Stephenson Tales

Our Dock

All the summers of my childhood were spent at Gull Lake. My father, in order to give us a summer home, taught a full summer session at the university every year--and had about two weeks at the end of the summer to rest before going back to classes. Each year he built, for my brothers and me, (and for his uncle to moor his fishing boats) a wooden dock--not very long, as the bottom of Gull Lake fell away at an angle that was not hazardous but steady in its downward incline. The dock was about five lengths long, as I recall. It was constructed of two-by-twelve planks fourteen feet long. Each end of each section was supported by cross pieces fastened to poles which were driven into the lake bottom. A center cross piece kept the span from sagging in the middle. Each year, just before classes began, he and Uncle Clarence and my elder brother would put out the dock. My father acted as foreman and chief engineer for the project. Each section was perfectly level from one side to the other and the three planks that lay side by side were levelled too. The center support was exactly halfway between the end supports. The spikes holding it together were spaced evenly from the sides and from the ends so one could take a string from the shore end of the dock, line it up with the lake end, and snap it on top of any spike along the way and it would fall without error on every spike in between. It was the only dock I knew how to build. When we bought Harper House I began accumulating planks to build a dock. Little did I know how much work was involved. A fourteen foot two by twelve weighs about seventy pounds. Our very long dockAs our dock grew longer each year--as the bottom of our lake is very gradual in its descent, in order for the kids to dive from it, I finally ended up with about fifteen lengths over the passage of the years. As I got older the planks became heavier. Fortunately my son, John, (and, later, all the rest of the children) helped me at the end of the summer. It could not be left, of course, as the ice would wreck it. In fact, one summer, I was so eager to get the dock out that I put out one short length while ice was still on the lake. I had boots and about four pairs of socks so I did not get too cold. The day after I put out that length the ice broke up and a huge flow about as big as as city block was driven by a northeast wind right toward my shore--and the dock. Lucy Chase and I tore down to the water's edge and tried to push the huge chunk of ice away. I actually bent a metal oar trying to stem its relentless course. We pushed and pushed. Then, we watched helplessly as the ice swept away my dock as though it were a twig in a tidal wave. I never made that mistake again.Our very long, crooked dock One summer my mother and father came to stay in our guest house for a few weeks while I was teaching at the Music Camp. I walked with my father to the top of the bank when I got home from my classes and we looked at the dock. He looked at it for a long time and then said, quietly, "Not very straight, son...."

Oh, well.

© Jim Bob Stephenson 1992.

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