From Songs of Gentle Sadness
by Buie Seawell
(Unfortunately, this is a true story.)
Her name was Nancy. Her last name was Nance. I don’t know why her folks did that to her. But she was Nancy Nance. And I was 13 and so in love I couldn’t tie my shoes.
Nancy was the 14 year-old daughter of my Dad’s law partner, Jim Nance. The Nances had a place down at White Lake. They had a Chris Craft speedboat. One Easter Sunday after church Mom, Dad, Terrell and I drove down to White Lake to have dinner with them. I was wearing a white suit with a little blue tie and paten leather shoes. I felt like a jerk, but it didn’t matter because I was so excited about seeing Nancy.
When we got there and turned down the little sandy road through pine trees to their cabin on the lake I could see Nancy, in a bathing suit, out on the dock in front of the house. Oh Lord, the wonder of it all! But I didn’t want her to see me in my stupid Easter Suit. But Mom says, “Come on Spook, let’s go say hello to Nancy.”
And we walk out on the dock — me, Terrell trying to hold my hand, Mom and Dad. “Hold your Sister’s hand,” Dad says.
Nancy says “Hi!” She could really say “Hi!” nice. I mumble something. Mom says, “Spook, speak up.”
Dad says, “Come on Tan, let’s go up and speak to Jim and Louise.” Mom takes Terrell’s hand and the three of them head back up the dock toward the house. And there I am staring down at Nancy. Did I say she was wearing a bathing suit? Nancy was tying a rope on the back of the speedboat. She says, “Want to go water skiing?”
“Oh yea!” I say. I didn’t know doodle from a poodle about water skiing. But I say, “Oh yea!” What was I thinking?
“Well, go get on a bathing suit,” says Nancy. So I start to turn around on the end of the dock, but my foot catches on a deck cleat and I lose my balance. It might have had to do with not looking at where I was going, or that damn bathing suit or something. The sun was really bright too. But anyway, I lose my balance, and the next thing I’m in White Lake up to my neck in water wearing my white Easter suit, blue tie and patent leather shoes.
Nancy shrieks with fright and then with laughter. Everyone comes running down the dock – Mr. Nance, Mrs. Nance, Dad, Mom and Terrell. I’m just floating there in my Easter Suit hoping drowning is not as bad a way to go as I’ve heard.
Dad says, “How the hell did you get in there?” (Duh!)
Mom says, “Oh Spook, you’ve ruined your new suit.”
Terrell, eyes wide and pigtails bouncing, for once, doesn’t say anything.
Dad and Mr. Nance bend down and take my arms and lift me back onto the dock. Nancy, giggling away, says she’s going to take the speedboat over to Hank’s (Who the heck is Hank?) and pick him up for water skiing. I head to the house to take off my wet clothes, recover my dignity, and put on my bathing suit.
Thirty minutes later I’m out on the dock waiting for Nancy to come back in the Chris Craft. An hour passes. Terrell wakes up from her nap, and comes out to swim. Mom says, “Keep an eye on your sister.” I say, “Sure.” And about then, from across the lake I hear the high whine of the eight cylinder Chris Craft inboard. And the beautiful mahogany decked, sleek as a mink’s butt, speedboat comes into view.
He is driving. He has his arm around her. He is muscled like Charles Atlas on the back of my Batman and Robin Comic book. Fortunately there is no sand to kick in my face. As the boat coasts into the dock, she says, “Hi, Buie. This is Hank.” He doesn’t say anything. I say, “HI.” He’s too busy tying up the boat to speak, I guess.
About then the adults come out of the house and head down to the boat. “We’re going to take Malcolm, Tan and Terrell for a spin before dinner,” Jim Nance says. You guys use the outboard if you want to ski. Nancy says, “Sure.” And off they all go, leaving Hank, Nancy and me on the dock.
“Hank plays quarterback for Elizabethtown,” Nancy says.
I don’t know what to say, but “Oh . . .” comes out.
Hank says, “Do you know how to ski?”
I say, “Sure.”
“Well (deep voice),” says Hank, “you go first.”
“Oh, that’s all right (squeaky voice),” I say.
“Nope,” says Hank, “I hear you’ve been in already, anyway. Nancy and I’ll get the boat going.”
So while I’m standing there in my little black bathing suit with my skinny white legs sorta shaking, Hank and Nancy get the boat out in front of the dock, tie on the ski rope, and put two red and yellow water skis in the water. I should say something here about the boat. It is actually a canoe with a flat stern, so a 12 horsepower Johnson outboard motor can be put on it. It is very light and very fast. But it isn’t much of a ski tow boat. I didn’t know how to ski, but I did have a flat-bottomed riverboat of my own, and while a total geek about girls, I do know boats. But I don’t say anything.
“Well (deeper)” says Hank, “hop in there and lets giver a go!” Hank’s wearing his letter jacket from EHS, with white sailor pants and his hair combed back into a Duck Tail and looks damn good. Nancy is looking at Hank and enjoying the view. I’m looking at Nancy and trying not to let Hank see me. She is fine.
“Okey dokey,” I say. I don’t know why the hell I said Okey Dokey. But when you’ve said it, you’ve said it. I hop in next to the water skis at the end of the dock. Nancy gets into the front of the boat and Hank cranks the motor. Unfortunately, it starts on the first pull. I’m flopping around in the water with the skis, looking something like a giraffe at a yoga class. I didn’t mention it, but at 13 I had size 14 feet. It takes a while to adjust the foot things on the skis to all the way open. I get my feet in, barely. But it hurts and makes my eyes squint. Then before I’ve got my balance Hank throws me the towrope and says, “Put it between your skis!”
Slowly the motorboat heads toward the middle of the lake. Slowly the towrope begins to tighten. Suddenly I feel like throwing up. And I can’t keep the skis straight. And I keep sinking down backwards. And the skis point straight up toward the sky. And then the rope starts pulling me along through the water. And my skis get all crossed and wiggly. And . . .
“Here we go!” yells Hank, and guns the outboard. Nancy is looking at Hank. Hank is looking straight ahead. So I’m the only witness to what happens next. As if in ultra slow motion the boat first lunges ahead; the rope goes springing up out of the water, taught as a piano string; I fall further backwards, skis totally crossed, and submarine, only my curly blond head above water; the rope then yanks sideways off the starboard gunnel of the canoe and as it does the canoe goes into a sharp right bank and flips over upside down into the water. Nancy flies off the bow clear of the boat. Hank, still holding the throttle handle full open, Duck Tail and all, goes under with the boat. For an agonizing second or two the motor, now prop up, screams like a dying banshee, sputters, coughs, sinks and dies.
It is very quiet. I’m just treading water and looking around. It is not a pretty scene. Nancy’s bathing suit top has slipped off, two conical shaped pieces of sponge rubber are floating near by, and her hair is all down in her face. Hank comes up — letter jacket, white pants and no Duck Tail. I go back under and swim for the dock. It’s amazing how long one can hold his breath under water when necessary.
I don’t exactly remember anymore how all this sorted out. Hank walked home along the beach road. Mr. Nance pronounced the Johnson outboard dead. We ate a late Easter dinner, but Nancy stayed in her room. I do know that for the next couple of years I concentrated on boats and didn’t worry much about girls. And I’m pretty sure that was the last time the Nances had us down to White Lake.