The family and I took a vacation to New Hampshire last week. I’ve been going up there every few years for a long time. As a kid we went every summer, hit all the normal spots in and around Loon Mountain. I LOVE IT THERE. The week I would spend up there with my family was filled with small little traditions. A certain restaurant, a swimming hole, a penny candy store. To my brothers and sister and I it was just a different place to cause havoc, but, what I realize now being a parent is that for my parents it was a week away from responsibility, from work, from whatever was pulling them in different directions back home.
We planned for a few weeks about the things we wanted to do in New Hampshire. We had been before and my kids, to their credit, are good about traditions, keeping them and creating them. “We did this two years ago, so we have to do it again”. I love that they want to keep up traditions, as dumb as some of them are, they pull us a little closer, which, if you know me, you know I love. Each time they discussed maybe kayaking my wife and I would crack a smile and say, yeah, maybe. Hoping, maybe, just maybe, they would forget about it.
We kayaked once together, but for us, once was enough. It was on a family trip I went on about 20 years ago with my wife, who was then my girlfriend and her family. I’ve always gotten along with her family, extended family and friends. They always made me feel like I belonged, so going on a trip to New Hampshire with them was exciting. I wasn’t close to one of the guys yet, but my father in law and my wife’s uncle were good to me. They treated me exactly like I will treat whoever my daughters decide to spent their days with. Charlie, who was my wife’s uncle was exactly like I am in lots of ways. Charlie picked on me, while my father in law Lance laughed along with him. He was RUTHLESS with me when I screwed up, or when he felt like giving me shit, until I was strong enough to give him shit back. I loved our back and forth little ribbings of each other. Being cool with my father in law was always a goal for me, I knew a long time ago, that I would be around this family a long time. Call it whatever you want, but I just knew. But, it always felt like Charlie was testing me for Lance, making sure I was good enough for his daughter. He vouched for me somehow, like Lance maybe could see that Charlie liked me. We had a really cool relationship in that way.
Charlie planned to take us kayaking one of the days on this vacation. He set this whole thing up, thinking back on it, probably to get all the kids away from the adults for a couple hours so they could enjoy their vacation without having to wait on us hand and foot. It was a simple “fun yak” they call it. Basically, it’s kayaking in easy, calm water. You row for a couple hours and get picked up by a tour guide. Easy, simple, or so we thought. Charlie took us all out, it was his idea to do something nice for us. I’m sure the adults he left home loved it, him being with us all day so they could relax.
The rest to me is a bit blurry. We were kids, so the tour guide’s directions most likely went in one ear and out the other. I still maintain the tour guide never told us where to stop, but what the hell do I know. A few of the older kids, myself included, were nursing a bit of a hangover so we rested, but the younger boys pushed on and separated from us a bit. Charlie, had pulled over with his youngest daughter because she felt sick so we all got a little further ahead than him. When we reached what we thought was the end of trip the boys were nowhere to be found, so we figured maybe that end wasn’t right so we pushed on, looking for the boys up the river. We rowed and rowed and rowed. When Charlie and his youngest made it to the pickup point we were all nowhere to be found. He panicked, calling the tour guides and Lance to figure out what to do. Anyway, somehow, someway, we found the boys and pulled off to the side of the river, around hour 5 of a quick 2 hour trip. I think maybe one of us found a hotel on the side of the mountain and called to see where we were and to get us picked up. I have no clue how Charlie and the guide’s found us, but they did. We had rowed almost three times further than we should have. After getting to us, the guide’s told us we were like 100 yards from a waterfall.
Charlie was a wreck. He was super shaken by the whole thing. It was his thing, his idea to take us out. He was so happy we were okay, but there wasn’t enough Budweiser’s in the world that day to calm him. And, I knew it. I knew it bothered him, so I used it to my advantage. Every sip of a drink I would have I would say something to him about how I’m lucky to be alive. Digging into him, just as he had done to us. None of it was his fault obviously, we were dumb kids, but I needed all the ammunition I could get.
I brought it up to him for years and years and years. It was my “trump card” on him. I’d still be using it on him to this day if he was still here, I know that for sure. He died over a decade ago, taken from us way too young. I had many more Budweiser’s and arguments to have with him, but that’s not how life worked out I guess.
So, many years later with the kids asking about kayaking you could see why were avoiding it, but we decided to give it another try. But, this time, instead of the fun yak, we wanted to do some rapids so we did a different portion of the river. As the guide gave us instructions of lefts and rights to take I was panicking. I was saying “left, left, stay right, at the 2nd bridge you are done, pull over” in my head the entire time. The water was really low so we call got stuck a few times, we got turned around, I tried to help my daughter once and my kayak flipped. Ever try to get water out of kayak while you are in the middle of a river? It weighs approximately a million pounds. I pulled over to the side and slipped in the sand as my family laughed at me. It was, at times miserable. At one point after we made it thru a tough rapid I turned to look at my oldest daughter who screamed “Sorry DAD” as her kayak smashed into me and I almost flipped again. When we got to the pickup point and waited for the guide to pick us up the girls had a great time laughing at me falling and seeing my fat ass get stuck on the rocks. I was the butt of all the jokes. We laughed a lot together. I love seeing them smile, even when it’s at my expense.
It wasn’t until we got into the van and my wife looked at me with tears in her eyes, showing me a picture of us she had taken on the river and a text to her aunt and cousins about how Charlie got a few good laughs at our expense on the river today that I realized just how lucky I am to live this life. I sat in silence the rest of the ride hiding the tears in my eyes, thinking about Charlie. About the day I just got to spend with him on the river, about how I was going to now be the dumb kayak guy to my family and about how much I loved sharing something with him one more time.