Last week in this space I wrote about the challenge of giving an unexpected gift and the reward of receiving one. In my case, the unexpected birthday present was a ride in a float plane arranged by …
Last week in this space I wrote about the challenge of giving an unexpected gift and the reward of receiving one. In my case, the unexpected birthday present was a ride in a float plane arranged by my kids.
This past weekend was the Head of the Charles Regatta, the premiere rowing event that attracts literally thousands of scullers from across the country for three-days that could be called the Boston Marathon for rowers. This year 11,000 athletes from 27 countries competed in the event.
The distance of the race is nothing comparable to a marathon – about three miles – nor is it a crowded course as you would see at the start of the marathon. The race is divided by divisions and by boats from a single contestant – a sculler – to boats with as many as eight rowing plus a cox to set the pace and steer the boat. The boats queue up by number and are called to start within less than a minute of each other. Faster boats can catch up and pass slower ones which makes for some precarious moments depending where it happens on the river – you don’t want to try passing under a bridge.
What does this all have with giving and receiving?
Actually, quite a lot, although I didn’t think of it until reflecting on my granddaughter Lucy who is a member of the Tufts University women’s rowing team. I understand how she took up rowing when she entered the freshman class last year. My son, Jack, rowed on the Tufts team. She followed in his footsteps, or rather his wake.
My introduction to the sport was triggered by a city tax sale years ago.
It was shortly after the kids left home and I spent much of my free time sailing.
One spring morning, a neighbor who lived on Shawomet Avenue appeared at the front desk and asked to speak with me. I greeted Fred who was retired and believe living alone. He looked none too happy.
“I need you to buy my boat,” he said softly so as not to be overheard by others in the office. I immediately had a mental image of Fred’s catboat moored in front of his home. It was a pretty boat. Catboats are beamy and comfortable, hardly the sort of craft for racing that interested me.
“But, I have a boat,” I told Fred.
“I’m not talking about that boat,” he replied. I had no idea Fred owned another boat.
He told me it was an Alden Ocean Shell, a 16-foot single person rowing shell.
“And why do I need to buy that?”
Fred lowered his voice even more and I sensed he was really troubled.
“I need the money. My house is going up for the tax sale.”
I was speechless. I had no idea that Fred had fallen on such tough times. I asked only one question, “how much?” and wrote out a check for $700.
Fred kept his house and I was introduced to countless mornings of tranquility on the bay, and occasional moments of terror when I was foolhardy enough to confront the wind and waves or freezing temperatures.
Fred’s boat also took me to the Head of the Charles Regatta.
As I learned within six months, I was not the only one with an Alden rowing off Conimicut Point. David Kunz, who now lives on the West Coast, worked for Taco and lived in Hoxsie. He would launch his Alden from the point and we would join to row. Soon it became apparent, life would be much simpler if he left his boat at my house and we launch our boats together. We’d race every so often with Dave usually pulling ahead by a boat length.
It was Dave who learned that a recreational boat division had been incorporated into the Head of the Charles and suggested we compete. I thought, why not? My son Jack thought I didn’t know what I was getting into and he was right. That first race is another story involving my son Jack, who coached me, a flat tire, hitch hiking back to the starting line and then finishing second out of seven boats in my age division. I went back year after year to race the Head of the Charles until regatta organizers eliminated the recreational division.
Fred gave me so much more than I ever could have imagined, which made me realize we rarely know what rewards may come from our gifts.
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