My maternal grandfather taught me to waterski. These are my best-worst memories of our relationship. They began when I was 6, with special water skis for kids. I remember he used to sing a song while he bathed in that lake about ‘the soap that floats’, Ivory, the only soap he used. “If you don’t use it you’re a dope.”
He used to stock-pile toilet paper too. He’d scan the sales and drive miles out of his way to find well-priced toilet paper. He said during the Great Depression his mother used to ration his squares as a child, an affront that clearly stayed with him until death.
When I went to volunteer in the Czech Republic with the Peace Corps, he made sure in my Care Packages, sent by boat back then, of course, included toilet paper. I cherished those packages. The toilet paper was way better, but it was more that he had proved himself right that really mattered. I’d shrugged him off, learned the ‘hard way’ as they say, wiped with something resembling tree bark, or, with my hand while ‘in Rome’ and realized toilet paper did really matter.
But, bidets are better. I never did get a chance to mention that to him.
Anyway, the moral of this story is about the rope. I was 6, learning to waterski on child-sized skis, from a man who thought the best way to teach me to swim was to throw me in the water without a ring or a life preserver of any variety.
Usually my awkward suffering made him laugh. If it made me even extra hot and bothered to be laughed at, he laughed harder.
My first attempt at waterskiing though, he got everyone laughing. Like I said, I was 6, on special skis made for children. He coached me, and well, he really did. He gave me some expert advice which I will never forget, he said, “Imagine yourself up.” And I did. And it worked! I was up, it worked, I imagined myself up and I was up, he was brilliant!
And then I was down. Down HARD. Skis still trailing, hanging on to the rope, expecting, somehow, I guess, who’s to know, that somehow I’d get those skis back under me again from that death-defying position?!
Choking on water. Nearly drowning, hanging on for dear life. And far away, from this crazy craft directing me, and these crazy folk telling me what to do, mostly wrong for the moment, I heard, a Very distant, “Let go of the rope! Let go of the rope! Let go of the rope!”
And finally, I did.
And I went to my Grandmother there in her lounge chair on the banks, and in my 6 year old furry, coughing up lake water, choking, but still managing to belt out to her: “YOU said this would be FUN!”
And she laughed. The woman who never water-skied in her life. She tried to hide her laughter, but it just muffled under her faux-concern for my just-released from real torture stature, but I saw it, inside, she was laughing.
It’s a buoy now though, as it wasn’t then, because they taught me more about the world in that 20 minutes than anyone ever has before, or since.