Perhaps it’s our nine years age difference but even then it’s hard to reconcile how two sisters can be so very much alike and so diametrically opposed.
My partner and I had recently built a cabin, bordering a lake in a remote area of British Columbia. And so, on a long weekend in August, we invited my sister and her two young daughters to visit—to boat and swim and relax in the sun.
We created a list of fun and adventuresome outings. We kept in mind, however, that my sister, Nels, tended to be extremely cautious where physical activities were involved or dangers perceived.
Our section of the lake contained a tangle of fresh water weed, promising any number of unspecified surprises. Even I felt some concern about this. Consequently, we decided to take our antiquated, flat bottomed rowboat across the lake to an area that was reassuringly weedless.
Wisely, my partner saw this as an opportunity to finish some of the retaining wall which we were building behind the cabin.
I stowed our picnic paraphernalia under the back seat of the boat and turned to assist my sister, who was attempting a brave demeanor for the benefit of her daughters. Amongst other things, Nels was very frightened of deep water and I knew that the idea of the boat capsizing at any moment, with her underneath it, was foremost in her mind.She sat on the side of the dock, edged her feet onto the floor of the rowboat and then, clutching my elbow, she maneuvered around to sit on the substantial stern seat. The girls, scorning any assistance whatsoever, slipped aboard. I worked the oars into their locks, placed the inside one against the wharf and pushed. Nels simultaneously grabbed her side of the vessel and my knee. Slowly, however, with the measured creak of the oars and the gentle swish of the water as we travelled ahead, she began to release her grip.
I was becoming lost in the rhythm of my rowing when suddenly my sister, again, clutched my kneecap. “Lindsey!” she screamed. “You’re going to tip us!”
I jammed the oars hard into the water and our momentum drifted to a stop.
My niece was on her knees leaning over the bow. Her turn and twist from a sitting position to a kneeling position had momentarily shifted the equilibrium of the boat and the sight of her daughter, leaning precariously overboard had instantly convinced my sister that her worst fears were about to come to fruition.
“Lindsey,” I suggested, “it’s not far now and it might be a good idea to stay sitting down.”
At the beach, I nosed the boat onto the sand and climbed out. The girls were quickly right behind me but Nels was still nervously dithering in the now listing stern.
I guess she must have begun to feel a little foolish because she, too tentatively, began to ease herself forward. The boat swivelled slightly, tilted in her direction and then self-corrected as she tried to steady herself. She flopped wildly back onto her seat. “I can’t,” she moaned.
“Mom! Anyone can.” It was Lindsay of the twist and turn.
Their memorable suggestions began.
“We could dump you,” said Allison, the younger of my nieces. “We could tip the boat over and you’d just dump out.”
“We could dump slowly,” added her sister.
“We could tip the boat slowly and you’d just sort of roll out. Like a sausage.”
I was trying very hard not to laugh.
By this time, my poor sister, as fearful as she was, had truly begun to see the silly side of the dilemma. “Out of the way!” she yelled, as she jumped to her feet and sent the rowboat quivering and shaking. Then, with the necessary speed that she had lacked before, she leapt up and onto the side of the boat and with a flailing of arms and legs propelled herself onto the sandy shore.
There was an audible, collective gasp, and, “Yeah!” we yelled in unison; the girls hugged her with absolute joy and astonishment. “Thank goodness it’s a flat bottom boat,” I thought to myself.
Predictably, food was the first item of the day. But then, of course, there was Nel’s mandatory hour’s wait before the girls could wade past our ankles.
“What could happen?” My nieces asked. I stayed quietly in agreement with them.
“Cramps. You need to digest your lunch or you could get cramps.”
“But it’s really shallow and I don’t mind cramps,” said Lindsey – probably never having had any experience with them.
“Ankles or nothing,” said my sister.
“Let’s build a dock for the boat,” I suggested. “There’s lots of broken sticks and tree bits and we could work right here.” I pointed at the listing vessel.
And so we began a hunt along the immediate beach for useable materials. We dug troughs into the sand. We wedged largish branches into the troughs so that they were half on land and half floating in the lake just above water level, and then laid branches and even an unexpected piece of barn board across the two already extended limbs.
Now, however, we were clearly running out of debris and the girls looked at us for suggestions.
Nels and I flopped down on our blanket. “Have a look in the bushes,” I suggested. I could feel my sister’s apprehension and immediate resistance but my nieces had clearly heard me and were already heading into the brush.
I had just begun to drift asleep as the girls tore from the undergrowth. “Help!It’s after us! It’s coming!”
Nels leapt to her feet. “Run!” she yelled and grabbing the girls by their arms, she dragged them into the lake. Obviously her fear of water and cramps had been overcome by her fear of whatever was about to burst from the bushes.
“We found a little trail,” Lindsey told us later. “There were lots of good bits in there.”
“And then, ‘Heeee’!” Allison interrupted with gusto.
“And some snuffs in the bushes and big cracking sounds coming.” Lindsey continued.
“And then, ‘Heehaaaw’!” Allison had clearly put herself in charge of sound effects.
Slowly, an elderly donkey emerged from the woods, rolled her murderous, bloodthirsty eyes in our direction, nosed our recently created dock, drank in an unhurried and untroubled manner from the ankle deep water and retraced her path back into the woods.
“Well it really was big. A donkey on steroids,” my sister laughed. “And quite unexpected and you never know… Nels was attempting to regain her motherly status.
Later in the afternoon, worn and wilted, sunburned and exhausted, we collected our blanket and beach paraphernalia and began our way home.
“We’re back,” Lindsey called.
“Did you have a good time?”
“There was a giant, killer donkey that chased us into the lake and drank some water from right beside our dock and Mom jumped onto the side of the boat and almost landed on Aunt Robyn and…”
My again wise partner nodded her head in imperfect understanding.