A fanciful drawing of a sailor standing on a giant lemon that is floating in the sea.

The Fantastic Voyage of ‘The Lemon Drop’

Have you ever had a fantasy about an opportunity from your past that you didn’t take? Years later, do you still think through the ways you wish the events had played out? I have a whole collection of such fantasies, but I don’t think of them as regrets, but rather as creative possibilities. Fashioning different outcomes from the past, even if only in one’s own mind, can serve an imaginative purpose. This is especially true if the imaginative work has the positive impact of a more creative future. In this post, I explore one of my favorite summertime recollections of a creative chance not taken.

The Cabin

My family’s lake cabin is a simple but magical place in northern Minnesota. One of my uncles built the rustic cottage in the 1960s and when he passed away, he left it to my parents. I grew up spending a lot of time at the cabin, a place where I loved to swim and play in the boat.

The Boat Parade

My family never had a fancy boat. While there were folks on the lake who had expensive speed boats and pontoons, my family only had a very basic fishing boat. Each year on the Fourth of July, the Lake Association held a boat parade that would wind its way around the shoreline. The boats were decorated with U.S. flags and other Americana. We never decorated our little fishing boat but instead watched the parade from our dock and waved at the decked-out vessels as they sailed by. Deep down, however, I really wanted to be in the parade.

A dilapidated steering wheel of a boat.

The Lemon Drop

Years later, when I was already an adult, one of my brothers purchased a second-hand pontoon boat. It was not fancy, but it had a certain charm. Its two large floats were aluminum gray, and its flat platform was covered with green in-door/out-door carpet. A metal rail around the edges of the platform kept its passengers from falling off and the side panels were painted bright yellow. The color reminded us of the sweet and tart lemon candies that we used to buy at the Dime Store, and this is how the vessel got the name “The Lemon Drop.”

Imaginative Transformation

Soon after my brother purchased The Lemon Drop, I began to imagine how I would decorate the pontoon for the Fourth of July Boat Parade. Even though I hadn’t yet developed a particular interest in creativity, I knew that imaginative creations always had an element of the unexpected. Now I know that creativity is the ability to make new connections for a useful outcome. At the time, I just wanted to make sure that The Lemon Drop wasn’t just another forgettable entry in the parade.

Most of the boats in the parade were decorated in red, white, and blue with lots of little American flags. Occasionally there was a Statue of Liberty or a person in a Revolutionary War costume. Repeating those same themes would not be new and certainly not creative.

A garland of U.S. flag pendants hung across a worn wooden wall.

I began to think of how to work with the inherent qualities of our second-hand pontoon to make it into something special. Where I grew up, Independence Day was the summer holiday, and the lemon-yellow color of the vessel made me think of the quintessential summer drink, lemonade.

The Decoration

My Fourth of July design for The Lemon Drop would be a combination of summertime lemonade motifs with a hearty helping of red, white, and blue to keep the holiday theme. I would string up a garland around the top of the pontoon’s railing alternating little U.S. flags and paper decorations in the shape of lemons. Someone would hold a large cardboard cut-out of a pitcher of lemonade that they would pretend to pour into the oversized cardboard cut-out glasses held by the rest of the crew. Everyone onboard would be dressed in yellow. There would be a sign on the side of the vessel that faced the shore that would read “The Crew of ‘The Lemon Drop’ Pontoon Wishes you a Sweet and Tangy Fourth of July.”

A pitcher of lemonade with two glasses, straws, and an assortment of lemons.

As the years went by, the design became more elaborate. After Beyoncé’s album Lemonade came out, I imagined someone on the pontoon wearing an imitation of that iconic yellow dress with all the fabulous fringes. Who knows what the future might bring for the pontoon’s imaginative decoration? One thing is for sure: the design has not yet been brought to fruition.

Regret or Creative Opportunity

I have chosen to take several positive lessons from this experience. The process of imaginative creation, even if only in the mind, is a valuable exercise. By imagining new, pleasing, and useful outcomes, we build our creative muscles. Indulging in the act of imaginative thinking in one area, in this case pontoon decoration, can spur on creative cognition in other realms. Even though I haven’t participated in the boat parade (yet), I did collaborate with college friends in putting together a float for the homecoming parade at our last class reunion. It was festive, but more importantly, it was fun! The homecoming float may have never happened if I had not first imagined decorating The Lemon Drop for the Fourth of July Boat Parade.

Two men holding up cardboard cutouts of a pencil, a lightbulb, and a brain.

And maybe there is a lesson about hope in all of this. Regret is being stuck in the past without an accompanying hope for the future. If the thoughts about decorating The Lemon Drop had not served a purpose, it could be seen as a terrible regret. I now see those desires and ideas as fuel for other creative endeavors, and I remain hopeful that one day I will finally participate in the Fourth of July Boat Parade.

Is there a restlessness from your past that could motivate you toward positive action? Can you imagine a variety of ways that your desires, past or present, could play out to your benefit? If you can imagine these possibilities, you’ve already sailed a long way on your voyage of creation.

A lemon cut to resemble a boat with a paper sail attached to a toothpick mast.

I have been far away from Minnesota this summer and so I have not yet been to the cabin. My understanding is that the lemon-yellow pontoon hasn’t even made it into the lake for the past couple of years. Despite this, I still believe that The Lemon Drop, fully decorated, will one day set sail along the parade route. In my mind’s eye, it already has. Happy Fourth of July!

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