That’s Harry, my grandfather.
He loved me. I knew it.
He was chief engineer on lake boats—the E.B. Barber for a long time.
Time with him was an adventure.
Spending the day on the Welland Canal. Boarding as the boat came level with the lock. Theo picking us up down the way.
A cook baked us a chocolate cake. I can still see it in the 9 x 13-inch aluminum pan—polished chocolate buttercream piped in a wave pattern. We made the first cut.
Food’s a big deal on the lakes.
Harry was easygoing and affable. I never saw him angry.
To me, he was a peaceful harbour.
He could hold his own too. Boats attract transient labour—there were some dangerous characters below deck. I’ve heard a few good stories.
Not that long ago Peter, my uncle, told me a hair-raising story about Harry that took place in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. We shared a few moments of shock.
And then gratitude.
We spent Christmas one year on a boat in Midland my grandparents were babysitting. They used to do that in Montreal too.
Theo in the galley kitchen. Me and my brother on the run. Remember when parents didn’t know where you were for a whole fucking afternoon? On a lake boat?
When a boat’s in ballast, it sits high in the water. Ten-year-old me climbing a rickety aluminum ladder in deep December, looking way down at the ribbon of black slushy water between the boat and the dock.
Harry in the other direction holding his arms open.
Me and my brother drinking the tap water—straight from the lake. Not Potable Water. Who knew what that meant? The size of Harry’s eyes when he found out.
Harry could never walk past a bakery. That memory and the thought of holding his callused hand melts my heart tonight.
Sausage rolls for him. We could have anything. I was that weird, nerdy food kid from before I can remember. Napoleon slices—custard and puff pastry—I liked them best. The chocolate-vanilla glaze was magic. Remember the wonder when you learned how to do that as a young apprentice?
By the time we left, everyone behind the counter had fallen for him—his thick Scottish brogue and natural charm used to good effect. I was in that golden glow with him
Harry gave freely. No strings attached.
I spent the night listening to Nathaniel Rateliff. I can’t believe he’s new to me. Where have I been?