Reciprocal Spirit


I made a purchase that was like a puppy following me home. My investment was a brand-new, eight-horsepower outboard motor. Honestly now, it was insistent that we spend our lives together. Oddly, our relationship began with a flaw from the factory that immediately saved me two-hundred bucks over the counter. Then it became priceless over its lifetime.
The flaw was a cosmetic hiccup—the motor’s cover was mislabeled. Instead of reading eight-horsepower, it said six-horse. Though missing just two horses, the oversight evidently caused buyer reluctance and the motor was stored at the marine dealership for over a year until I got there. Not to be swindled, I called the manufacturer hotline and checked the horsepower with its serial number. The numbers added up. This outboard and I were meant to be.
Just weeks after that, I added a johnboat and trailer, then got married the following year. My wife and I took the whole package with us on our Canadian honeymoon and the stuff of memories began.
We kind of knew we were a gossip target at the resort. Our little eight-horse motor—which said six—was perceived as somewhat underpowered for the expansive lake surrounding the area. The flatbottom boat was also seen as more for shallows rather than tearing across a fathomless lake. Plus, anyone watching us return after a few outings knew we weren’t catching many fish. Word spread and a group of guys enjoyed some fun at our expense.
Midweek, I caught up with the resort owner to inquire about renting a faster motor and boat for a daytrip to the far side of the lake. He was working outside the guys’ cabin. From inside, the group could easily overhear our conversation. The owner asked how our fishing had been even though he probably knew. I explained and he suggested we tip our hooks with live bait.
A voice boomed through the cabin window, “And then you put the bait in the water…!”
Guffaws broke loose and drowned out whatever he said next. Even the owner chuckled. Can’t say I blame them. I thought it was funny, too. But I offered no apologies either.
From that moment forward, we recognized something we subconsciously knew—we can see more of the world from a small boat. So that’s what we did—explored places that aren’t even in National Geographic documentaries. We putted down narrow, tree-covered backwaters too shallow for anything including fish. We nestled into weed beds and lily pads where only ducks and Jesus bugs reside, those insects nicknamed because they walk on water. Our motor, boat and trailer teamed up just to show us this majesty. The little outboard and I developed a confidence together that sometimes showed swagger.
I backed it down the ramp at a popular boat landing. The concrete pavement was wide enough to handle two boats, one on either side of the dock. I had arrived just moments before a waterski boat with a massive motor pulled beside us. The truck towing it had barely stopped when every door sprung open and passengers evacuated into oblivion leaving the driver to himself.
After jackknifing the trailer a few times, the driver straightened it enough to park and climb into the boat. I noticed his demeanor. He flung aside lifejackets and kicked inflatable unicorns across the deck. Then he shot me a glance, one of distain, perhaps for being so small, a guppy unworthy of this landing. I’m not one to inflame already tense circumstances, so what I said next just snuck out.
“Wanna race?”
He stopped everything. I had to come clean. “Okay…it says six, but it’s actually an eight.”
He threw his head back in a one-burst laugh and returned to his business.
The day was screaming hot. My wife and I motored up a creek away from the main channel to a favorite sandbar. Once there, we stepped out of the boat in midstream and laid in the water, just us and our cooler.
About an hour later, we heard voices from behind an island where the main channel circled back and joined our tributary. A boat crept toward us from around the bend, gradually revealing sunbathers lounging across its seat cushions. It came into full view. It was the behemoth from the boat landing. However, my race rival was standing alone in knee-deep water shoving his back against the transom. He was trying to free the belly of that beast from one sandbar after another.
Our humble eight-horse started discretely and we slid away. Had the behemoth guy seen us watching, I think he would have been more embarrassed than if we actually had raced and my motor won.
The summer after my mom died, our boat and motor took my dad and I fishing. We toured through a rivulet carpeted with waterlilies and banked with pines against both shorelines. The aromas and sights tripped my dad’s memory to family camping and he reminisced about my mom. Later on, he struggled to tie a lure onto his fishing line. I looked away until he completed the knot that his Alzheimer’s was short-circuiting. By midafternoon, the eight-horse shuttled us back to the dock with slow, steady reliance. I was in no hurry. It was the last time I ever fished with my dad.
Over time, the eight-horse also began shutting down, becoming unreliable beyond repair. Reluctantly, I traded it in. But it gave me a final serving. After thirty-three years, its trade-in value was half of what I originally paid. That calculated to twelve dollars per season. Today, one four-hour boat rental is four times that price.
I’m convinced that inanimate objects have a soul. From some ethereal place, they offer a reciprocal element of spirit and no cash-register discount can ever compete.


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