Jeanís Two Rides in the CHICKEN

By Dick Porter

Corrected, edited, and severely criticized by Brenta Porter

September 1988

A few cotton-puff clouds drifted lazily about the sky as the mid-morning sun burned down on beautiful White Lake. Shaded by the shelter at the end of the pier the Porter clan watched the disabled boat bob very slowly on the crystal clear water.

"It looks like the boys have run out gas, again."

Mike and Dick stood in the stranded ski boat watching Mac and Glenn swimming to the transom pushing their skis ahead of them. To run out of gas at the Porter House Party in the early fifties was not unusual. The five gallon gas tanks used for the outboard engines had no gauges on them, and the boys seldom opened the tank to check the gas supply. Most of the skiing was done right in front of the pier to enable the skiers to show off their latest tricks before an always appreciative family; therefore, the boat was never far from the home pier.

A slight breeze blew against the bow of the Chicken as Mike and Dick used skis to paddle on each side and Mac and Glenn pushed from the rear.

Chicken was the name painted on the side of the sixteen feet long, plywood boat. When Uncle Hugh bought this boat he christened it the Chicken for Aunt Ruth and she seemed to be pleased.

No one ever understood why he called Aunt Ruth "Chicken". Maybe he thought chickens were cute, and they reminded him of her. But anyone who has been around chickens and has seen where they scratch and peck knows that they are not classy animals. Uncle Hugh should have known about chickens, because he had raised over one hundred thousand of them. I guess we are not supposed to understand everything.

"Have you been skiing, Jean?" Uncle Hugh asked as the smoke from a little cigar curled up by his nose causing him to close his left eye.

"No, I don't think skiing is for me."

"OK then, how about a boat ride? Have you been riding yet?"

"Well, last year I -was going to ride in Elliot's boat at the river, but it rained."

"Are you telling me that you have never ridden in a speed boat?"

"No, I haven't, but one day I'm going to!"

"Well great, when, the boys get here with the boat and gas it up, I'll take you on the best boat ride on White Lake."

A flush came on Jean's face as she said, "O my, get me a life preserver! Jim get me the cushions out of your daddy's boat!"

As the four exhausted boys reached the pier Uncle Hugh directed Dick and Mac to fill the tank with the gas that was in a metal can in the back of his pickup. When they protested on the grounds that they were tired, Uncle Hugh cocked his eye in their direction with a look that resembled the eye of a hawk that has spotted a rabbit in a straw field. Recognizing that menacing glance the guys were instantly cured of their fatigue. With the tank disconnected, they headed for the shore.

To carry the tank full of gas Dick and Mac placed a boat paddle through the handle on top of the tank. They came waddling up the pier with the tank swinging between them supported by the paddle handle. The boat was pulled along side of the pier. Uncle Hugh relieved the boys of their burden and set the tank in the boat with one hand. He then turned and asked where was Jean.

Looking much like the Michelin tire man, Jean came hesitantly up the pier. Fastened about her middle was a white ski belt. An orange Mae West life preserver was strapped around chest, and a life preserver cushion was held in each hand. She very graciously explained to Uncle Hugh that if he didn't have time to take her for a ride it would be alright.

Uncle Hugh said he had plenty of time and there was nothing he would rather do than take her on her first boat ride. Pulling the boat close to the pier he helped Jean into the front seat of Chicken. Clutching her cushions she sat anxiously.

Stepping into the back of the boat Uncle Hugh connected the gas-hose to the tank and gave the priming bulb several firm squeezes. With both feet firmly planted, straddling the back seat, he grasped the pull cord ready to crank the outboard motor.

When the boys ran out of gas Mac and Glenn were skiing. This meant the outboard motor was in gear and at full throttle. The gear and throttle control levers remained in this position as Uncle Hugh and Jean prepared to begin their ride.

Uncle Hugh gave the well tuned, 40 horse power, Mercury engine a mighty pull and it roared into full power. The boat leaped forward with acceleration sufficient to throw Uncle Hugh head over teacup out the back of the boat. With Jean its only passenger, the Chicken streaked parallel to the pier toward the shore. Just as it reached full speed, the boat struck a Cyprus tree about the size of a baseball bat. The glancing blow to the right gunnel put the Chicken on a course that would crash it into the pier. Within six feet of the pier the Chicken ran over two Cyprus knees banging her bottom on the left side. This not only put the boat back on its original course but launched the vessel air borne. The Chicken flew the last twenty feet and slid to a smooth landing on the damp grass-in the yard of the cottage. The engine was screaming.

With a pimento cheese sandwich in one hand and a jelly glass filled with cherry Kool-Aid in the other, Mike came out of the cottage just in time to see the flying Chicken's landing. Dropping the Kool-Aid and jamming the sandwich in his mouth, Mike bolted to the boat's side slamming the gas lever to the left which killed the engine.

Totally baffled by what he had just witnessed, Mike with the sandwich hanging from his mouth looked like a long necked sea bird with a fish in its beak. Here was his very conservative cousin in a boat that had just flown into the yard. Given no more information than this, a Harvard professor would have been bewildered. What could we expect of a thirteen-year-old country boy?

With the elegance of a debutante, Jean stood and stepped from the Chicken with a white-knuckled grip on each cushion. As she made her way toward the cottage in a slow, deliberate gate, she dropped the cushion from her left hand. Three steps later the other cushion dropped from her right hand. Before she reached the cottage the orange life preserver was on the ground. The only evidence of Jean's maiden voyage as she entered the cottage was the white ski belt about her waist. This was left on the floor in the hall outside of the restroom.

The story is now complete except to explain the title, "Jean's Two Rides in the Chicken." This was Jean's first boat ride, and it was also her last!