The cottage was spacious enough to hold my little family, my father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, their spouses and a vast assortment of children that are all starting to look alike to me — except for the one with the lopsided head.
The weather at the lake was favorable. In fact, the weather was so good, it was as if we had ordered it from a menu. The adults were enjoying warm sunshine and cold beverages, while the kids enjoyed splashing in the cool lake water.
By coincidence, my brother-in-law and father-in-law knew the couple who owned the cottage next door to the one we were renting. They were only staying for two days and offered us the use of their pontoon boat. They also had an inner tube we could use to haul the kids behind the boat.
My safe, calm, lazy week at the lake immediately became dark, sinister and dangerous.
The week before, a guy I work with was sharing stories about all the boating, skiing and tubing accidents he'd witnessed as part of the Michigan State Marine Police. He told stories of limbs in propellers, bones snapped by ski ropes and bloody lake water. These images flashed quickly through my mind like pictures rapidly clicking from a View Finder operated by a chimp on Red Bull.
At first, it felt like a square knot was being tied in my stomach. Then, it felt like a sailor's knot, then a fisherman's knot, a granny knot, a half hitch, a rolling hitch — and, as it made its way through my digestive system, it became a running knot, and finally a slippery hitch. The thought of my daughters being dragged behind a boat by a rope and an inner tube scared the knots out of me.
As our neighbor was showing us his boat, I made a rational, intelligent observation that would nix the whole idea of the boat. I hated to be a killjoy, but just as I was about to point out that there weren't enough life jackets to go around, our neighbor pointed to a storage area on the boat and said, "In there, there's plenty of life jackets for everyone." That's when I felt a slipknot.
I started hoping for rain. It didn't come, so my wife Amy, her sister, brother-in-law, father, a bunch of kids — even the one with the lopsided head — and I piled into the tiny pontoon boat. The boat was so small that two adults couldn't stand in the same spot because it would get tippy.
My daughter, Maggie, got in the inner tube first. My colon formed into a “figure 8” knot.
Maggie gave a thumbs-up signal, and my brother-in-law pushed the throttle on the 30-horsepower engine. The engine was so small that it barely created a wake — but to me, with my daughter flopping out the back at the end of a flimsy rope, it seemed like we were flying at Mach 1.
As soon as that boat took off, I could see in two directions like an iguana. I focused one eye on Maggie and another on the lake ahead of us. There were no other boats on the tiny lake, but I wasn't taking any chances. It seems like those Jet Skis pop up out of the water like they've been blasted out of hell.
At first, Maggie was sitting harmlessly in the inner tube. Then she decided to stretch out her legs and lay on her belly. Next, she let go of the handle with one hand.
I kept thinking, "Hold on, baby, hold on."
That's when she let go with both hands and just bobbed along on her belly with a big, broad smile. I fixed both of my eyes on her then and my lower intestines formed into a giant restrictor knot.
Evien got in the tube next. She was not quite the daredevil that Maggie was. Evien was content to let go of only one handle at a time.
We repeated this cycle off and on over the course of three days. I was glad when the neighbor returned and took back possession of his boat.
At that point, I returned to my relaxed, calm vacation of soaking up sunshine and slurping cold beverages. The kids went back to splashing in the water, digging in the sand and squirting each other with squirt guns. My worries were over.
One evening after supper, Maggie was harmlessly thumbing through a travel magazine that my brother-in-law had brought to the cottage. My heart formed into an Ashley Stopper knot when I heard Maggie ask her mother, "Mom, on our next vacation, can we go parasailing?"
— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist