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|In Babbington you will find no shortage of fellows who will tell you
a good lie for the price of a beer. We have collected a number of
their tales. Our favorite concerns the clamdigger who became lost
in a fog on the bay one day while chugging along in his boat hunting for
a bed of clams worth digging. He kept chugging and hunting, and before
he knew it he was far out at sea. Well, he figured that since he
was already on his way he might as well continue on to the South Seas,
where he had dreamed of going since he was a boy. A year later, he
came chugging back into the bay full of tales of the islands and their
women and the unusual clams that flourished there, Antigona lamellaris
and Tapes literata. So seductive were his stories that they
have been passed along from generation to generation. Even today,
many a male Babbingtonian gets a faraway look in his eyes if the name of
one of the islands in that area—say Pago Pago, Puka Puka, Rarotonga, or
Disappointment—happens to come up in conversation.
Boating on the Bolotomy
GRANDFATHER, my father’s father, was at first much less enthusiastic about
the trip than Guppa had been. I told him on a Saturday, while he
was mowing his lawn and I was sitting in the crotch of an enormous weeping
willow that grew behind his house. Windblown dust had accumulated
in the crotch over the years until it had become a layer of soil.
Then windblown grass seed had lodged in the soil and sprouted, and now
the crotch was padded with soft grass and made a comfortable seat, where
I sometimes whiled away afternoon hours by myself. Since Grandfather
was moving up and down the lawn, pushing his mower, and I was stationary,
I had to get the essential information out in short bursts as he trundled
past, short bursts shouted over the whirring of the mower blade against
the cutting bar.
“Raskol and I are going to travel the whole length
of the Bolotomy, by boat,” I shouted.
“No kidding?” he said. There was grandfatherly
indulgence in his voice, I thought. He pushed on down to the end
of the lawn and turned back toward me. I thought he looked skeptical.
“We’ve got it all planned,” I assured him.
“Great,” he said.
I watched him move on, and his nonchalance about
what to me seemed an adventure, a considerable undertaking, especially
for a boy my age, brought a sinking disappointment to my heart. Only
later did the thought occur to me that he had heard this sort of thing
before, that my father, trying to please him, had planned voyages on the
bay and elsewhere and perhaps had even proposed the very trip that Raskol
and I intended to make, but that my father had never taken any of them,
and that Grandfather, nobody’s fool, had hardened his heart against such
boyish schemes. At the time, I could only think that he didn’t consider
me capable of making the journey, and I was hurt. I wanted to show
him how much work I was going to put into this.
“We’re going to build our own boat,” I shouted as
he pushed past.
He snorted. He pushed on and turned at the
edge of the driveway. He started back toward me, looking at the line
of his last cut, concentrating on making his path straight.
“We’re not quite sure what kind of boat we should
build,” I shouted on his next pass.
He said nothing, and I thought of giving up, but
when he turned at the fence and began moving toward me again I could see
that he was smiling and his eyes were bright.
“It ought to be good and sturdy,” he shouted as
he went by, and I knew that he was hooked. I watched him move back
and forth, cutting swaths farther and farther away from me. His mouth
was moving: he was discussing boat plans with himself. From time
to time he’d snap his fingers or smile at a particularly happy idea.
When he had mowed about two-thirds of the lawn, he stopped, left the mower
where it was, and walked away. He went to his workshop in the cellar,
and no one saw him for hours.
After Grandmother and I had eaten dinner, she made
a plate of sandwiches, and I carried them to Grandfather, down the steep,
worn wooden stairs that led to the cellar, where a coal furnace stood squat
and staunch in the middle of the cement floor that Grandfather had poured,
a floor level and smooth and swept clean. Grandfather’s workbench
stretched the length of one wall. Above it was a shelf that held
a row of jars, each labeled, holding nails, screws, nuts, bolts, washers,
and the like. Grandfather was sitting at his drawing table.
He hardly noticed me when I came down the stairs. He was bent over
the table, smiling, drawing rapidly on wrapping paper. He had The
Boys’ Book of Boatbuilding and a worn atlas beside him. He was
drawing plans for a boat. Other large sheets of paper lay around
him on the floor, earlier versions that he had rejected or abandoned.
I picked one of these up. It showed a tidy rowboat, neatly drawn
in a steady hand, with some additions in a heavier, hastier hand.
I picked up another. It showed a larger sailing vessel, far too big
to navigate the upper reaches of the Bolotomy. When I set the
sandwiches down, I stood a moment at Grandfather’s side, looking at what
he was drawing. He was bent so close to it that I couldn’t make out
much, but I did catch sight of the words CREW’S QUARTERS lettered on one
section, and in the upper right corner of the sheet he had listed: