My Grandfather's Spirit: Building a Kayak

How a homemade kayak became a way to commemorate my grandfather’s spirit — and celebrate my own.

By Lindsey Truitt

Not Your Typical Boat Builder
I look below my waist to marvel at the creature I’ve become. My hips flare in a glistening wooden curve, my legs transformed into a muscular eight-foot prow. I am half-woman, half-boat. Easily, I glide over the surface with each pull of the paddle, water beading on the shining finish of the wood. A tight neoprene spray skirt connects my body to the boat’s cockpit. But that’s not why it’s so much a part of me: I crafted this kayak with my own hands.
I’m not a likely builder of boats; two years ago, I didn’t know how to use a power saw. As a 43-year-old mother of three who runs her own landscape-design business, I’m usually tending to clients, helping with a science-fair project, or rushing through the grocery store daydreaming about a romantic escape with my husband. But one day, I just knew: I would build a wooden sea kayak.
The idea came to me in my grandfather’s workshop. He had died, it was time to sell his big Washington, D.C., house, and I volunteered to clear out his shop. I had been forbidden to enter this room under any circumstances until I turned 12. It wasn’t curiosity as much as awe that drew me to stand and stare at the carefully ordered assortment of things. The shelves were stacked high with hand-labeled cigar boxes; jars filled with every size nail, screw, and bolt hung from the ceiling. This was a love of order that commanded respect.
Grandpapa had spent his life collecting things. His 30 years with the CIA sent him all over the world, and his treasures from those travels were carefully wrapped and labeled. He loved a project, and the room was a shrine to all the pieces that were part of those endeavors. I threw out bag after bag, saving useful tools and containers with labels that showed his sense of humor, like coffee cans labeled "Pieces of String Too Short to Use" or "Useful Seashells." Maybe it was the sad job of taking apart someone’s life, but as I stood there at the end of the day, I felt an overwhelming desire to put something back together.

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