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|In Babbington you will find one or two yards where passable craft are
built, but you will find no relics of a once-proud boatbuilding industry,
since the boatbuilding industry here has never been proud. Boatbuilding
in Babbington has since time immemorial been a haphazard affair.
If one needed a boat, one built one, and most of the boats used for clamming
could have been built by almost anyone.
Boating on the Bolotomy
MY MOUTH FULL of Gumma’s fricasseed chicken and dumplings, I announced,
“Raskol and I are going to travel the whole length of the Bolotomy, by
boat.” My mother told me, as she often had before, not to talk with
my mouth full, but Guppa had understood me through the chicken and dumpling
just fine, and his eyes lit up at once.
So much of the pleasure of any project comes from
the planning. I’ve passed many a happy hour at the little table on
the lawn in front of the hotel here on Small’s Island drinking my coffee
and smoking a few cigarettes, drawing plans for bookshelves, outlining
fat books, marking maps for trips, compiling menus and guest lists for
dinners. I keep all these plans in labeled folders, arranged in file
cabinets, lined in ranks in a room of their own on the third floor, and
when I have the time, someday, I’ll get down to work on one of them, I
guess, but I’ve already enjoyed them all.
The planning of the boat that Raskol and I would
use to journey up the Bolotomy was such an enormous pleasure that I didn’t
feel right in keeping it to myself; I had to share it; I had to give some
of the pleasure to the two people I knew would enjoy it most: Guppa and
I told Guppa, through that mouthful of chicken and
dumpling, one Sunday, when my parents and I had gone to visit Gumma and
Guppa for dinner. Those Sunday dinners at Gumma and Guppa’s were
slow and luxurious affairs, with hours spent at the table and hours afterward
spent sitting on the porch when the weather was warm or in front of the
fire when it was cold. Sometimes Mr. Beaker and Eliza would come
over, and the affair would become a sedate party, with a continuous chatter
as cozy and comfortable as the plump sofa Gumma sat on in front of the
fire, drawing me to her when I sat beside her, snuggling me against her
and rubbing my back until I began to doze.
Guppa could hardly contain himself. He put
his fork down and looked as if he would start giggling. “I know just
the thing,” he said. He jumped up from the table and struck the paneled
wall behind him with the flat of his hand. One panel swung open,
revealing floor-to-ceiling bookcases that held all of Guppa’s copies of
Craftsman, a monthly magazine chock full of plans for single-seater
folding airplanes, concealed bookcases, inflatable rubber garages, and
the like. He stood up on his toes and ran his finger along the spines.
In a moment he had found the issue he wanted, and it took him only another
moment to find the page he wanted. “Just the ticket!” he announced,
beaming. He spread the magazine in front of me, opened at instructions
for building an “Adventurer’s Bubble” from materials found around the home,
scrounged from dumps, or ordered by mail from large industrial supply houses.
The Adventurer’s Bubble was a sphere within which the adventurer hung in
a sling as in a breeches buoy. The sling was suspended from an axle
that ran along a diameter of the sphere. The adventurer’s feet rested
on the inside of the sphere itself, and by walking he or she propelled
the sphere. The axle was made of hollow tubing and served as an inlet
for fresh air, but the sphere was otherwise entirely enclosed, so the adventurer
could travel in it over virtually any terrain, including, of course, water.
Guppa sat down again, smiling, the skin around his
“Now, Herb—” cautioned Gumma.
“Oh, now, Lorna,” began Guppa, his smile fading
a bit and a whine coming into his voice, the whine of a boy who’s been
told that he must not, absolutely must not go into the water so soon after
Gumma smiled indulgently. “He’s just like
a little boy,” she said to Mr. Beaker and Eliza. To Guppa she said,
“Very well, but you must finish converting the Studebaker into a vacation
trailer before you start on this.”
“I promise,” he said. “I’ll finish that right
up and then Peter and I can start in on this.”