The Boat Song by Tobias Haglund

typewriter

 

“Dad! Dad! Are we there yet? Are we?”

“No.”

“But we’ve been driving for-EVER!”

“Quiet back there!”

Frida held her breath. Jack looked up in the rear-view mirror. “What are you doing?” He turned to Hanna. “What is she doing?”

Hanna turned around. “Are you holding your breath to be quiet?” Frida nodded her head enthusiastically. Hanna held out her hand and gave Frida a high-five. “I’m also going to hold my breath. We can’t disturb Jack!”

“Alright, ladies. I get it. Should I turn on the radio? Will some music make you happy, honey?”

…at an age of seventy-five. We celebrate his memory with a song Robert Broberg crafted in 1967. Here it is. The classic; ‘The Boat Song’.

One of the sailboats said, to the other that, you are lovely,
we should be boarding in hand, courting far from land,
sailing off unmanned, like only sailboats can,
Bada-bam-bam-bam-bam, bada-bam-bam-bam-bam…

Hanna and Frida sang along and swayed to the music. They applauded and waited eagerly for the next song. But it was time for commercials. Hanna turned down the volume. “That’s a shame. Didn’t Robert Broberg live close to where you grew up?”

“Yup. I met him once, actually.”

“Oh really? He seemed like so much fun. What happened?”

Jack thought back…

Jack and Simon walked aimlessly in the suburbs of Solna, Sweden. A branch from an apple tree reached outside a garden and they took an apple each and ran. They caught their breath outside of a bright, bright blue house. A man over forty placed a can of paint on the grass, took out a fresh, new brush and dipped it in the light blue color. He whistled as he approached the house. He held on to the bristles instead of the handle, which meant that the handle faced the wall, and he started tapping the wall with the handle. He muttered to himself.

“Ah… You two boys. What am I doing wrong here? I keep buying new cans of paint, new painting coats and new brushes, but I’m starting to believe something might be wrong with the house. The paint won’t come off of my brush and stay on the wall. Now, do I need to buy a new house or am I doing something wrong?”

“You’re holding the brush backwards!” Simon answered.

“No that can’t possibly… wait! You’re right! My hand’s all blue. Huh! Who would have thought? Since you’re such experts, why don’t you come in here and help me paint? Would lemonade and cinnamon buns do for payment?”

Simon screamed yes and ran inside. Jack called after him, but Simon didn’t stop. The man walked up to the hedge. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. I shouldn’t talk to strange men.”

“Ah but you’re in luck. I am a very, very, very famously famous man.”

“I know who you are. You’re Robert Broberg.”

“I told you I was famous.” Robert took hold of Jack’s arm. “Come on now. Let’s paint! Painting is so important. Don’t you want your soul to be happy? Painting makes us smile. See how I’m smiling?”

“Yes, I guess. At least you seem happy!”

“And I have only painted my hands so far! Now come on!”

*

Jack kept his eyes on the road. “I helped paint his house. I don’t know how much I helped really-”

“What!? Ha-ha! Are you kidding? That sounds like so much fun! Painting a house with Robert Broberg! Was he… I mean, how was he?”

“Like you would imagine. Eccentric. But kind. I used to be a fan of his.”

“Used to?”

“Well, you grow up and it all becomes… a bit tiresome.”

Jack looked at Frida again. She tapped the car window and still hummed the tune to the Boat Song. Jack took Exit-46 and continued along the more rural areas of the county. Hanna petted Frida’s knee. “You liked him, right?”

“Who?”

“The man who sang that song.”

“I like him… A LOT!” Frida showed how much she liked him by extending her hands as far as she could. “He’s singing about two boats in love. But boats can’t be in love.”

“No they can’t.”

“But he’s singing about it!”

“I know. Isn’t he funny?”

“YES!”

Frida removed her seatbelt. “No, Frida. You must have your seatbelt on.”

Jack raised his voice. “Put on the seatbelt, Frida!”

“I don’t like it!”

“I don’t care. Put it back on!”

“Honey, could you please put it on?”

“Aaaargh… Okay then. Are we ever there!?”

Hanna looked out and recognized where they were. “Soon. About ten minutes. What are you going to do when we get there? You know, you’re cousin Daniel is twelve now. He’s a big boy.”

“He doesn’t want to play anymore?”

“Maybe not. But remember we have to wait until after we’ve been to church. We can’t play inside the church.”

“Why?”

“Because people will be sad.”

“Why?”

“Because, well remember grandma?”

“I know.”

“Remember how sad you were?”

“Yes. Very sad.”

“Right. So we’re not going to make anyone as sad as you were, right? That wouldn’t be nice. You can play after church.”

Frida sighed. She changed the position of the seatbelt but gave up when no position was comfortable. She leaned forward. “Aren’t you sad, daddy?”

“I am.”

“Why don’t you cry?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“Will you cry in church?”

“I don’t think so.”

Hanna took Frida’s hand, stroked it and tilted her head. Frida faced her. “Mommy?”

“Yes?”

“Will you cry?”

“Yea I might cry. I think so. It’s okay to cry, Frida. It’s also okay not to cry. Daddy deals with sadness in a different way.”

Jack turned up the radio again. “Alright, that’s… let’s talk about something else. Frida sit back straight.”

A pop song played. Hanna pointed to the church for Frida, but Frida focused on the cows in the meadow next to the churchyard. Hanna placed her hand on Jack’s thigh.

“I still can’t believe you painted his house.”

“Helped. I wrote him a letter too. I asked him to come and play at my school.”

“Oh really? That’s so cute. Did he reply?”

“Yes he did. It was during one of his… rehab periods.”

*

Dear Jack.

Sorry I don’t remember a specific kid painting my house. You see, I have a large group of children ready to paint houses on demand, so it’s hard for me to keep track of all children. I am like Santa that way, only, I’m exclusively in the painting business. Santa is in the Christmas business. A long time ago we came to that agreement. I’m slightly starting to regret it. Giving presents sounds like a better deal than painting houses.

I can’t come and sing at your school. I’m very sorry. I really am. Your teacher sounds great and your girlfriend Jessica really does deserve a love song. Maybe you can sing one for her? I’m a little sick at the moment. I’ve been skiing and I hit my head.

Because I can’t skiii-
—————————-i
——————————i
——————————–i
———————————-i
————————————i

—————————————BOOM! (That’s my ski-crash)

So you see, I need to rest my head. But you can sing songs to the school. Sure you can! Grab a guitar and make sure it’s facing the right way (one time I tried painting my house, but I held the brush the wrong side, luckily two helpful boys came. I need to thank them in a letter somehow). Do you paint, Jack? I think you should. And here is a tip. Draw the prettiest picture you can, then give it to Jessica. If it makes her smile, you kiss her. If it doesn’t make her smile, say you’re sad and ask for a kiss. It works every time on my wife.

 I include a little doodle I made of my poor attempts at skiing. I’m the guy with the ski hat over my eyes going down a mountain. I gave the mountain two eyes and a personality. He’s called Monty and he’s actually a nice mountain, but sometimes people just shouldn’t ski.

Robert Broberg

*

Jack’s sister hugged him. Hanna said hello to her husband and to Daniel. Frida told Daniel about the cows, which Daniel knew about and was less fascinated by. Jack shook hands with the husband and Hanna hugged Jack’s sister. The white church stood on a hilltop. Oak trees cast shadows on a few graves. The meadows slanted down from the churchyard. The priest came out and greeted them.

“Maria. Hi. Maria. Hello. Nice weather. The drive was okay?”

“Yes. Light traffic, two hours with a stop for gas.”

“Two hours? Then you must live south of Stockholm?”

“Yes. Yes we do.”

Frida walked away to pet a cow. Hanna followed her to the fence. Frida held out her hand for the cows. Hanna knelt down beside her. “No don’t pet them. You must look nice for the church.”

Frida looked at her clean hand, picked up a bit of grass and threw it inside the meadow. The cows didn’t take any notice of them. She turned to Hanna. “Where is grandma?”

“Grandma? She’s in there.”

“No she’s not. You said she doesn’t live anymore.”

“Oh… No you’re right. She’s not alive anymore.“

“Then where is she? In heaven?”

“Yes. Yes she’s in heaven. With that man you heard on the radio. Robert Broberg. They left the same day actually. And you know, I think they’re singing The Boat Song to each other. Don’t you?”

“Can we listen to the song?”

“Later. But you know what we can do. We can be brave together. Your father is really, really sad. He tries very hard to seem brave, but he’s a bit frightened, a bit scared. He really loved grandma. And he also liked that man on the radio. Now they’re both in heaven. They went to heaven together on the same day, and they held hands just like the sailing boats in the song do. He’s a bit scared, because he wants somebody to hold his hand. Shall we go inside and hold daddy’s hands?”

“He’s scared.”

“Yes.”

“And we’re brave.”

“We’re very brave.”

 

Tobias Haglund

 

The beloved Swedish artist Robert Broberg died from Parkinson’s disease on 21 July 2015. He really did compose a song called “The Boat Song”, which Tobias Haglund took the liberty to interpret and translate into English.

Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Broberg

9 thoughts on “The Boat Song by Tobias Haglund

    • Thank you, James, for your kind words. I actually helped him paint his house. It didn’t quite happen the way I wrote it and the letter is entirely fictional but in the spirit of his youthful creativity, I thought. Thanks!
      ATVB my friend
      Tobias

      Like

    • Thanks, Diane. In a way it really was a part of my childhood as well. I was, as you know, very emotional when I wrote this. Thanks once again!
      ATVB My friend
      Tobbe

      Like

    • Thank you, June! It’s always nice to hear from you not just because you say nice things but also because your enthusiasm is inspiring. ATVB my friend
      Tobbe

      Like

  1. Hi Tobias, the backdrop story of the singer is superb. You have handled the sad subject of death with a respect and realism.
    Your pen can turn to anything.
    All the very best my friend.
    Hugh

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Hugh, for your kind words and encouragement! I thought there was something in the death of a childhood and the memories that go along, so I was inspired to write this. Thanks!
      ATVB my friend
      Tobias

      Like

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