A version of this appeared recently as a column in The Sault Star
It’s not often I get choked up when I’m tearing down an old deck.
Unless, perhaps, there’s a lot of dirt and dust trapped between the boards.
But taking apart the Lily Pad the other day was poignant for a few reasons.
The Lily Pad wasn’t just any old deck. The fact that is had a distinctive name, other than “front deck” or “side deck,” might be your first clue.
It sprawled beside my dock, irregular-shaped and green, roughly following the curves of the shoreline.
You could call The Lily Pad the signature piece of my oeuvre as an amateur public artist. But that would imply that it was a) art and b) that I had other artsy stuff in my construction portfolio.
However, like genuine public art, that deck proved to be ephemeral.
The Lily Pad endured but 11 years of Northern Ontario summers and winters before falling to the wrecking ball.
(Technically, to an old guy with a crowbar and a power-screwdriver.)
Had to be done. The Lily Pad was rotting and someone might well plunge through it to the ground below. Odds are it would be me, and the putative artist would have to be hoist in his own petard up to a more solid piece of deck.
I didn’t set out to build a lily pad 11 years ago. But the shape of the building site was irregular. The foundation beams were irregular too, having been recycled from an iced damaged dock. The builder certainly was irregular.
So the deck became irregular, a free-flowing structure that came to resemble something a frog might sit upon on calm, sunny day, which is exactly what I planned to do as often as possible.
Presciently, I already had decided to stain it green.
Once it became apparent that rectangles would be as rare as sobriety on The Lily Pad, I herringboned the two-by-six floorboards, as was a fashion at the time.
I rounded off every corner with a jigsaw, carving a wavy front into the part that faced the lake. Then I cut railings out of 2 by 6 boards to match those curves. Apparently what sets a would-be artist apart from a carpenter is the amount of lumber he wastes.
People travelled from far and wide, or as far and wide as you can travel in a pontoon boat, to marvel or smirk at my creation.
And though my first impulse was to name it Turtle Island, gradually it became known as the Lily Pad.
It was a darned useful structure for 11 years. And as I tore it down the other day some of its functions flickered through my mind like a clumsy flashback in a second-rate vintage movie.
The Lily Pad provided stubbed-toe-free passage to a shallow swimming spot, a place to sit, sun, even sleep (if memory serves me well), eat, drink, snack, store water toys, play tag, shuck t-shirts and towels, lose fishing gear between the cracks, play in the sand. (I attached a sandbox to the back of it) and step on broken plastic sand toys with a bare foot.
Plastic furniture blew off it with distressing frequency, sometimes into the deep water beside the dock.
Patio umbrellas sometimes soared through the air as if in search of Mary Poppins. If I fastened them more firmly, a mocking wind would just snap their poles. (I live on a breezy point.)
Smaller dogs loved the cool and shady refuge they found under the Lily Pad so much that more than once I had to slither under it to haul one out by the collar, trying not to snag myself on a fish hook that a grandkid had dropped between the floorboards.
But I had a special attachment to The Lily Pad because I built it while my No. 2 grandson (in age, not merit) was being born.
I remember plunking a portable phone beside me while I sawed and screw-drove and swore, measuring six times and cutting once, waiting for news of his arrival. That phone had to be recharged a few times, because he was as casual about deadlines as I was about completing construction projects.
The good news arrived about the same time it was becoming clear that what was emerging from the swamp of my artisanship was something strangely shaped.
I drove to the hospital to cradle that newborn, then rushed back to complete the product of my own act of conception.
When I told Grandson No. 2 that story the other day, he didn’t beg me to restore the Lily Pad. Kids accept change better than old fogeys do. But I doubt it I could replicate even if I had blueprints.
What moved me even more about tearing down the Lily Pad, and replacing it, if my body ever recovers, is that this might well be the last deck I build. And I’ve built scads of them.
A deck was my first substantial construction project, back when I was about 14, probably motivate by a misplaced belief that it would impress 14-year-old girls. I’ve built dozens and dozens of decks since, each greeted by almost universal yawning from the gentler gender.
Even if I set folly aside this time and focus on function, I figure that deck’s going to need replacing in about 11 years.
Odds are there will be other things needing replacement before then. Knees. Hips. The homeowner himself.