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Desbarats Shenanigans by Stephen Vail

Growing up in Desbarats provides many stories of finding ourselves in, shall we say, precarious situations. From hitting your first rock, to too-close encounters with outboard tin boats, to dancing with skunks and porcupines, to roman candle fights on the tennis courts (it’s ok, they mostly bounce off you). Occasionally our youthful exuberance outpaced our judgement, sometimes to the point where I am amazed we survived.


I remember one time, many years ago, Tiger Kite and I got a hold of a gross of Black Cat firecrackers, and spent the summer exploding everything we could find. We discovered that if a firecracker didn’t go off you could do a couple of things with it. One was to pull the unburnt fuse out about an ⅛ of an inch allowing for a sketchy relight, and the other was to cut them open and amass a quantity of gunpowder. I remember sitting in front of the fireplace in the Big House cutting open ‘duds’ with a hatchet to gain a sizable pile. I don’t think Bill or Peggy ever did find out where all the blood came from.


Another time my cousin David and I decided to host a party on Agate. We had over a dozen friends there doing all sorts of unspeakable things. Towards the end of the evening (or was it early morning?), we were breaking up when someone came running back up the hill shouting “The boats! The boats are gone!”. Sure enough we all scrambled down to the dock to discover that not even a canoe remained. My cousin Dave was running around shouting “My kayak, they stole my kayak”. We were all at a loss, very much deflated and confused. Sheila Lang was repeating “my dad is gonna kill me! If I’m not home, he’ll come looking for me, and will NOT be happy”. At that point, someone noticed a mass of dark shadows on the beach. After much hand-wringing, we decide ‘one of us’ should swim over to our island to get a boat. Just before I jumped in, Henry Lang pulled up in the Big Fish shining his spotlight on a very subdued and forlorn-looking group. He gave a few of us a lift over to the beach, where we discovered ALL of the boats tied neatly with bowlines. My dad never did admit to it, but I knew it was him. My mom covered for him saying “I didn’t hear him get out of bed”. Decades later as I was telling this story at Peter’s funeral, my sister Susan finally admitted that she too, was in on the caper, having been put out by not being invited to the party. My mind’s eye can still see him wringing his hands and snickering with glee as he stealthily towed the boats away.


As an aside, I too recall that great storm during the sailboat race. For some reason I was not sailing, but watching from our porch. When I lost sight of the fleet over by Sylvesters, I went out in our Peterborough to offer assistance. I could hardly see the bow of my boat for the intense rain. I discovered that our sailboat, the White Cat, had had the misfortunate insult of having her hull punctured by a propeller of one of the rescue boats. Very scary time, instilling a great respect for formidable Mother Nature. Fortunately I think Henry’s leg was the only serious casualty.


I can count on one hand the summers we didn’t make it up to Desbarats. I have missed it terribly this year.

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