The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Friday, February 11, 2011


"We - my mother and two older brothers - soon found ourselves in a strange and isolated new world. In less than one day, we were catapulted from a sunny beach town to a 100-acre farm with a dilapidated house, a rustic cattle barn and neglected fields dotted with brush and small trees. We were stranded on a mosquito infested island surrounded by swamp, without a neighbor in sight.

My father claimed that it had cost nearly nothing, which was probably all he could afford. Best of all, he went on, the dark sandy soil was highly fertile and had an inexhaustible supply of irrigation water.

“It’s full of potential,” he declared to my mother, who seemed not to be there yet.

My father was not a man to waste time doubting himself or to sweat over pessimistic scenarios. He was a firm believer that perseverance and hard work would take you places fast.

We had heard his rags-to-riches story many a time, especially when his business began to falter, at about the time he bought the new Mercedes-Benz and began taking mysterious business trips. He also had an inclination for making short rallying speeches, and we could already feel one coming.

"I was born a farmer, maybe not a poor farmer, but a farmer nonetheless, and I prospered by my own initiative," he said in a voice imbued with conviction. "I know how you must feel now in this," he hesitated," in this wilderness." His formal tone reminded me of his speeches at town council meetings back in Portugal." 

He explained, at length, that we'd be living here for five, perhaps six, years, until we made this farm a success. At that time we'd sell it and move to Toronto where he'd start a proper business.

My father was what you'd call a man of non-stop action. In one year he'd bought the farm, an old Pontiac Laurentian, an even older John Deere tractor, an assortment of rusty farm implements and a jumble of mismatched furniture for the house at auction sales. He was also working the night shift at the Massey Ferguson factory in town so he could dedicate daylight hours to the farm.

During any free time, such as on weekend evenings or when it rained, he studied English language books and a dictionary. Surprisingly, he could already hold a decent conversation in English. Apparently, he had been speaking English out loud all the time he was living here alone regardless of what he was doing. We'd laugh at his hillarious conversations with imaginary persons. "How much does it cost? I offer you twenty dollars. OK, telephone me tomorrow. My telephone number is 449 2904. It's a deal. When can I get it?" and on and on.

And so this is how I, too, became a farm boy, a farm slave out in the middle of nowhere.

We endured winters colder than we could have ever imaged, followed by humid hot summers when our sweat mixed with the blood of swatted mosquitoes.

Then there was the work of clearing the fields. We would dig with shovels and pickaxes to expose and weaken the roots, to which we would loop a chain shackled off to the old gutsy John Deer. The tractor growled and coughed plumes of black smoke as we cheered its measuring of forces with those devilishly stubborn roots.

The first year we cultivated what father called experimental crops for our own consumption. In the second year, it was time to sow, plant, cultivate and harvest with a frenzy my instilled by my father in his relentless struggle to redeem himself, to make up for his first failure.

We didn't dare speak about the good old days back home.

I could have grown into an introverted and maladjusted Portuguese teenager living in deep rural Ontario. But I adapted almost a little too well. And that's no mean feat with a name like Horatio. My original name was Horácio, but a distracted - or perhaps sympathetic - Canadian official spelled it Horatio on my first document in the new country, and that's how it stayed from then on.

As I grew older, not only did I adapt, I became popular with all the high school cliques: the jocks, the studious types, the bad asses and pretty much everyone else in between. This meant that I was on the basketball team, spent time in the library, got drunk on weekends and groped as many girls as I could.

In my later teens, I began wearing a maxi coat, scarfs and funky boots during winter and silk shirts and wood clogs in summer. I grew a long and voluminous head of hair and, if that weren't enough, I drove around town in my orange Volkswagen Beetle to the music of Alice Cooper and Doctor Hook in a world populated by rural folk in pickups and Chevrolets.

A teenage farmboy with a lot of hair

The years passed and, despite my slightly eccentric ways, I was a good student and a dutiful son working long summer hours in dusty vegetable fields.

One day during my last year of high school, I took my mother shopping to a mall in the city. As I waited and wandered through the corridors, I was drawn into a bookstore. I was browsing the pulp fiction shelves when a book caught my eye. It was called "The Drifters" by James Michener, a novel about the lives of six young bohemians of various nationalities who crossed paths in Southern Spain.

I bought it and excitedly wolfed it down in a few long sittings into the early morning. The book literally blew my mind wide open and awakened me to a whole new stream of ideas not found in the bland crap English teachers had been feeding me. I had discovered my gospel and experienced my second fateful event

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