Sunday, March 8, 2009

Are you building your boat?

I woke up this morning thinking about my old friend Albert Runyan. Albert and I became aquaintances one day we were each having coffee alone at the corner cafe. He smirked out loud about something he was reading from the paper about then President Nixon. From there we started chatting and over 40 years later we're still fast friends. To say that Albert never really set the world on fire would be a fair and accurate assessment. Albert was not one to have any great desire to climb Everest, or go on big game hunting safari's. Albert is just a regular guy, worked at the feed-mill in Earlham all his life, came home to watch his kids play basketball. Went to church every Sunday and, built a Titantic sized boat in the pasture of his backyard that is now over 3 football fields long, almost 3 stories tall and right at 173 feet wide at the middle.

Let me tell you how this all started. One hot as all get out afternoon, Albert and I were sitting out under a big tree in his back yard enjoying some lemonades. I looked way out onto his pasture and noticed a bunch of wood in a pile. Nothing fancy just scraps of lumber some tar paper and that type of stuff. It looked like someone had torn down a building and snuck onto Albert's property one night to dump it. I asked Albert "Whats that mess?" He said "That's no mess, that's my boat!" Now I sure didn't see a boat in there but what I was able to see didn't matter. Albert saw it. I says "Uh Albert, We're living in the middle of Iowa. We aint even got a decent lake within a hundred miles. He says "I'll worry about that when I get her all done". I did mention that this was 1973 didn't I? Every few months I'd get over to Albert's and the boat would have taken on new a form. It didn't really look like a boat, more like a shack you see down by the river where the homeless make up camps. Albert continued on. He would find scraps of lumber, wood, nails and every night after work or after the kids went to bed he would find a few minutes to pound a few nails or cut a few boards. This was his passion, his therapy.

About 1980 this thing had taken on the size of a small house. That is when the city came calling. They said he needed building permits, plumbing permits, zoning permits. Albert simply said, 'I ain't building no building, I'm building a boat" The city elders couldn't figure out what to do next so they left him alone and every few years would try to send over an inspector or someone to do some snooping. About 1990 this thing had now grown to over 200 feet long and was taking up a lot of his 40 acres of pasture. The goats were grazing around it but Albert kept on sawing and cutting and pounding and nailing. This thing suddenly was becoming a bit of a local attraction and people from Cedar County and Omaha would take Sunday drives to cruise past on a the dusty gravel just on the edge of Earlham. One day a photographer came by from the Dubuque Herald and took some pictures. They put it in the see Iowa section of the Sunday paper and suddenly Albert had gone from "Kook" to a Visionary, Artistic, Expansive, Creative urban artist. He said "I'm just cutting up some old lumber and building a boat"

Today, Alberts about as old as me, he can't do much more on that monster that appears to be floating in his field. It's been his enjoyment for over 40 years. Albert says "I sure missed a lot of good TV shows building that thing"

Through the years, Alberts kids have had a lot of fun and a great life in Earlham. They've grown up into just regular folks doing regular jobs. They probably won't ever set the world on fire either. They raise their kids and go to church every Sunday. They'll probably inherit Albert's acreage and have to do something with Albert's boat at some point as well.

Albert and his boat will never see water and if it does we're all in a lot of trouble. But Albert saw that boat sitting in his field over 40 years ago when it was just a few boards.

Do you have that kind of vision? Your vision doesn't have to be huge dreams. Just something that fuels your passion, keeps you on the straight and narrow. Allows you to get away from it all for awhile. There is a lot of stress going on in the world right now. People are losing their homes, going bankrupt, losing jobs. Albert's world had all of that as well. He had energy crisis, farm crisis, terror crisis, job crisis, but he didn't bury his head in a computer or sit and fret over the newscasters Horror Stories, he went out and pounded a few nails and had a beer or two.

He would sit in the middle of his Iowa pasture on his boat with his kids as they relayed their stories of their days. Those kids went from spilling their crayons all over the ground, to bringing home their girlfriends to show off their Dad's boat. Today those kids bring their own kids to tear around on the "Portside Deck" and play down in the "Galley" Albert and his children would spend hours on that boat not looking at oceanic sunsets, but at hawks swooping down to catch a field mouse. Do you think those kids cared? I doubt it. That boat is as much a part of their lives and vision as it is Alberts, and mine, and now yours.

I hope you've got a boat you're building. Something that gives you a reason to get up every day and pound a few nails. We'll get through this together and if it comes worse to worse, lets push that old boat into the river and float on down to Nawlins!

Have a good day, now leave me alone I've got a lot of important stuff to do today. Buford.

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