John’s Kayak

The first time I learned that my husband built boats, I hadn’t yet met him. I was in high school and had just finished reading a fantastic novel. In my curiosity to learn more about the author — I was an aspiring writer myself — I dug up some old interviews where this author chatted with a reporter about his life in rural Minnesota and his current acitivites — including building a rowboat with his youngest son, John. Like the sentimental female I am, I gave a brief “Awww, for sweet. That’s adorable!” But that was the end of it. I certainly never imagined that in a couple years I’d meet this boy in a packed college classroom nor did I anticipate the romantic paddle he’d take me on in that very brown-and-cream boat along Lake Superior in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

Today, my husband and I live in Amsterdam, New York. Apartment living in the midst of a city 1500 miles from where we grew up instilled in John a restlessness that back in Minnesota had been much more tempered.

John has wanted to do more building for years. The plans for his dream boat traveled with us to New York, snug safely in his “man box” — a location I bequeathed him after he fussed every time I tried to throw away odds, ends and other pieces of junk that apparently held sentimental — or “cool” — value. The boat is a Nordic Faring, a huge rowing shell that would allow John to tap into the bad boy spirit of our Viking ancestors. A fun goal, perhaps, but we have no land, no shed, no truck, no supplies and only a few of his tools here in our new home. Thus, boat building was one of the items on our growing list of “things to do when we move back to Minnesota.”

But then something changed. In a sudden burst of weekend boredom after an inspirational visit from his family at Christmastime, his innovative spirit flipped on with the sudden decisiveness I had come to recognize. That same decisiveness once wore down my stubborn resistance to date him. Even had I wanted to, I knew better than to crush his dreams with practicality; there are certain arguments I just don’t get to win.

My husband is an innovative man. That quality is, in fact, his personal definition of masculinity: if you can create something out of nothing, you’re a “real” man. As he began plans to build, he met each challenge with a nonchalant adjustibility that belied his stubborn determination. No shed — John converted our small corner of the building’s basement into a mini shop. The Nordic Faring couldn’t fit there — John decided to build a different boat. The only exit from the basement was a winding stairwell — John decided to use the lone window as his exit plan instead. What is short enough to be built in our storage area and narrow enough to fit through a basement window? A kayak.

DSC_1354 I am infamous for not finishing projects, so watching his patient fingers form slats of wood into a sleek waterproof vessel was very impressive. And his innovation continued. When he didn’t have a clamp, he pegged with toothpicks. Though now covered and out of sight, they are still imbedded in the structure of the kayak. He also snuck one of my bobby pins to use as a needle when stitching the crossbeams in place. Eventually, I became convinced that this creativity was just him showing off. We are not so hard up that we couldn’t have afforded to buy a needle!


Had John not confessed, I would never have known he stole my hair pins; that robbery he could have gotten away with. There were other inconveniences, however, that were more noticeable — usually revealed when I was in the middle of cooking. My broom disappeared, our entire container of toothpicks disappeared, my kitchen shears disappeared, and a couple dishtowels came back completely ruined. He was starting to resemble a sneaky son building a fort!

The sacrifices were small, though. Especially considering John’s further confession: he originally wanted to build his boat in our large, open living room, which had access to a wide front door. Thankfully, he stopped short of asking me. I try to be a supportive wife, but I really would have drawn the line at sitting on a sawdust-covered sofa! As it was, I just started buying him everything he was stealing from me. He now has a shop broom, clamps and a large industrial-size garbage can!

Someday, we intend to move back to our beloved Land of 10,000 Lakes. We are still puzzled about how we are going to transport whatever he makes along with all our other possessions — the U-haul wasn’t exactly roomy on the way here! But letting the practical get in our way isn’t something we believe in doing. If he can innovate, so can I. I suppose, if nothing else, we’ll just ditch all our belongings and paddle back home!

TC-MR-4-KAYAK 3(c) Emily Enger 2013

This story was previously published in The Country Editor. It is reprinted here with permission.


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