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WOSTER: Boating brings out wonder of being young

I finally got my boat out on the river this past weekend and burned through most of my first tank of gas since late August.

A boat, for those who have never owned one, is a peculiar sort of thing to have. In its way, a boat is a lot like a saddle horse on a spread where all of the cattle herding is done with pickups and four-wheelers. The boat, like the horse, sits idle for long periods of time. Unlike a horse, a boat -- if properly prepared -- can sit idle for long periods without needing to be exercised and without needing to be fed. Once it is taken out of the barn, though, a boat that gets heavy use needs to be fed pretty regularly.

Here's what I think, though. What's the point in having one if you aren't going to use it like crazy whenever you take it out of the garage? When the kids were growing up, the boat we had didn't spend a lot of time on the beach. Our kids were nuts about waterskiing, and they hung out with kids their age who were equally crazy about the sport.

When we beached on weekends, I spent long hours circling the big lake with a couple of kids hanging from tow ropes off the back end of the boat. Whether it was one of my sons and a friend or my daughter and a friend, the kids wouldn't quit skiing until I looped close to the shore and made it clear I was finished for that run. They'd have skied from Oahe Dam up to Okobojo Creek and back if I'd been willing to pull them that far.

Nancy and I were that way once, too, so when we weren't pulling our kids and their friends, we were either towing our friends or hanging on to ropes behind our friends' boats. If I took a ski behind one of our friend's boats, I knew that when I got back to the beach and dropped my skis, one or the other of the kids would be there to ask for another tow.

Some Saturday afternoons it was like that guy named Charlie in the Kingston Trio song, the one who was short a nickel to get off the subway in Boston and had to grab a sandwich from his wife as the train passed Scollay Square station. I sometimes felt like the man who never returned.

Truth is, it was about as happy a time as a person could have on a weekend in the middle of South Dakota, and I sometimes miss those old days and those young kids.

Which makes it fitting, I guess, that when I finally did get my boat onto Lake Oahe this summer, I spent much of Sunday and Fourth of July day pulling a couple of granddaughters around on a tube. One granddaughter is a bit over 3 years old. The other turned 15 last month. She had a cousin with her, so the three of them spent a lot of time together on a big old Airhead inflatable as it bounced over the wakes at Okobojo and Cow creeks.

The little one had her older cousin signal me when she thought I was going too fast. She preferred slow rides, she said. Maybe so, but she didn't seem to have any preference for low waves. She laughed and chattered with the other tube riders as she bounced over some pretty stout waves. I watched for other boats as I drove, and I pondered what it is about bumpy rides that excites young children so much.

I certainly don't get a thrill from pounding around on a tube in rough seas. A couple of years ago, Nancy's big brother and I took a ride on one of those big tubes. We like to have killed ourselves. In our defense, the air had pretty much gone out of the thing, so we were essentially hammering across the water at 25 mph on a thin sheet of nylon. Still, two Medicare-aged guys should have known better.

Someday, those granddaughters I was towing around the lake this past weekend will really appreciate the wonder of being young.