If you were one of the 2.5 million who read my last column, you may remember me saying something about spending my family vacation “testing the waters.” I’m happy to report that I did. And I survived. Mostly.

The first test involved my twelve year old granddaughteR. More of a baseball player than a swimmer, she nevertheless accepted my now realized as foolish challenge to a length of the pool. A short pool. She grumbled a bit about being better at backstroke, so I let her do that. She beat me handily. Well, then, I reasoned, I could probably take her at freestyle. Wrong. She beat me by half a body length – and by more than a half century, which was my consolation.

Next came a delightful hour and a half out into the Sound on my brother-in-law’s sailboat. Thankfully, I remembered to duck when the boom went flying by over my head and I got to take the wheel for a while, too. I love sailing.

So on to the boogie boards, probably my favorite thing to do in the ocean. There’s no feeling quite like it when a wave gets under your board and carries you smoothly up onto the beach. Some of you who are, like me, aging will certainly realize the problem with that – getting up. I was pleased, therefore, to find that the waves were tame enough that I seldom reached the shallows, ending up in water only hip deep, so the whole maneuver much less of an issue. Best of all was catching a wave with a bit of a boost from a second one. That time, I zipped happily almost to shore by the side of my newly-engaged granddaughter. We came up grinning at each other.

Water Test #4 was a kayak expedition on an inland river, Pat and I sharing paddling duties with our more muscular sons. Our goal, according to our oldest, was what appeared to be a Lego bridge somewhere off in the distance. He’s actually well known for letting you know the goal only after you’re too committed. I was glad to have that additional power behind me. For well over an hour, the bridge never seemed to get any bigger. In and among the reeds we skimmed, taking in the local wildlife: lesser blue heron, egrets, and even a dolphin who cruised along about 50 feet away. The neatest things were the oyster beds. Close up, we could see all the little oysters joyfully spitting into the air. It reminded me a little of the dancing water fountain that used to be a big attraction in Tower City. Or our kids. Anyway, the bridge eventually did show up as a rather large structure and we beached the boats beneath it. The reward for our efforts was a margarita at a local pub. Surprisingly, I detected only a little soreness the next day.

The last day of vacation dawned. Throughout the week, “Minute to Win It” contests had been held at night. There were four teams. I headed up one: The Granny Birds. Through the heroics of a grandson and a son-in-law, plus a stellar team effort water ballet that included a senior citizen, a pregnant woman and a six year old, we won the whole enchilada – a ride on a Waverunner. Now, a Waverunner is basically a floating motorcycle, only there are no roads, no lines, and I’d never been on one. After several futile protests, I donned my life jacket and goggles and headed out onto the Sound, me steering and my daughter sitting behind me. Quite simply, I was terrified. I tried a little throttle. It moved forward. A little more. It jumped like a jackrabbit. Whoa! I kept experimenting until my passenger muttered something about either seasickness or water in her face, I wasn’t quite sure. Now the Sound was nothing like Beartown Lakes. It had whitecaps, for Pete’s sake! Then the order “Floor it, Granny Bird!” came from behind and so I thought what the heck and I did.

The first few seconds were fun. However, the situation quickly deteriorated to the point where the Waverunner and I were parting company with increasing regularity and if I didn’t slow down, we were going to part company completely as we flew over the waves, or rather, off the top of half of them. It was like riding a galloping horse, something I was never very good at. Think “saddle sore.” I finally managed to let go of the accelerator, stopping, if not on a dime, then maybe a half dollar, and it was a good thing my daughter had a tight grip. I’ll spare you any further details. Safe to say it was more of the same for a half hour before I bailed. Well, not literally into the Sound, but I dismounted, so to speak, back at the barge and allowed my daughter to have a little fun on her own for the rest of the time. My arthritic neck felt it for a few days. The thing is, if I could be on a calm lake with a slightly smaller machine and could play around with it by myself for however long I wanted, I just might try it again. And if I don’t get that chance, well, I still have a notch on my belt.


From My Scrapbag

Birthdays are funny things. You either love them or hate them. When you’re young, you can’t wait, either for the party or for the status of a particular age: starting school, becoming a teenager, the driver’s license, the legal limit. Reaching 30, you’re probably getting a sense that the calendar pages are flipping with much more rapidity than you’d like. Whoa, you say, let’s put the brakes on a bit, okay? Unfortunately, this seldom happens, and life continues apace until you get your first AARP invite, at which point the whole thing is like watching the sixth race at Churchill Downs.

I’m having a birthday this year. No surprise there, I guess, except that it’s next month and it doesn’t seem as if the heat has entirely dissipated from last year’s candles. I do detect, however, somewhat of a shift in my thinking. Hey, I tell myself, you can still get out of bed without sounding like a Halloween haunted house, what with all the creaks and groans. Upon occasion, you can crawl around the floor playing trains with a grandkid and you can still paddle a mean kayak. So what if you have bifocals? You still can read, and while your tech skills aren’t quite up to par with Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, you do know an iPad from an iPod and have completed all available levels of Angry Birds, even if they aren’t all three stars. Reason enough to rejoice.

My mom believed in celebrating birthdays, too. She was a good cake baker and each year presented me with a two-layer chocolate cake with 7 minute boiled frosting, beautifully decorated with colorful rosettes and leaves. Not only did I enjoy it then (with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, naturally), but it sometimes tasted even better the next day when the frosting had formed a sugary crust.

One of my favorite birthday presents ever was a 78 recording of The Sons of the Pioneers, with Roy Rogers—my idea of rock stars back then. It was many, many years later that I learned my father had thought me a hopeless case for aspiring to be a cowboy, even into my early teens. It’s nice to think he and my mom supported me anyway. I still like horses.

A while back, the family had a surprise birthday party for me, with the kids coming from all over and a phone call to Italy to talk with the one who couldn’t get home. I’m not sure they yet believe I was really surprised, so let me put that to rest right here. I was totally and utterly flabbergasted. Really.
So the years have alternately crept, sped, and flashed by and here I am facing yet another milestone, but I get to celebrate it with my five brothers and sisters, which is about as good as it gets. In the meantime, I’m planning to test the waters, so to speak, when we go on vacation, to see if I can still catch the waves on my boogie board.

Happy birthday to me!