe off a guy whose kids had all grown up and moved away. My dad said, “What are you going to do with that?” I said, “I’m going to put it in the shed, since you’ve gotten rid of everything else we used to keep out there. Might as well use it for something.” He’d refuse to help me haul it out to the lake. For awhile I kept it in that little grove of spruce and box elder on top of the point. I could drag it down the hill and put in right there on the point. I used to ride my bike out there in the dark, and head out on the lake. I was never much good at catching fish. Sometimes I’d get a walleye or a pike but mostly I just drifted along out there and watched the morning happen. The lake is down in a little basin and you can’t see the town or the plant from there, hardly even the light. You could almost pretend it wasn’t back there. Sometimes you could hear trucks go by over on the highway, but mostly it was just the birds chittering up in the trees on the point, the wind stirring the grass at the shore, the plop of fish surfacing. Open and quiet. I could get out there and then I could put up with anything back home. A little water and a quiet boat is all you need.