My Grandfather-in-Law
July 28, 2005

I learned how to waterski when I was a teenager. I was probably about 14 or 15 and my cousin Tanya invited me out to Lake Whitney for a bit over the summer. It took me a while to get the hang of leaning way back while being pulled rather forcefully forward. I enjoyed it. I didn't even panic when I saw the stick, I'm telling you it was a stick in the water and it was NOT wiggling sinuously through the water. I ran right over that stick (and was really relieved that I didn't fall down anywhere near there).

But I learned to love water-skiing with my grandparents-in-law on Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma.

Let's see, this takes a little bit of explaining. My mom's sister is Aunt Sandy. She married Uncle Bryan. His mom and dad weren't technically related to us, right? Well, I figured if they were Aunt Sandy's mother-in-law and father-in-law, they were my grandparents-in-law.

My grandparents and my grandparents-in-law both moved from bigger cities in Oklahoma out to Cookson, which was just a post office station on the lake. The nearest real town was Talequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation -- and Uncle Bryan's family is part Cherokee.

At any rate, C.B. (my grandfather-in-law) and his wife Florence loved to take the boat out on the lake. I was just beside myself when they asked if we'd like to go out on the lake with them and to waterski with them as well. I was ecstatic. The Mizes, Uncle Bryan, and my sister and I would pile into the boat for a day on the lake. It wasn't long before it was my turn to waterski.

I couldn't get up.

I couldn't figure it out. I'd been waterskiing before. I knew how to get up. But I just couldn't manage it. I thought for sure I'd lost my chance and someone else would ski next. But C.B. was really patient with me. He kind of frowned for a moment and said in that soft and yet commanding voice, "Why don't you use my skis? They're a little heavier in the back and I think you'll be able to get up better on those."

I think I got up on the first try with his skis. I was so excited that I stayed right in the wake of the boat and just tried to ride as long as I possibly could.

Every time I'd tried to do anything even remotely related to what we now call extreme sports, my mom would put the brakes on me. When I got my first skateboard, she told me that the first time I fell off of it, it was going in the trash and there wouldn't be another one. I became a careful skateboard rider (notice I didn't say skateboarder - you can't actually be a careful skateboarder because you have to take risks to learn any tricks at all). I tried a few tricks on my bike, but that was quickly squashed as well.

So, I was trying to waterski the same way I did every other cool sport -- careful. Of course, waterskiing carefully is not really a lot of fun. I mean, it can be interesting and it's still good exercise. But it does get kind of boring.

The next time C.B. took me out waterskiing, he told me he wanted me to leave the wake. He encouraged his kids to experiment with tricks when they were younger and he even told me that he still had a pair of their trick skis that I could work my way up to, if I wanted.

If I wanted?!?!?

I didn't know any adults that encouraged reckless behaviour like that. I was ready to try everything at once.

Of course, long years of having to be ridiculously careful made it a little bit difficult for me to really be very reckless, but I did learn to leave the wake, to go side to side. I even learned to really love waterskiing on days that the lake was a bit choppy. I skied tandem with C.B. and even started trying to feel my way into small jumps.

The last summer I got to spend time on Lake Tenkiller, I had to miss the last waterskiing trip of the year. If I'd known then that would be my last time to waterski, and more importantly, the last time I'd get to spend any real amount of time with C.B. and Florence, I'd have moved mountains to go out on the lake with them instead.

The next summer I was living on my own, working full time and it would be at least a dozen years before I would be able to afford to take more than two days off in a row.

While we were swimming in the lake one day that last summer I spent there, Florence and I were talking and she said she'd always wanted to play the accordian. I promised myself that one day, I'd save up enough money and buy her one. Every time I passed one in a music store or an antique store, I'd stare at it wistfully, sigh and walk past. I never did get the money together to get one for her before she died. I still think of her every time I pass one.

Two years ago, I rode with my Uncle Bryan and his two boys from Ohio to Texas for my sister's wedding. We passed through the Lake Tenkiller area on the way down and had an evening's visit with C.B. before driving the rest of the way to Dallas. On the way back, we spent some more time with C.B. before driving back home.

He sold the lake house not too long ago ... it was really too big, too isolated for him any more. All of the kids were grown and had grown children, his wife was gone. He moved back to the city.

At the beginning of this July, his heart started giving him problems again. Uncle Bryan flew down to Oklahoma City to be with him, make sure he was doing all right and had the care he needed.

He had surgery either late last week or early this week. Day after surgery he was doing great. Sitting up in bed, eating a sandwich, talking, joking.

And the next day he died.

Posted by Red Monkey at July 28, 2005 2:40 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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