“I’m looking for a fishing boat,” said my friend Kelly.
“I have a boat,” I said. 12 of us were having dinner at a restaurant, and everyone on our end of the table turned to me.
“You have a boat?”
Now you have to understand I have lived in Boston and its environs for 36 years. It’s not a place known for its wide-open boat-holding places, unless you got a couple of million, then you pahk yaw yaught in the hahbah. My friends know I don’t, and they have also never heard me talk about any boats, never mind my boat. Oh sure, I dabble in canoes and the occasional kayak, but motorboats? Not so much.
Enjoying their surprise, confusion, and flat out doubt, I whipped out pictures.
To be fair the boat really belongs to my brother, who got it from my grandfather. But since I have spent a lot of time hassling him to keep it, I feel like own part of it on grounds of simple little sister annoyance.
Because it really isn’t just a boat. It’s the Pepere Camp boat. My grandparents had a camp on lake and for whatever reason, it was Memere’s house and Pepere Camp; no apostrophe — it’s a thing unto itself. We had great childhood memories of that camp. It was the kind of place a kid could lose track of the days, with endless swimming, fishing, row boating, and boat rides around the lake. My grandfather and grandmother built the camp themselves and he bought the boat new in the 60s. I had 20 or so good years there.
But then my grandparents got older and needed the money. Their kids were scattered and not near enough to enjoy it, and my generation was not yet established enough to buy it. So, they sold Pepere Camp, but my brother got the boat.
Over the years we sometimes brought it back to the lake and marveled how a trip around the small lake now took 20 minutes, and when we were kids it seemed to take all afternoon. When my son was born, I wished I could give him the same Pepere Camp experience I had. We might not have the camp any longer, but we still had the boat.
Technically my brother had the boat, and every few years he would start to complain what a pain in the neck it was to keep the aging motor running and storing it so the mice wouldn’t nest in it. He wasn’t wrong, but my tiger mama came out and I wanted the kid to have access to the boat. We got lucky when my brother bought a house a few miles from a beautiful lake in Maine and for several years, we’d spend our vacation with him. He and a friend joked about all the gnats in Maine and how small the boat was — much more humble than the fancy Ski Nautique boats on the lake. They rechristened her Ski Gnatique, Gnatty for short.
When the kid was really small, he just got to ride in Gnatty.
But then he was old enough to drive it. This captures for me what it meant to have Gnatty for my kid. He’s about 5 in this picture, and my brother is explaining the nuances of whatever men folk like to expound upon while driving a boat.
When he got a little older, my brother would let him tear around on the water, jerk the wheel back and forth and drive in circles. Of course, having an aging 25 horsepower motor made his tricks much less dangerous than that sounds.
My brother moved, so Gnatty’s adventures came fewer and farther between. My sister and I both talked him out of his occasional threats to sell it. After one bout of bellyaching, I found a foster home for the boat with my friend who had bought a camp in Maine on Moosehead Lake, so disaster was averted. She and I got the boat a new motor and she let us stay there for vacation. The kid’s boat fun continued, and my friend and her family got to experience the Pepere Camp/Gnatty magic.
After she sold the place, my brother took Gnatty back, but I knew her days were numbered. My sister orchestrated several summer vacations in a house on the same lake as Pepere Camp, so we got to drive Gnatty and stalk our old stomping grounds. The kid was getting older now and while he enjoyed the boat, he wasn’t as crazy about it as I was. Once the kid went off to college, I told my brother I was ready to let the boat go. Luckily for me he didn’t have time to act on it.
And that is how, this past fall, my boat declaration in a Boston restaurant led to Kelly buying the boat from my brother and taking it back to Massachusetts, the state where the boat first had her adventures more than 50 years ago. The lakes will be different, but Gnatty the Pepere Camp boat will help make memories for a whole new group of people.
And we can still visit. Mission complete.