The weekend of the State Rowing Championships had finally arrived. Year in, year out the program followed the same format: Heats for the Senior events on the Saturday, Junior heats Sunday morning and all the finals in the afternoon.
On the Sunday morning, Abraham Goldsmith drove Jane Thomas and his daughter Ruth out to the venue for the championships, a straight stretch of river cutting through the semi-rural outskirts of the city. The car stopped beside the rowing shed just as the sun was rising above the surrounding hills, its rays turning the still water into golden glass.
The girls grabbed their duffle bags and got out of the car. Abraham knew he was only likely to get in the way if he stayed so left in search of a coffee. Ruth and Jane walked over to a small group standing in front of the shed where they greeted Peter and Marty with nerve tinged enthusiasm. The boys had come out to the venue earlier with their coach Steve and had already unloaded the coxless-pair racing shell that Ruth and Jane would be using.
After Ruth and Jane had checked and double checked all the rowing gear, Peter and Marty helped them carry the racing shell down the ramp and put it in the water. Jane and Ruth, still in their tracksuits, got into the pair as coach Steve strode down the ramp toward them.
“Go easy girls, just make sure everything is right. You’re in the first heat,”
“Good, that’ll give us time to rest up before the final,” Ruth replied and pushed off from the ramp with an oar The girls stroked their way out into the centre of the river, getting the feel of the seat slides, oars and water.
Dean and Madge Thomas, accompanied by their neighbour Sky Crystal, got to the rowing venue an hour before the scheduled start of heats for the Junior Women’s Coxless Pair. They immediately walked over to the rowing shed where Abraham Goldsmith was with the girls and their supporters. Everyone appeared to be talking at once as Jane and Ruth got final instructions and wishes of luck. Amid the chaotic swirl of excitement, Ruth adopted the calming role of the old-hand, who had been there before, but struggled to contain the effusiveness of Dean and Madge Thomas or the cosmic exultations of Sky.
“It’s time we got ready,” Ruth told her rowing partner. Jane nodded and after final hugs all round the guests left the shed.
“Just make sure you get a good start,” Peter told Jane and Ruth as they walked down the ramp to the rowing shell.
“And relax,” Marty contributed. “The only opposition you’ve got is the boat on your right.”
“That’s right, you gotta relax. It’s hopeless if you tense up. You just …”
“Come on you guys,” Ruth interrupted. “You’re the ones making us tense.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Peter replied sheepishly.
“Come on Jane, let’s do it!” Ruth exclaimed and the girls got into the sleek racing shell and quietly stroked their way out to the starting position.
Ruth and Jane got a good start, quickly settled into a comfortable rhythm and were soon a canvas ahead of their nearest rival. They led throughout the race and, although the time wasn’t great, the win guaranteed them a start in the finals that afternoon.
As the shell drifted to a halt, Ruth in the stroke seat turned around and gave her friend a big smile. “See, nothing to it.”
Jane, who had shunned all forms of sport before meeting Ruth on her first day at Lushers College for Ladies just a few months earlier, smiled back with a mixture of relief and exhilaration.
Dean Thomas was an obsessive: The always beautiful front window display of the Thomas delicatessen, with the shop name carefully painted in Gothic gold lettering, bore testimony to his OCD tendencies. Dean had prepared the race-day picnic lunch with equal fastidiousness, a selection of the best cheeses, meats, pickles and breads were now laid out on a tartan rug beside the river; a vista more Henley Royal Regatta than Henley on Todd.
Ruth and Jane joined their parents and Sky Crystal on the picnic rug. Soon, everyone, apart from the girls-of-the-moment, was hoeing into the food with gusto. Neither girl felt particularly hungry, but after some prodding from her mother Jane picked up an olive.
“You too Ruth, eat!” Abraham insisted.
Ruth put a couple of dry biscuits on her plate and following a demanding glance from her father began to nibble on one.
“Ah should we care,” Abraham said, echoing the over-protective Jewish mother stereotype of American movies. “So much food and she eats a biscuit! How will you have enough strength for this afternoon?”
Ruth smiled at her father and put some more food on her plate. “Look at you, Jane,” she said mimicking her father. “All skin ‘n bone. My life!”
Abraham rocked back in laughter, and as the others joined in, Ruth and Jane set to on the food.
“News of Elliott Price’s involvement in the Regal Mortgage scandal is starting to come out,” Abraham said turning to face Dean and Madge Thomas. “It’s getting a bit too hot for him so he’s escaped to the slopes in Switzerland.”
“That’d be right. That lot really suffer don’t they?” Dean replied sarcastically, throwing a damper over the occasion.
“Well, I’ve got some good news,” Sky said breaking the frosty mood. With glee she told them that Ralph Fly had phoned to tell her about the flood at the offices of Purvis Holdings.
“It seems some of the shopping centre documents got destroyed, including the contract you signed,” Sky told Dean with a laugh.
“You sure?” Dean asked.
“You beauty!” Dean shouted. “Free of the bastard.”
“Yes dear, it’s a relief,” Madge said resting her hand on Dean’s arm. “But, as often happens, the villains got away.
“It’s about time you both had a change of luck,” Abraham said as he poured a glass of wine for Dean and Madge.
In the next episode, “The Finals”, in spite of hours of practice the girls get a bad start and have to struggle to stay in the race.