News From The Woods - August 14, 2011


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published August 14, 2011

"It's ALL in the attitude"

Sometimes, what you get out of life is dictated by your own attitude.

It's been a long four months since the lightning storm of April fried out just about every electrical appliance in our house. The seemingly endless string of claims must have made our insurance company raise their eyebrows. Computers… phones….my hot tub….audio/video devices…. Nothing was sacred. Even the main HVAC system was offered up for sacrifice, resulting in moving the family into a motel in town during one week of particularly nasty 100+ degree heat.

To their credit, our insurance company has been very good at paying off the losses. Checks continue to trickle in with each assessment, as I repair or replace the damaged components. It seems to have been day after day of getting estimates or evaluations of burnt-out gear since April 21st, when the storm hit this area with a fury the likes of which I cannot remember in over 60 years of living here. On that night, sky-to-ground blots were striking all around our house. Jane was not home but Robert and I rode the storm out with wide-eyed amazement. Although all the gear was turned off, not all of it was unplugged. The big screen TV was even playing the entire time of the storm, and yet remained unscathed during the assault! I had forgotten it and left it running in my haste to run around the house closing windows and barking orders to Robert, who was half scared out of his wits when one strike after another hit the very trees in our yard!

Later, recounting the events to my insurance agent, the voice on the other end of the phone was void of compassion. I guess he deals with this stuff every day, so one man's excitement is another man's run-of-the-mill. After relating my story to him he summed up his best authoritative voice and informed me that he would "check the stats" on storm activity in our area and get back to me. As I hung up I was already wondering just how you'd do that? I mean, how do you know how many lightning strikes hits an area during any given storm? My mind was still boggling the next day, pondering such black magic when the phone rang. The agent calmly told me "Well, Mr. Ketchum, I see that you are correct. You DID have a large lightning storm in your area. Our records show that you had 13 direct lightning hits in your immediate area on the night in question".

Well….. bless my soul. I was truly amazed. I wish I'd have had the foresight to ask him exactly how he knew that…….. I wonder today if he would have even told me………

Anyway…. I have spent most of the summer repairing and replacing damaged equipment. We were crippling along financially anyway (isn't EVERYBODY these days?) and the stress and hardship caused by all this fuss was taking it's toll especially during the July 4th holidays. My daughter Missy and her family recently moved to Little Rock from Nashville and had planned to come up for the holiday weekend, but we had to call and cancel it out because were in such financial straits at the time. We had other breakdowns (cars, lawn mowers, boat trouble) and considerations (no jobs due to no computer for me, and Jane was between expense checks in her job) to deal with and were not in a mood to have company. So the weekend was nixed and we all kept our noses to the grindstone.

Cut to this past weekend…… the LAST summer weekend before school starts. We have finally gotten back up to at least a sitting position and when Missy texted and asked if they might be able to come up, and we gladly replied "BRING IT!" They arrived late Friday night. The next morning we got the brood up (4 adults and 3 kids), called our son Luke and told him to bring out their family (2 adults and 2 more kids), and scurried around the house gathering food, drinks, and clothing for a full-day trip to Big "E" and the surrounding blue waters. The weather looked perfect…..Not too hot, not too cool. Jane and Missy dashed into town for some groceries for a dinner cookout and filled a couple of 5-gallon tanks with fuel for the boat (we try to avoid the high cost of marina gas) while I rounded up the troops at home and packed.

We were all set for a fun-filled day on the lake. Robert and I took the ATV down to the dock as the family loaded up the back of Jane's SUV. We got down there early enough to get things shipshape on the pontoon boat, putting out all the life preservers and stowing the gear. I never use the live well in the boat for fish, preferring to enlist it into duty as an ice cooler (complete with water drain), so Robert dumped three bags of ice in as the rest of the horde arrived dragging bags, drinks, munchies, and the spare 10 gallons of gasoline. We got everything loaded up and boarded the family. Robert (official First Mate) went around and unhooked the tie-downs for the boat and I started up the motor. It was running a little rough so I placed it into neutral and gave it some throttle. It roared to life, blew out a little oil smoke, and in about ten seconds settled down into a quiet and clear purr, the water pump sending a steady stream of water through the lower unit. I looked at Jane, gave her a wink, and pulled the linkage back into reverse……


The boat just sat there. Puzzled, I looked down to see if I was out of neutral. The little "button thingie" that pops the linkage in/out of gear was in the"out" position, but no matter which way I set the throttle (up/forward - down/reverse) the boat just sat there! I worked it for a moment, but it just would not engage the gears.

At this point I will spare the reader the events of the next ten minutes. Suffice to say that there was much "redface" as there were kids aboard, but the general mood was ugly. I kept trying to force the linkage to engage. We even took off the engine cowl and discovered that today's marine outboards are more complicated than in the old days when you could just reach down and give the gear linkage a whack, freeing it up. As I worked and we sweated, Jane was firing off suggestions in her wifely duty of making sure "the old man" knew what the hell he was doing. Finally she muttered, "Well, last week when I took out the boat this happened and……"

"What!?", I queried. She replied "I told you last week that this happened, but when I moved the handle around it worked so I never thought about it again". Suddenly, that very conversation meekly made it's presence in my now seething brain pan, as I remembered the mention of "minor motor trouble". The "thingie" must have been about to go out and it chose THIS DAY to do it. I even called a friend at the 101 boat dock and after a five minute discussion he confirmed my worst fears. The gear shift linkage had indeed gone out. There was simply nothing to do. Frustration gave way to anger now, and I was searching for something to destroy. Luckily there was nothing nearby, so the children were spared the onslaught.

While Jane fumed (people were scattering like flies from an angry dog) I instructed the First Mate to pull he boat all the way out, extending the pontoon out into the lake. I then tied off the front of the boat to the rear tie-offs on the dock, put the ladder down at the stern, and told the kids to "JUMP IN!" They eagerly obliged, without a care in the world. While they swam I moved forward to the bow (which was in the shade of the dock's overhang) , sat down in my sweaty t-shirt, and smoked a cigar to calm down. I was thinking…… "WHY today? …..WHY did this happen when Missy was here?" The boat had up to this moment been trouble-free since we bought it. The motor ran good. Aside from the usual trouble associated with owning a boat (which could fill VOLUMES of books) our pontoon boat had always been dependable. I shook my head in disbelief, glanced up at Jane, and was met with a "Well, what are you going to do?" stare.

There really wasn't much I COULD do. After examining the gearshift case - which was perfectly sealed - I couldn't even get INTO the thing to see if it COULD be repaired. Checking underneath the instrument panel revealed that it, too, was sealed in a compartment and covered with carpet - no doubt to insure some boat mechanic's future vacation plans.

It took a full hour (and half the beer supply) for all of the adults to settle in and put the matter behind us. One by one, we hit the water and cooled off our defeat and frustration. After thirty minutes of soaking in the cool waters of Lake Norfork, we managed some weak conversation, which finally developed into a resignation of "going with the flow". The GOOD side was that the kids were merrily playing in the water and seemingly oblivious now to the recent events resulting in our plight. Robert, as the oldest child, was sullen for a while longer - presumably he had visions of sleek girls jumping off Big "E" without his assistance - but finally shrugged it off and started playing "lake shark" with the girls. Jane was still the most upset and I felt so badly for her, but now it had just dissolved into a minor funk.

And then for some reason, it hit me…….. What if we were not MEANT to go to Big "E"? What if, God forbid, something would have "happened" there if we WOULD have gone? Thinking back on the incident, it was just plain WEIRD how - all of a sudden - this minor problem completely stalled us from going out on the lake. Suddenly, all the headlines of lake mishaps in the past ten years started playing over in my mind. In less than five minutes, I had a complete different attitude on the situation. What if we had been SPARED a life-altering circumstance? It actually made me feel better. However, I refrained at that moment from sharing my epiphany with my wife, who was still smoldering a little…. No need to open that door right now. But I DID settle down a bit after that, and I've been thinking about it ever since then. And the more I think about it, the more I have come to believe that we were guided by an understanding and unseen hand. And… even if we weren't….my change in attitude turned around the rest of the day for me. We stayed there swimming until it was time to go in and prepare the family cookout, which was undertaken without another incident. By the end of the day, it was all but forgotten and forgiven.

It's ALL in the attitude……….

BTW, did I mention that Saturday I blew up the lawn mower while sitting on it?....... Well, I'll save that for another time………


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