The Boat Uncle Ralph Built; The Summer of ’62, Episode 14

Uncle Ralph was Rich’s father’s older brother.

Three or four times a summer, Uncle Ralph took Rich fishing to his boat on Lake Erie.

Rich sat in a chair at the living room window waiting and watching anxiously for Uncle Ralph to arrive. Rich expected him between five and five-thirty. He glanced impatiently at a digital clock that looked like a TV, on top of the TV. It flipped the numbers over with each passing minute.

It was 5:22 when Duke’s ears perked up – long before Rich saw Uncle Ralph’s car, hidden by the cornfield to the north, come to a stop at the intersection north of their house.

Duke was Rich’s dog, a playful mostly Boston Terrier.

As soon as Uncle Ralph’s car turned onto our road, he came into clear view and Duke began prancing expectantly around the house and barking.

Rich dashed into the bedroom where Mr. Larsen was sleeping. Rich woke him and told him Uncle Ralph was here and he was leaving. He waved Rich on. He streaked through the living room with Duke barking at his heels, grabbed his duffel bag, and raced to Uncle Ralph’s car. Rich shooed Duke back to the house and grabbed hold of the back door handle of Uncle Ralph’s Olds four-door sedan, but noticed the front passenger side seat was empty. Rich opened the front door and climbed in.

Uncle Ralph was alone. Aunt Bessie was usually with him.

It was difficult to conceive that Rich’s dad and Uncle Ralph were brothers. In many ways they were opposites. Uncle Ralph was small in comparison with Mr. Larsen. He was not temperamental or boisterous. He had coarse wavy gray hair combed straight back. His eyes were deep set and his prominent black rounded eyebrows made him look like a wise owl. He wore glasses and looked over the tops of them often.

Where’s Aunt Bessie?” Rich asked.

She decided to spend a weekend at home with her daughter,” Uncle Ralph said and turned the car around in Miss Driver’s driveway, checking for traffic over the tops of his glasses.

The drive to Lake Erie normally lasted about two and a half hours and Aunt Bessie always packed a few sandwiches to eat on the way. She thought it was foolish to pay people to prepare food for you.

There’s a couple of sandwiches in the back seat if you want to eat,” Uncle Ralph offered, “but I’m going to stop in Findlay and get something, how ‘bout you? Can you wait that long?” Uncle Ralph smiled.

Sure,” Rich said.

Bessie doesn’t think I can operate the boat without her,” Uncle Ralph quipped. “What do you think?”

With you at the helm and me as first mate, I don’t see any problems,” Rich said.

We’ll sleep on the lake tonight,” Uncle Ralph said. “We’ll fish until we can’t hold our poles over the side of the boat or hold our eyes open and crawl back into the cabin and let the sound of the lake and the waves rock us to sleep.”

That sounded intriguing and adventuresome,” Rich thought. “This was going to be a great weekend.”

They stopped at a hotdog stand. Uncle Ralph purchased a couple of hotdogs each and continued the drive to the lake. Nearing the lake they turned on to a gravel road that led to a place called Bar Harbor. That’s where Uncle Ralph’s boat was docked. They stopped at a bait shop for minnows, red worms, and ice for the ice chest and cooler. At the boat, they unsnapped the canvas cover over the cockpit and deck and unloaded the supplies from the car onto the boat.

Uncle Ralph built the boat himself, as a winter project. Rich remembered the day when his dad and a group of Uncle Ralph’s friends gathered in a garage to flip the hull when it was finished. It was an eighteen-foot cabin cruiser. It was rather small, but at times it slept five – Uncle Ralph, Aunt Bessie, Mrs. Larsen, Mr. Larsen, and Rich.

The boat was Uncle Ralph’s treasure. And he chose the share it with Rich. And Rich was appreciative beyond what anyone could imagine.



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