By Tim McGrath
The plane was a silvery speck against the deep crystalline blue of the July sky above the Charlevoix airport. “There it is, and there she goes,” Tommy mentioned as nonchalantly as if telling me what he’d put on his toast that morning. I looked skyward searching for the plane carrying our two wives, and the guys they were strapped to. I’m usually not a nervous hen, but this seemed like certain doom. Who does this kind of thing, anyway? Two sixty-year old baby boomers, that’s who. “We’re never gonna grow old, man,” is the mantra of a generation bent on wrinkled youthfulness. Stand back, baby: hop on that Harley, jump off high bridges, throw yourself out of airplanes. It was all I could do not to pluck at Tommy’s sleeve asking him to remind me our wives names are Kris and Cheryl, not Thelma & Louise.
That’s when the second black speck dropped from the plane – Cheryl. And, that’s also when the screaming started. Just to be clear, it was from the jumpers, not the ground crew. It’s quite remarkable how far sound travels on a still morning. The first speck eventually took shape as two humans strapped together dangling under a parachute. After free falling for about an hour, the second chute opened, and the screaming became mixed with whooping and laughing. And, just like that, both landed safe and sound feet from ground zero – Tommy and I.
Congratulatory hugs and kisses were dutifully doled out, and as we walked back to the car, Cheryl said: “I think you’d like it, wanna give it a try?”. Like an imbecile I replied: “ I’ll do it if you go again. But not today, of course.
Things I’ll Never Do: Skydiving (Probably)
My place was facing backward watching the kids from the comfort of a well padded seat, not bobbing around in the water on a colorful tube strapped to the back of a high speed power boat manned by a skipper bent on mischief.
“C’mon, Uncle Tim, you’ve gotta do it, you just have to”, young niece Cristi hollered at me over the back of the boat. Several others on board gave me the thumbs up sign. I didn’t relish the idea of being slammed around on the mountainous waves, but I didn’t want the label “family weenie” attached to my face in the photo albums either. Plus, I was already geared up and on the tube.
Crap, I hadn’t done this since high school, generations ago. What can do wrong I foolishly reasoned: I’d given explicit instructions I wanted an ”easy to moderate” ride. Everyone agreed that’d be best for someone who hadn’t done this in a long time; so we were all set. Might be fun, so don’t be such an old fart, I reminded myself.
I gave the thumbs up, put on my brave face, and everyone cheered. The boat roared to life, the rope snapped free of the water, and we were off. After a bit, I relaxed and enjoyed the tour around the lake. Hey, not bad, I thought. Big grins, more thumbs up.
There apparently was a conspiracy on board that I, of course, wasn’t privy to. Suddenly, the boat leapt forward, the whooping and hollering grew to where I could hear it from my vantage point. That’s when Captain Dave commenced with zigzagging. I hung on defiantly, but it was clear the end was coming. As soon as the figure eights started I realized I was going in. And, in I went. Not a delicate little splash, but a full force, skittering wipe out. When I finally stopped and sank some distance away, I took an inventory: everything seemed in order. As the boat slowly bounced its way over the massive rollers it’d created, I glanced down at myself in water and noted there was an extraordinary amount of skin exposed under there. That’s when it hit me: I’d lost my swim trunks in the wipeout. No joke.
As the boat came closer and everyone leaned out to check on me, I had to let them in on my little secret. Thankfully, it was the middle of the afternoon so the glare off the water rendered most of me invisible to most of them, save those with Polaroids.
“Um, just so you know I have no swimsuit on: it’s somewhere out in the lake, so you might not want to look,” I casually mentioned. Uproarious laughter followed by disbelief something like this could really happen. Thankfully, Cheryl looked down (with Polaroids) confirming her suitless husband’s current state.
“Yup, no swimsuit,” she gleefully reported to everyone on board.
Suffice it to say that was the end of the glory days of tubing. But, the worst was yet to come. After I’d been discreetly towed back to shore and provided with an appropriate cover-up, I looked down and noticed my brand new fifteen- dollar Wal-Mart watch had been unceremoniously ripped from my wrist in the melee.
I have a hunch I’ll still end up as the “family weenie” in the photo albums.
Things I’ll Never Do: Tubing (Again, Period)
It started out as a lark. Went to the Meijer store on 28th Street, walked to the tobacco aisle, and selected a wrapped pack of Wolf Brothers rum soaked Crooks. Little cigars that were bent in odd shapes, and apparently soaked in rum. They looked just like the ones Chuck Connors, the hero of The Rifleman TV show, smoked. I approached the clerk with my choice and she just stood and looked at me in THAT way. The way that says, “you’re kidding, right?”
“How old are you?” she asked. A little too ornery, if you ask me.
“Uh, sixteen”, I replied, feeling my face turn bright red.
“Nope, ain’t gonna happen, sweetheart. If I was your momma and caught you smoking, you’d be out back behind the shed. Now go put those back, and don’t let me catch you in here again!” With that she stood there waiting for me to comply. What could I do; I slowly trailed off back to the shelf and carefully restocked the forbidden fruit.
I should’ve listened to her; but at sixteen, who listens? In spite of the salesclerk’s best efforts to curb my pending bad decisions, I went ahead and found other sources for what developed into a firmly entrenched habit. I became a dedicated puffer of cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. And, frankly, I was good at it. All through the remainder of high school and college I could be found with one or the other protruding from fingers or mouth.
That all changed with the arrival of child number one several years out of college. That, and the fact I kept getting pneumonia, and generally feeling awful. When this wonderful little girl was about five or six she kept pestering me to stop. “Daddy, you have to stop smoking, it’s bad for you and you STINK!” She was right, of course.
Fast forward about one year and several failed attempts later, I finally got it right. No more smoking. It’s been almost thirty years.
Thank you, baby girl.
Things I’ll Never Do: Smoking (Again, Period)
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