September 3, 2019
Labor Day weekend can signal a bitter-sweet end to the short northern Minnesota summer. At our simple cabin on Portage Lake we, the old people, were busy with preparations to host the grandkids for a Sunday afternoon of fun at the lake.
For those kids, one now embarking on his senior year of college and the other on her senior year of high school, it would be their first visit to the cabin in the two years since we bought the place. There was a sense that their young lives would, as they should, soon be leaving the world of the old homebodies behind.
The weekend had started out beautifully, with just enough breeze for wife Diane and I to roll our little sailing kayak down to the water and ride the wind in the Saturday afternoon sun. Afternoon gave way to evening, and as the stars came out, we found our way once again down to the dock. Hoping to see the Northern Lights, we saw only the starry expanse of the Milky Way in the deep darkness of the rural Minnesota night sky. Even so, we were content.
The evening air was crisp, but the old people snuggled together for warmth, lingering just a little longer in the quiet starlight.
With the arrival of Sunday morning, thoughts turned to the grandkids and to what we needed to do to prove to them that their grandparents were still fun, and way cool.
Hurried preparations of food, campfire, pontoon boat, and floaty things were made. We staged our rustic old cabin to look like it was always set up to provide waterpark-like excitement just whenever we felt like having it.
And then they arrived.
Around a massive spread of taco fixings, fruits, veggies, tea, and sweets, we discussed with the kids and grandkids how they would like to spend their afternoon. There would be fishing and bocce ball and a campfire and, in spite of it being overcast and only 67 degrees, the granddaughter and her boyfriend wanted to get pulled around on a tube behind the pontoon boat.
Yes! This would prove our fun and way-coolness once and for all!
The pontoon boat (which we christened, “The Rocket Gibraltar”) had come as a freebie with the cabin. It took some work to get it running but, after a bit of fiddling with the carburetor, the 1987 Johnson 28 motor had roared to life, and the old boat was now a reliable recreational workhorse, if not exactly a rocket. As work on the boat proceeded, two good wrenches and a tape measure had slipped from my aging grasp and found their way to the bottom of the lake.
No big deal. Grandpas are known to have plenty of tools.
Diane and I had discovered that, when using the pontoon as a diving platform in the middle of the lake, people (especially us older ones) could use the assistance of a ladder to climb back into the boat. So, we had purchased a nice aluminum ladder, assembled it, and set it up for easy deployment off the foredeck (navy talk for “front of the boat”) for swimming, with easy removal for cruising.
Considering what had happened to the aforementioned tools, you might now understand where I’m going with this.
With great excitement we loaded our intrepid young adventure seekers on-board, puttered out to the middle of the lake, set up the tow line and tube, and lowered the ladder. The young boyfriend ventured out into the water first.
Now, a 1987 28-horsepower Johnson isn’t exactly greased lightning when pulling a big teenager behind a pontoon already loaded with four adults. This proved especially true after discovering that we had forgotten to raise the ladder, which apparently adds a lot more drag to the boat when left lowered into the water. But we got the ladder up, the boat was now a bit faster, and there were smiles and laughter all around.
Time for the granddaughter to go in the water. We re-deployed the ladder, not recognizing the structural significance of a couple of bent connector hooks damaged during the previous episode of ladder-dragging.
As she lowered herself down the ladder the connectors gave out, plunging both granddaughter and ladder into the lake. The granddaughter came up, and was thankfully unhurt. But the ladder had now joined my growing collection of tools and equipment on the bottom of the lake.
I was kicking myself, but we all laughed anyway and then pulled the much-beloved grandchild around on the tube.
With no ladder for her to get back into the boat, I decided we should tow dear granddaughter back to the dock, where she could wade ashore. As I shut the engine down near the dock, Diane and the others decided to just pull her back on board, which they did.
The old Johnson 28 chose this moment to betray me, refusing to restart.
A light breeze was pushing us slowly toward the dock, but it was soon evident that we would miss it by about 10 feet as we drifted by. Paddles were quickly deployed, but proved useless against the gale.
Grandma Diane, water-baby and never-ending source of surprising grit that she is, said to someone, “Hold my glasses!” She grabbed the bow line and, before old Grandpa knew what was even going on, dove head-first into the green murk. I could see her sleek form kicking and stroking underwater, with torpedo-like focus, hurtling toward the dock.
Then, the strangest thing happened. Popping up to the surface was not the Diane I knew but some Wonder Woman-like superhero, barking orders, demanding the stern line be thrown to her, as well.
Let me tell you, when Wonder Woman speaks, man, you listen.
Wonder Woman was now able to stand on the mucky lake bottom and, with both lines in hand, she muscled the big pontoon back into the dock. And then she was on the dock — I have no idea how she got there — ordering all hands to secure the lines.
Our lives saved from imminent destruction, we all got off the boat and went to warm ourselves by the campfire. Grandma Diane had etched another entry into the book of family lore, one that kids and grandkids might recount for many years to come.
As for me, knowing that there is a gritty superhero hidden just beneath the skin of my beautifully aging sweetheart has added a certain new spark to my appreciation of her. The heart of old Mothy Groves grows full.