S. S. Sassafras

It’s funny how memories from the past resurface every once in a while. Sometimes they bring with them feelings of anger, sadness, or great joy. I had one such memory pop up earlier today as I was washing dishes and I can happily say it was one that brought back joy. I have had this memory before and it always brings a smile to my face. In fact, I can easily say it is one of my favourite memories from my childhood.

I was probably somewhere between the ages of 10 – 12 years old. I had gone down to the basement and was on the side that housed the water heater, fuse box, washer and dryer, and a workbench.  The workbench was complete with a vise, securely mounted to its surface. There was a peg board attached to the wall behind the bench. Various tools hung from the nails on the pegboard and if the tool wasn’t found you knew what was missing by its outline drawn on the board. It wasn’t a very elaborate work area by any means and was mainly used by my father or brothers, but sometimes I wandered over to the bench.

On that particular day I had the urge to make something and as I sorted through the scraps of leftover wood an idea came to mind. I was going to build a small boat. I began by clamping a piece of wood into the vise that was going to be the hull. The plan was to saw each end of the block on a 45 degree angle to make it “boat-shaped. Then I was going to attach a smaller block of wood on the top for the cabin. My plan was set; I picked up the saw and began construction.

I had barely made the first few cuts when my older brother, the second oldest of four children, appeared. He asked me what I was doing and I told him that I was going to build a boat. I showed him how I was going to cut the edges and how I was going to attach the block. My brother smiled at me. I don’t remember what happened next, but I think he convinced me not to do it. He may have told me that he’d saw the pieces for me or something. Whatever it was, I ended up going back upstairs; supper was going to be ready soon anyway.

If memory serves me correctly, my mother called my brother up for dinner and finally after a couple of attempts, he came up the stairs. In his hands he held a wooden boat. He’d cut the ends as I’d told him and added not only one cabin, but two. A larger cabin was fixed near the centre and a smaller one at the back, but there was more. Tiny finishing nails were spaced out evenly around the edge of the wooden boat and he’d attached a string all the way around so that it looked like a railing. On the side of the small ship he’d written in black marker “S. S. Sassafras”, my childhood nickname.

I loved that boat and I kept it for a long time. Eventually the string broke, the nails loosened, the name faded, and it ultimately wound up in the garbage. However, the memory of the S. S. Sassafras lives on and occasionally appears like a ghost-ship at sea, always leaving behind a smile.

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