A Second Farewell to the Jellybean

PETER A. JAY

June 20, 1993|By PETER A. JAY

Havre de Grace. -- There is a time and a place for everything. Fifteen years ago, acting on this principle, I went with some trepidation to the force for order in our household and told her I'd bought a boat.

''You've bought a what?'' she said. For some reason she did not sound pleased. When I was a kid I had been around boats a lot, I explained, and now our son was getting to the age that he ought to know how to tie a bowline and understand basic coastwise navigation. The way I looked at it, I said, I'd bought the boat for him. It was an educational expense.

''Right,'' she said. ''Perhaps you've forgotten he's 2 years old?''

As it turned out, the old Jellybean really was an education, although it's unproductive to speculate whom she educated most. She was a 32-foot workboat, Chesapeake-built but with a respected New England hull. She was not fast and had only the most basic amenities, but was steady and safe.

We had her for four years, and she gave us some interesting times. One summer she went to New England and back. On the return, with Sun columnist Tom Horton aboard, we spent a long day violently rolling and pitching our way down the New Jersey coast. I never thought I'd be glad to be in Atlantic City, but I was, that night, when we finally reached the inlet.

Tom Horton's a pretty salty fellow, and we've spent some good times together on the water in various boats. But it's always seemed to me that his writing became even sharper and more evocative after that experience off Jersey. Anyway, he hadn't written any best-selling books before that trip, and he did afterward. So it seems only fair to credit the Jellybean with a contribution to his subsequent literary success.

If there's a season for everything in life, then one of the difficult tasks for the living is recognizing when each season's over, and accepting that what was precious yesterday may be without value today. I've never been much good at this, and I envy those who are, for their lives seem so much simpler. When they're finished with something, they just let it go. My instinct is always to hang on, which among other things causes a messy desk and a cluttered garage.

Eventually, in our family's life, another season changed, and it became time to let the Jellybean go. Although I didn't altogether like the idea, I managed to do what had to be done. In 1982, she was sold to Roy Elbourn of Rock Hall, who used her to pull his pile-driving rig. It wasn't glamorous work, perhaps, but she wasn't a glamorous boat, and I knew Roy really appreciated her.

She was succeeded by other boats, all a lot smaller. Our family grew from three members to four. Some learned to tie bowlines. And all the while, though I never saw the Jellybean, I knew where she was. She registered on my radar, the way an old girlfriend might -- part of history, gone but not forgotten.

Then, 10 years later, Roy put her up for sale. I saw ads here and there, but for months I refrained from calling. Finally, one winter day, I picked up the phone. She's right here in Rock Hall, said Roy. You ought to come over and look at her.

I think it was Gore Vidal who said no one should ever pass up a chance to have sex or go on television; I've often felt the same way about the chance to go to Rock Hall. So pretty soon there I was in a boatyard looking at the Jellybean with Roy. She needed some paint, but he'd taken good care of her. Now that he was getting out of the pile-driving business, though, he didn't need her any more.

A rational person would have wished Roy luck and walked away. But I remembered the good days she'd given us, and the Jellybean stayed on my mind. Perhaps inevitably, by the summer of last year I owned her again. Sentiment had triumphed over sense.

I gave her a lot of new paint but not much use. She was an expense and a worry, not a time machine. By this spring I had come to my senses, and with a little effort I found her a new owner.

Last weekend, as a sort of farewell, she took a happy group out on the Susquehanna for an afternoon of swimming and fishing. Her paint sparkled, and so did the water. It was like old times, and the elderly engine hummed. Then this past week, on what happened to be the 17th birthday of the young man for whose education I'd bought her 15 years ago, I delivered her to Annapolis.

I went alone; everyone else had other things to do. On south we went, past Poole's Island, past Tolchester, reversing the route she'd taken years ago when I first brought her up from Herring Bay. On that trip, every mile had seemed an adventure, every odd wave-slap had made my heart pound. But this last voyage, with the sky blue and the water glassy, was a time for remembrance.

We passed under the Bay Bridge and into the harbor at Annapolis. She slid easily into her new slip, and I left her there and went home. It was easier letting her go the second time, but only a little.

Peter A. Jay's column appears here each week.

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