His Great Loves

His grandfather’s corn grinder has been with him for decades.

Now three-quarters of a century since his birth turned W. C. Brown into the idealized grandfather of his youth, Glenn sees the old grinder by the wall and remembers.

He remembers how Will Brown and his wife Myrtle, who farmed three dozen acres in North Carolina’s North Hampton County, gave him his first boat and launched his first grand adventure.

Today, Glenn grips the grinder’s two handles, placing his hands exactly where Granddad’s used to be, and he is back on the farm. These smooth oak knobs have set his course as surely any ship wheel could have.

The shiny black stripe that paints an exclamation point after “Shenandoah Valley” is young Glenn’s message to his future self. For him, the highlands’ pedestrian pursuits will always submit to the ocean’s grander tests.

It was the summer between fourth and fifth grade, a transition that meant moving from the first floor to the second floor of Rich Square School. (The third floor was for highschoolers.) It was a time for stories of fancy and a test of manhood before fall’s mandates of multiplication tables and long division would be imposed.

Grandmother told Glenn about how Uncle Earl built a boat when he was a little boy living on a farm in Virginia. She told how, when the place flooded, they had used the boat right there on the farm. The story launched a challenge and soon Glenn’s summer had its purpose.

To build the craft, he pushed the wheelbarrow to the empty hog pasture and disassembled the V-trough feeder. It took the skinny 10-year-old two days to get the boards back up to the barn. For the boat’s bottom, Grandmother told him he could use the old tongue-and-groove porch boards that were in a storage shed on the back lot.

He sealed each seam as carefully as he could with Granddad’s tar that was stored in a barrel behind the corn grinder.  While the youngster’s attention was rightfully on his beautiful new boat, as he brushed the tar on it he was not as protective of the grinder’s pretty face, forever sealing the covenant of his new great love with the black mark that he observes now with warm affection.

A week or so after he began the project, Glenn and Grandmother and Norman, the hired man, christened the craft with a bottle of Pepsi. To use the boat, he hoisted it on the mule cart and rode two miles through the woods to “Brown’s Mud Hole,” where the older boys swam and fished.

Although the vessel only held together for a couple of months, of the nine boats that Glenn has owned in the years since, it’s fair to say that this little boat, the ship that conveyed him to the second floor of Rich Square School, was the finest.