LAKEWOOD, New York - As fall creeps in, even here in California, I'm reminded of how important Chautauqua Lake was to me.
Right after Labor Day was when the boats and docks came out of the water and the boots and heavy jackets out of the closet.
My mother was fearful of the roads, so she bought me a fairly clunky bicycle, but she didn't skimp on the boats. Oh no! I started wth a rowboat at 10, had a small ski boat at 12, a larger one (with a 50 HP Mercury engine) by the time I was 14 and traded it all in for a sailboat my first year of college.
A sailboat! That was the beginning of a 40-year-love affair that keeps me busy nearly every weekend all year long.
Even then I traced the path down Lake Chautauqua from my house in Lakewood, past Celeron, down that windy river (is it a river?) through Jamestown, leading you (if you figure out how to get your boat past several dams) to the Atlantic Ocean. My grandmother (who lived in New York City) gave me a world atlas when I was 13 and I studied it as carefully as any of the Playboy magazines we were able to find. (Hey! I studied the articles. Come on!)
I wish I had actually gotten into sailing earlier, but the then-Lakewood Yacht Club was a closed social circle that I couldn't really crack. It was one of the few places I remember that I was barred from (outside of the bars we tried to sneak into starting about age 16). And for some years, that probably accounted for my having a bad attitude about yacht clubs.
Chautauqua Lake Yacht Club today
I got over that notion in California and have paid enough yacht club dues to four different yacht clubs in California and Puerto Vallarta to buy a pretty nice boat, if I didn't already own one.
I sailed out of the Lakewood Yacht Club just once - aboard a small Sunfish owned by Sandy Carlson (Class of '67), who was a good sailor and couldn't believe that I barely knew a rudder from a centerboard. We headed out late in the day and as the sun set, the wind dropped and we were becalmed, easily a mile from the club dock on one of those warm summer evenings that made the lake such a special place in the summer.
I should have recognized the tactic on her part. I mean, I was always pretending to run out of gas on my ski boat on those rare occasions I actually had a date. But I was as dense then as I am now about such things, so I just started paddling us in instead of having a romantic interlude.
It was a very quiet cruise back to the dock and I just thought Sandy was angry because we were becalmed.
At our reunion I had several conversations with people about the lake - mostly that there was a clear social division between people who lived in Lakewood and those who lived elsewhere. See? Elsewhere. That's how geocentric life was for me.
And, I have a confession. I have never driven to - or though - Busti. No kidding. Not once.
Sorry Bob and Donna Swanson. I'll rectify that next summer.
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