“Did your father finish the boat?”
That’s the number one question I’ve been asked in talking with people about Poems from the Boatyard. Just as I begin telling the story, and before I’m even halfway through, listeners invariably interrupt—with some urgency—to ask, “Did your father finish the boat?”
Of all the questions that could be asked, why this one? Why the urgency?
The question is revealing, and it has become another one of the heartbeats in the developing story surrounding Poems from the Boatyard. As pressing today as it was 50 years ago, when family and neighbors were wondering if my dad would finish the boat, the question conceals another.
People generally assume that my father’s boat was a dream, and they are right. Even though we lived on an island, and in a fishing village known for its oyster harvest, the assumption is that my father didn’t need a boat, and that is correct. Another assumption—again accurate—is that it was a pleasure boat. These are the questions of an affluent society.
But my father was building when the world was still ‘modern.’ Inheritors of the Industrial Revolution, survivors of the Great Depression, and World War II, this was the no-nonsense generation. There was little acceptance of dreams and visions, let alone luxuries. Waste was the unpardonable sin. My father was caught in the act of flagrant violation of the herd mentality. The neighborhood was alternately aghast, amused, or nervous.
In the context of the times, a boat in the neighborhood signaled hopes and dreams, potential disappointment, probable waste, and a possible success. Each scenario was destabilizing in its own way. This was a generation that understood viscerally disappointment and dashed dreams. Make it do or do without. The neighbors didn’t want disappointment rubbed in their faces one more time if my father failed. They didn’t want to be challenged to tackle their own dreams if he succeeded. One dared not talk of hopes and dreams yet. We were not yet the Affluent Society.
But those dreams don’t go away, do they? They may go underground, and surface in a question, and the question reveals a longing. Now we are the Affluent Society, but how starved our souls are of dreams! We are in a famine of dreams, awash in pleasure-seeking and luxury, but still afraid to hope too much. We could lose everything in a heartbeat, and we know it.
So maybe everyone is asking for some hope. If you ask me, everyone wants to know if my father finished the boat because everyone loves a winner. And if he accomplished his dream, there is hope that I can finish mine, and you can finish yours. Maybe his success would have spurred others on—to whatever dream they were/are not undertaking for fear of failure. To whatever dream they were/are in the middle of and afraid of not finishing. Whatever dream they were/are contemplating but afraid of what others might think or say. They need to know someone else made it. They need someone to tell them it’s worth it.
May I be the first to say Go for it!!! And my father might have added By God!