My wife and I have three children, all boys. The day I am starting this story is the 37th anniversary of our marriage. Due to our schedules, she’s in Ohio and I am in Arizona. Tomorrow I am driving to Los Angeles to watch one of my favorite rock bands, (Garbage), perform at the Greek Theater. My dad once remarked that he never thought he’d have a kid who was 30 years old. I now know that feeling as our oldest is now 34, our boys all spread apart in years. Because there are a number of years separating our boys, it’s easy for me to compartmentalize the child rearing into ‘eras’. Early Ohio, early marriage is the Mitch era. Louisiana belongs to Corey. Tim then gets our California years.
We lived in Ohio up until I was offered a transfer to Louisiana in 1989 so the Mitch era lasted from 1981 to 89. A short part of the Mitchell era weekends were spent a little north of Hamiltucky, near Celina, Ohio, specifically at Lake St. Mary. I guess technically, it is called Grand Lake St Marys, but we always just called it Grand Lake. At one point, many years ago, Grand Lake was the world’s largest man-made lake. It covers over 13,000 acres but it’s very shallow with an average depth of only 5-7 feet.
I rarely ask questions about any of the facts or timelines in my stories because I like keeping the story themes a secret until released. So sometimes I might have a timeline off by a slight bit or an assumption made that is incorrect. That said, when my wife’s grandma died, she left behind a little bit of money to her daughter, (Kim’s mom). With a little bit of that money, Kim’s parents bought a nice little home, right on one of the channels at Grand Lake. They ended up selling it soon, but for perhaps two seasons, Kim’s parents would make the 1.5 hour direct north trip almost every weekend.
Traveling up to the Celina area replaced our Hueston Woods camping outings for a short time. We’d often hop into the car and drag the kids up with us. The boys, (Mitch and Corey), would have been about 7 and 2 in ages and both loved the water. Once we entered a fishing derby where Mitch won a red bicycle. I might be confusing that event with one of the local organizations that Mel belonged to, but so be it – it’s Grand Lake in my mind. Now, on this topic, I never did ask, but I’m highly suspicious that Mitch won because Grandpa made it so. Supposedly, he had caught the largest fish within his age group, but I’m suspecting he won for largest fish caught by a grandson to Mel. 😉
Apparently that lake was built as an early reservoir for the Miami and Erie canals, way back in the early 19th century. Being so shallow, the water can get pretty choppy. The choppiness can add to the safety risks for boaters. We got to experience that firsthand one day. On a rare weekend, the entire Pike family was in attendance. All four kids were there visiting, along with all the tag along in-laws, (like me), and our children. If I’m remembering this correctly, there were 4 grandchildren present, Corey and Stephanie both being only 2&3. I don’t think Scott’s daughter was born yet though his wife Goldie might have been pregnant.
Not important; what is important here is that we had 9 adults and 3-5 small children on a small sized pontoon boat. A pontoon is a hollow cylinder, typically metal, and is used for flotation devices. You’ve seen them on airplanes that land on water – those are pontoons. A pontoon boat typically has two pontoons, one on each long side of the boat and usually runs the length. Pontoons are great for flotation and not great for speed so typically, a pontoon is a leisure boat.
We had every seat filled with the kids on our laps. I could see just the tops of the pontoons so I knew we were carrying maximum cargo, probably overweight. A couple of these adults are rather large and so when just one adult decided he wanted to visit a different area of the boat, WHOOSH! There went the front end underwater! Personally, I wasn’t too worried. Maybe I should have been, but I had the impression that if the boat capsized, we could all walk to safety, carrying our children over our heads. At least half of the adults present however, all shouted the perpetrator’s name. I’d never heard another person’s name yelled out as a curse before that day. With every action, there is a reaction. And so, after the front dipped down below water level, as soon as the weight was redistributed, the rear end of the boat tipped backwards, lifting the front end and its passengers up into the air another foot or two. It was a great roller coaster ride on water….the young mothers though were not appreciative. We dads are dumb – focus was first on fun, but then in an act of solidarity we all joined in on the public scorning of the guilty party (so glad it wasn’t me – in-laws rarely get pardons in any family).
And I finish this little walk down memory lane with one final water adventure.
I’m not quite sure why I always practice mental risk mitigation, but I always have. Maybe it’s related to my getting hit by a school bus as a child (link)? I don’t know, but I do. If I’m on a plane, I look at the ceilings to imagine which direction I’m going to have to crawl to for the exit should we crash upside down. Silly huh. If I’m attacked by a large dog, my plan is to use both hands to grab one front paw, twisting in an alligator death roll move to break the paw, it being what seems to me to be the most vulnerable area. Dumb huh. Don’t even think about sneaking into our bedroom while I’m sleeping – you won’t like the result. Why do I waste my time on these thoughts? Maybe they’ve helped to make me a safe motorcycle rider?
In any event, one day while up at Grand Lake, we were there along with Kim’s sister and their children. We were all out front of the house just chatting, the kids playing along the channel bank. I had been not paying close attention to the conversations, but rather, my attention was more focused on the kids’ play. Docked boats lined the channel and my thoughts were on what would be the worst scenario for one of the kids. I knew that the channel had the least deep water, but what if a kid fell down into the channel and somehow fell immediately underneath a boat, even perhaps knocking themselves out in the process? I suspect it would not take much time to drown.
Those are the types of things that consume my thoughts. It often bothers me that I’m so quiet, not able to enjoy ‘chitchat’ like most people. But when I’m in groups, my mind goes off all by itself. On this day I’m describing, I had planned to rush immediately over to the children the second I saw one of them losing balance towards the water. Other than a number of played out moves by motorists when I’m motorcycling, today was the day my goofy mind roam might have helped. I saw Nicole stumble slightly towards the boat and I immediately knew she would go down. I ran as soon as I saw her begin her fall. In those days I was quite a fast sprinter and I pretty much had her arms in my hands only a second after she hit the water. Most of the adults were still seated, not knowing yet what had happened. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t get to be a great uncle if I hadn’t snagged Nicole from the deadly clutches of the violent Grand Lake (Nicole’s pregnant now). 🙂
I think my boys think I’m overprotective. They’re all adults but even today I don’t pass up an opportunity for a quick lesson on how to be safe when they’re going out at night. Mr. Miyagi told Danielson that the best way to block a punch is to not be there when it comes. I believe in this philosophy; if an area is more prone to violence, why go there?
Why is it that we tend to associate our past with simpler times? Why can’t the present be simple and the past complex? During the majority of the Mitchell era, Kim and I spent a lot of time with her sister Traci and Traci’s husband Rick. It was us four adults and our four children. We camped together, played pitch together (link) and sometimes we got all wet together. We drove used vehicles, paid against our mortgages, worked our 40+ hour work weeks and looked forward to Friday afternoons and the weekends.
That’s all there was, there was nothing more….it was simpler times.