Back in the (Memorial) Day

In the 1960s in Potsdam, the memories of World War II were still fresh. The town was mostly run by veterans of the war, mostly men around forty who had joined up or been drafted in after high school, survived, and come home to raise families in Baby Boom America. One can only speculate what went though their minds as they watched the parade and the firing of the salute at the small memorial across from the Civic Center, because they never talked about it.

As a product of that Boom, what went through my mind was policing the brass. Cartridge casings from an M-1 rifle were valuable trade goods among boys in junior high, and we made an undignified scramble to collect the souvenirs as soon as the parade began to break up.

Photo: sidkid, creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: sidkid, creative Commons, some rights reserved

For me, the main event of the Memorial Day weekend was the launching of the boat. It was as elaborate a ceremony as the christening of an ocean liner before sliding it down the ways into the harbor. The boat, “Hobson’s Choice,” was a wooden lapstrake-hull Lyman with cranky twin Johnson outboards, which had wintered in the back yard on its trailer under a tarpaulin.

Readying it for the maiden voyage of the season would be an all-day affair. First, pull the tarp, hose and wipe the boat down and spiff up the metalwork. Pump up the trailer tires, if needed. Then there was the gear to load: cushions, life jackets, a couple six-gallon gas tanks, engine oil, emergency paddles, sump pump, weather radio, binoculars, Seaway navigation charts, bungee cords, fenders, extra line, two anchors, and a long list of other essentials.

Into the car, a monstrous Pontiac Safari station wagon, would go picnic fare – prepared by Mom while we messed about with the boat – plus lawn chairs for five, a badminton set, horseshoes and stakes, swim trunks, towels, water toys, frisbees, a Coleman stove, lantern and fuel. Add in baseball mitts and a ball and bat, a thermos of iced tea and another thermos of hot coffee, a cooler with other drinks and meats and salads for dinner, dog bowls, dog chow and dog, three kids and two adults.

At the boat ramp, Mom at the wheel and dad standing on the trailer struts, the boat would slide into the water, where it would be anchored for an hour or two of knuckle-busting profanity until at least one engine was coaxed to life after its long winter nap.

Once secured in its slip at the dock, it was time for food and games and maybe a little swimming or a little exploring along the shore.

Finally, late afternoon, it would be time to take out the boat, captain at the wheel, co-captain in the advice seat, kids and dog in the back. Maybe a jaunt over to the mysteries of the Canadian side, maybe a cruise upriver through the narrows, and usually a close inspection of a laker, or more rarely, a saltie, flagged to far away ports. Then a shore dinner and another swim, and back to the marina, running slow into the sunset. By the time we struck camp and reloaded the car for the drive home, a day full of work and play and sun and water would put us kids down for the count. The last sight before eyes closed was the back of Mom and Dad outlined in the green dashboard lights while the radio played low.


8 Comments on “Back in the (Memorial) Day”

  1. Rolene says:

    Thanks for the trip back in time. Though nothing here relates to my Memorial Day youth, have many friends who’ve shared similar stories over the years. Every story puts a smile on one’s face, filling the heart with happiness.

  2. mle nevin says:

    That’s lovely.
    There’s a song — I can’t find it, aimed at children, I think — that talks about experiencing your last sentence, as I did many, many decades ago!

  3. mle nevin says:

    Ha! The neurons finally connected:

  4. Connie says:

    Thanks for the memories, Dale. Wonderful nostalgic writing without getting soppy.

  5. Susan Gaffney says:


  6. Richard L. Daly says:

    Dale, Now for reality check: Call/radio ahead to CustomsCanada with the particulars before casually crossing the ‘invisible’ border. The Take-Away: Try those engines before departing the driveway … not before casting off. Saves expletives and mebbe gas. Nice essay. Now, have a safe sane memorable Decoration Day! (Are we old, or what?) / Richard

  7. Richard L. Daly says:

    Re my prev comment: Define ‘old’ ? My birth-certificate has a Ration Book # on the back. I rest my case. rd

  8. NCPR Admin says:

    Hi Richard—

    You need a 55-gallon drum full of water to safely do a driveway engine check on a 1960 40hp Johnson outboard. Can’t run the prop without a load. The rain barrel rusted out a couple years before. Besides, busting knuckles and swearing freely was my Dad’s way of warming up.


Comments are closed.