Pirate of memories

July 14, 2008

I’m stealing a memory. It belongs to my youngest brother.

The memory is about Gertrude, a row boat that Bill found submerged in our lake in Florida when we were kids. He and a friend somehow hauled her to shore, patched a hole in the bottom, and retrofitted her into a floating fort.

When they were done, Gertrude had an open-air cabin, diving platform, and glass-bottom bait well for detecting anyone launching an underwater assault.

My middle brother, David, and I delighted in attacking the boat, usually with friends as reinforcements. We’d swim out at night when Bill and his buddy were camping and commandeer Gertrude. Or during the day we’d run along the shore and pelt them with oranges until they rowed out of range.

Bill has spoken so often and so fondly of the boat over the years — today he sent me a photo of Gertrude — that I find myself imagining she was mine. I picture fixing up Gertrude and spending the night out on Lake Sybelia, lolling to sleep as the waves rocked her. I dream up tactics for repelling a sibling attack. Or think of cooking on their little grill.

I don’t need Bill’s memory; I have plenty of fond ones all my own — sometimes too many to keep at bay from here across the country in Portland. But Bill’s retelling of those times is like a siren song luring me in, though no dire consequence are lurking. Not that I can see.

Taking over the lead role in his story might enable me to remember what Bill claims to have forgotten: why he and his friend took Gertrude to nearby Lake Maitland one night and burned her until she sank.