THE two men clomped awkwardly into the rented fishing boat. ''I'll drive,'' Lee volunteered, half-stumbling as his foot whacked the live-well.
''I'd feel better if Steve were in control,'' Milly, my sister whispered. ''Lee is so reckless. He even takes off in the car before all of our legs are in.''
''I'll just sit up front,'' Steve, my husband, responded, settling into his customary relaxed mode, perfectly willing to allow Lee to take the controls.
Milly and I watched for a few minutes from the end of the dock. Lee had turned the outboard motor around to go in reverse, then he pulled the rope to start it, smiling at the immediate r-r-rud-n of the motor. Impatient to get going, he quickly eased the throttle, and the boat responded with a powerful surge -- well, powerful for its 7 horsepower.
Sw-o-o-sh! The propeller popped up in the air with a spray of water, tilting the motor back inside the boat. There was an immediate reverse reaction shoreward and a sudden stop as though brakes had been applied.
''H-m-m,'' Lee was puzzled. Steve, a mechanic who understood the complexities of a motor and was no stranger to boating procedures, sat noncommittal. He had often been heard to remark through the years, ''One of the cardinal sins of life, according to my book of protocol, is to give unsolicited advice.''
Again the propeller was lowered into the water, the throttle advanced, and off they went again -- for a few feet. Up came the rebelling propeller, and with a body-jerk backward they were dead in the water again.
Millie took a deep breath and exclaimed, ''That motor must be filled with bucking broncos!'' She raised her voice, ''Steve, what is Lee doing wrong?'' Steve shrugged, noncommittal.
''What if they get out in the middle of the lake and the boat acts up in other weird ways?'' I worried aloud.
Undaunted, Lee braced his 235 pounds in the rocking boat and literally shoved the propeller into the churning water. Gritting his teeth, he held the motor down, forcibly forbidding it to rear again. With his knee he slowly inched the throttle open. R-r-r r-r-r-n-n-n.
''They're off this time!'' Millie was elated, ''but will Lee have to stand like that and hold the propeller in the water all the way across the lake?''
The boat slowed; the motor began to groan and strain, n-n-n, un-n-n.
''Well, Millie,'' I said, ''looks like the seven horses are pawing the water for traction. They still can't get going.''
THEN, an epiphany! Glancing back over his shoulder to confirm his suspicions, Lee released his grip on the motor and abruptly plopped down in disgust, allowing the rebellious propeller to do its thing: shower the men again, fight the empty air, and force the motor, the boat, and its occupants back to their starting positions.
Grinning sheepishly as the red began to creep slowly up from his neck, Lee glanced at our anxious faces, pointing. ''We're still hooked to the dock.''
Steve sat, noncommittal.