Boat Ride

Reunited 2018

Our Memorial Day weekend this year doubled as a family reunion. This story also contains some theft and possible arson but those are just footnotes. The common thread between us was the mitochondrial DNA of the Willis Clan as passed on by a lady known as Mother, Grandma, Great Mother, and, I believe, Jimmie for some reason.

She is a bold woman who had the audacity to give birth to five children. These children got later married and procreated. The second round of offspring learned nothing from the first (which is the primary problem with humans) and after many years the number of people gracing this earth associated with the original Willis female now numbers near sixty. Almost all of them gathered together on the banks of the Tennessee River to take one epic photograph and to fill the rest of the time with medium talk and Bloody Marys (Maries?, Mary’s?, English is a tough language).

Medium talk is a step above small talk in case you were wondering. I don’t need you distracted by trying to decipher “medium talk”. Let’s continue.

First, the theft.

As luck would have it, my name and phone number where associated with the registration of one of the rooms. Most of my relatives were staying at this hotel including our guest of honor; Great Mother. Just as everyone arrived and we were beginning to settle in to our morning Vodka with tomato juice I got a phone call.


Lady Voice: Mr. Underdaddy?

UD: Yes. This is he. Him. Uh, me.

Lady Voice: This is Darla from the front desk.

UD: Okay. Can I help you with something?

Darla: Well… Someone from your party borrowed a wheelchair to transport a lady to the parking area. Those wheelchairs are not supposed to leave the premises.

UD: I see. That sounds like a problem.

I scan the perimeter and notice that Great Mother is sitting in a shiny new wheelchair. One that I am certain she didn’t have the day before.

Darla: The problem is that we are getting close to lunchtime and we usually have guests who need that wheelchair during lunch. We need it back.

UD: I understand. I’m sure it will be returned very soon.

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It is the dollar store version of a wheelchair if we are being honest. 


We tried later to gather for a family picture. It was incomplete but most of the family made it into the frame. Everyone was saying cheese and looking into the camera when someone noticed a slight flame peeking out from under the lid of the gas grill. Turns out that Dangraddy’s Rubbed Beef Butt had become the victim of a grease fire. Not to fear because GJ dashed a small bottle of water into the flames. The flaming grease flushed under the grill and started to burn near the top of the propane bottle. Sadly, there was no massive propane explosion. The pictures would have been epic.

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Or everyone would have died in a blaze of glory. The scraps of someones cellphone would have recorded our last moments which would look something like this…

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The best part about gathering everyone together was having time that was free for all the cousins to play together. Creating the family bond is important and life tends to let us drift apart and tatters the threads that hold us together. It may be several years before we gather again but the memories will hold us over.

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Everyone got to ride the boat. All the children got to ride Super Mable. My child jumped off of the inner tube in the path of an oncoming barge. That was fun.

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Aunt Ebee made sure the kids were entertained with plastic balls and glow sticks. They had a pool too.

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Working for dinner.

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Smelled like delicious.

We had a stew dinner the first night. During the day, everyone took turns stirring the stew so it wouldn’t burn to the bottom of the black kettle. A small group was perpetually gathered around the stew in a fellowship of cooking smells and tidbit stories. Trading the large wooden paddle to the next cook in line when their arms got tired. The stew was delicious and as we sat together to eat it with our small Styrofoam bowls I couldn’t help but think about a conversation I had the week before. Apparently the banks of the Tennessee River have been a popular gather place for hundreds of years. Native Americans would gather in large groups and eat mussels as part of large family events. The discarded pile of shells would eventually be covered by soil from river floods and buried in the earth. As the river erodes side to side across the valley, these piles of shells appear and slide down the banks. I think it is neat to realize that there is a universal comfort in food and family. And spending time together.

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On the last day the kids enjoyed a color run. White T-shirts and colored chalk powder has never been so fun.

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The camping chairs and overcast skies were a nice setting for a lazy afternoon.

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Fun with glow sticks and some fashion.

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The threat of rain never caused an issue for us but lots of rain fell in other parts of the state so by the time everyone was going home the river was on the rise.

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It feels like these two guys are related somehow. 

We sat on the back deck reflecting on our big event coming to a close. Time passes too quickly and the warm feeling of family is something I would have enjoyed for several more days if I could. My heart broke for my girls who had to say goodbye to their new friends. They exchanged emails and one autographed rock with a heart drawn in Sharpie.

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Fun fun fun!

Great Mother had quietly retired from the party earlier that day as well. This past year has been a tough one for her and one of the motivators for the reunion was the question around how much time she may have left. She spent her life as such a strong woman that it is hard to see her in such a state of dependence. It feels like a final lesson from a thorough teacher.

When I think about her passing into this new phase of life I think of a quote from the movie Nanny McPhee that captures all of my feels about Grandma.

“When you need me but do not want me, I must stay… When you want me but no longer need me, I must go…”

If you cherish the happy moments in life while feeling the shadow of bittersweet memories, this post is for you. You’re welcome. Nothing is forever so we enjoy our moments in the sun. I love you crazy people. And remember… Next year VEGAS!

-Underdaddy to the rescue.

 

 

 

River Days

Yesterday we took the girls to the river. What river? THE River. Anytime a place becomes a familiar hangout it loses any associated proper nouns. The river. The lake. The farm. The movies. Our river is a place on a bluff against the Tennessee River.

It was a work trip. Our goal for the day was to get the boat dock secured in place after the spring floods. The dock had been stored on a trailer all winter and now that it is June, the red wasps and mud wasps had built lots of nests. No worries though, I didn’t get stung. Dad used a broom and water hose to send most of the bees away. The few that hung around were murdered in a brutal chemical attack from GJ. We put the floating dock into the water at the boat ramp and embarked on a voyage to float it back to its home. Granddaddy, Supermom, and I paddled like an out-of-shape group of river rafters from a Mark Twain novel. A neighbor tried to bring his Waverunner out to help us but he discovered that he was out of gas and needed a paddle of his own. No good deeds go unpunished.

The dock and gangway were installed with zero life-threatening events. A definite improvement over days gone by. We had an audience from the local water police agency. They were watching us through binoculars. I assume they were trying to figure out what the hell we were paddling down the river and if we should be ticketed for not having running lights, registration numbers, using an unregulated paddle, or not being properly secured within a coast guard approved life jacket. Ultimately, they seemed satisfied that we were not going to die and the raced off to more important violations.

After some lunch and cleaning out mud wasp nests from the boat, we were ready to take a river cruise. The girls had been waiting all day to ride in the boat and swim in the river. We slowly migrated down the 42 steps from the pavilion to the pontoon boat. Everyone took their seat and we set sail.

The sky was a deep blue with a healthy supply of cotton ball clouds. We had a strong wind in our hair because the first cruise of the year must be enjoyed at full throttle, for the good of the engine. The girls were riding on the front of the boat with their faces in the breeze like four happy Labrador puppies. The music was rocking some summer-boat-country tunes and the girls were dancing along. Supermom was sitting on the back reading her kindle and soaking up some sun.

It was one of those nice moments that exist in the midst of the chaos of life. In that moment, everything was simple and right with the world. It made me wonder if they would even capture the day as a memory. I think so.

We landed the boat on a sandy bank that we call a beach. A river beach. The girls played in the water beside the boat and tried to bury their legs in the muddy sand. Granddaddy’s dog, a sometimes mentally challenge chocolate labra-doodle, ran up and down the beach as fast as she could go. We played until the sun started to set and we went back to the pavilion for some chicken, corn, and macaroni & cheese dinner. Jane got to drive the boat for a few minutes and learned about navigation buoys. We played some side-yard whiffle ball. I learned my children have better hand-eye coordination than I give them credit for. Darkness settled in and Granddaddy started a fire in the fire pit. Everyone gathered around in chairs and told funny stories while the logs slowly burned.

Around 10:00, everyone was way past tired and ready for bed. Supermom and I loaded everyone up in the minivan and headed home. We rolled in the door and all four girls marched straight to bed and went to sleep. Supermom and I did the same. It was a good day.

I know the girls will remember the river as they grow up. They will remember being able to ride on a boat, play in muddy sand, run wild in the yard beside the camper, sit on the deck and watch the barges, hunt for fossils in the crumbly limestone rock that lines the river bank, smell meat cooking on at least one grill, and hear a constant backdrop of music that drifts from country to rock and back again. I’m thankful that they have those opportunities. I know that I am loving dad and a fun dad, most of the time. I also know I’m not the dad that is going to own a camper or a boat or be really motivated to put those experiences together.

Thankfully my dad is. Happy Father’s Day. I love you and all you do to create space for all the memories we enjoy!

I have a second father who my children call Papaw. He has a lot of the same motivations albeit more farm and horse oriented. I’ve learned from both that doing things creates more memories than having things. We’ve done lots of things over the years.

If you have a dad who is awesome, this post is for you. You’re welcome.

-Underdaddy to the rescue.