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WOSTER: Boaters' second happiest day comes with sale of boat

Terry Woster

I see by a Facebook posting that at 85 years of age, my old friend Virge just had one of the two happiest days of his life.

He sold his boat, according to a post from his elder son.

You know. That's the old joke among the river-rat set. The happiest day of your life is the day you buy your boat. The next happiest is the day you sell your boat. Now and then, when things aren't going so well -- say when you wait most of the summer for a water pump or sacrifice an entire boating season to a submerged tree stump that takes out the lower unit -- the order of those two days might be reversed. Mostly, though, boat people had a mighty happy day that first day they bought a boat.

And my old friend Virge was a boat person as long as I knew him. He didn't always admit that. If you asked him on a sweltering summer Sunday afternoon on a beach above Oahe Dam, he might say he was only there for the kids, because they loved the beach and the water so much and would pester him silly back home and a person might as well be not enjoying the day out here as in the house.

Or he might say he was only there because Carol wanted one more ski and the water was smooth and he'd get no rest until he hitched up the boat and headed for the river, and at that moment, all he was doing was counting the minutes until the end of the day and watching the sun creep slowly across the sky toward the western horizon. And wasn't it about hot enough to fry eggs on a flat piece of rip-rap, anyway, and wasn't it plumb crazy how we used to go way up to Cow Creek on three-day weekends and spend every minute frying our brains in the sun and pounding the waves on skis?

Truth is, my old friend Virge talked a more negative game than he lived. He got a charge out of being out on the water. He's too nervous to enjoy simply sitting in the shade for hours on end. That was a waste of time. He took to kayaking in recent years, and I think it was partly because you're out on the river with your friends, but paddling along makes it worthwhile work instead of idle time. I found a T-shirt in a novelty catalog and gave it to him one Christmas. It said: "I tried relaxing, but, I just feel better tense,'' or something like that.

He and Carol have six kids. All of them were skiing by the time they got to grade school, I believe. That meant for most of the time my old friend Virge owned a boat, he spent most of his weekend afternoons at the wheel, pulling one child after the other, usually with a couple of their friends along to make sure two or three ski ropes were always hanging off the back of the boat so they could get tangled every time one of the kids dropped or fell. He'd run one bunch of kids around the lake a while, pull in near the shore so they could drop, pause to light his pipe and take the slack out of the ropes for the next bunch of kids who'd jumped into skis and into the water.

That's the way I remember so many summer days for so many years.

We got our first boat back in about 1974. At that time, Carol and Nancy and another nurse named Kay were all beach friends. Virge was my new friend then, and he and Kay's husband, Dick, already had boats and experience. I learned the ways of the river from them, and I learned a lot about how family-friendly boating could be if a guy did it the way Virge did. To this day, our kids and grandkids return when they can for boating weekends.

I've seen this boat-sale day coming. My old friend Virge paid his dues on the river. He earned his rest from boating. But it just won't be the same.