Friday, March 4, 2011

The Payne family lived next door, and Mr. Payne often came over to watch my father working on his boat. He would also lend a tool or bit of advice, and chuckle at my father's pluck, like someone who knows he'll never build a boat, but sure admires the guy doing it. My parents befriended the Paynes, which troubled me. For one thing, Mrs. Payne listened to opera. And they had a fence in the middle of their backyard. Behind this fence, they let their property grow wild, another neighborhood anomaly. I worried that their wilderness would sneak over into our backyard when we weren't looking and flirt with our poplars and upside-down boat. Baby anomalies would be born and unpredictable forces unleashed.

I needn't have worried. The Paynes moved away, to be replaced by the Cross family, which cut down the wilderness and added children to itself with the same regularity as did my family. This conveniently lined up playmates for each of us, and we all got along famously. Mr. Cross was a mechanical genius, demonstrated by the fact that he owned a French car, which he could start with a screwdriver. He showed us the engine in the trunk of the car, and the piece of plywood he had built in between the front and back seats. This kept children from falling off the backseat in the days before seatbelts, and we thought this was way cool. We begged him to take us for a ride in it, even though it was an anomaly. He piled us all in and we rolled around that piece of plywood like bowling balls and bowling pins.

Mr. Cross' particular genius with engines, and the fact that he loved airplanes as much as my father, sparked a lasting friendship between them. A kindred spirit had moved into the neighborhood. My father's vision for the boat expanded, fueled by Mr. Cross' technical knowledge, which now invested itself into nautical transportation. My father peppered Mr. Cross with questions, and their heady collaboration produced a great deal of energy, which they funneled into the boat. Ribs went into place, and a hull covered the ribs. Our cat took to sleeping under its shade. Peggy Cross and I danced under that hull¬-tent in the shadow of the poplars and held tea parties on its struts.

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