The Rubber Raft
My kids took me on a fishing trip this past Father’s Day. There’s a small river that runs through our backyard, so we didn’t have to travel very far. At that time I didn’t have a boat—but that was about to change.
Chera and her husband Craig made me wait in the house while they scurried around, packing a cooler with soft drinks, cookies, Nutty Buddy bars, pudding and peanut butter and crackers—all my favorites. I could see Zach down by the river, but I couldn’t tell what he was doing.
When at last all was ready, they led me to the water with our hands filled with fishing poles and tackle boxes. “Surprise!” Zach stood up straight with a couple of blue oars in his hands. “That’s a lot of pumping,” he said, shaking one arm as if to loosen the cramping of all that pumping. In the grass beside him lay a bright blue and yellow rubber raft. She was a beauty.
At first I thought they were going to get me settled in and push me off. Then Chera revealed that we were all going. “At once?” I asked.
“It’s a four-man raft,” she said. There was an awkward pause. “It says so on the box.”
And there were four of us. Okay. So here we go. The part of the river behind our house is shallow, so we waded in and I hoisted one leg over the edge and stepped into the raft, sitting on the edge with one foot in and one foot out. The front end shot up and Craig caught it on its way up and rode it back into the water. He sat on the front to hold it down while and Chera and Zach came in from each side. Sitting in the bottom wouldn’t work. The raft was more like a waterbed and not a very firm one. When I tried that two things happened: One, my rear end would be a couple of feet below the surface and I could barely see over the pillowy sides. And two, sitting in the bottom of the boat caused everyone else to slide to the middle. So we all sat on the edges with our feet resting in the bottom. We weaved the fishing poles in between the four of us and Zach and Chera took hold of the oars and pushed us off into the river’s deeper waters.
It took a couple of hundred yards before the paddlers got the hang of keeping the raft straight. If Chera took a longer stroke than Zach (or vice versa) the front end would swing wide and we’d change directions, always moving from one side of the river to the other. Once we got going, though, Craig and I decided to fish. My first cast over my children’s heads went high into a tree. I tried to yank it loose but instead pulled us under some low-hanging, snaky-looking limbs. Chera swatted with her oar at anything that moved. Zach poked at things with his, whether it moved or not. Craig told us all he loved us in case he died in the next few minutes. It took a while, but once we were free, we zigzagged on downstream, oars and rods clanking together like battle weapons. We were moving pretty straight until I caught a small bass and the fish spun us in circles.
We made it to a wide rocky area where we beached the raft and fished from the bank and soaked up the sun and ate all our junk food. After a couple of hours we paddled back, zigzagging upstream. We passed a boat occupied by a man and a woman going in the other direction. One sat at each end, in a nice comfortable-looking seat—with cushions and a back rest. They made their casts without any interference. When one of them moved in the least, the other did not bounce or have to steady himself to keep from falling off the edge and into the water. A whisper-quiet motor propelled them in a straight line. We waved to them as our ships passed there on the narrow river. Then I cast my lure into a tree and together, in our four-man raft, we went after it. Swinging, poking, praying and laughing.
The two people in the giant boat motored off, whisper quiet. And though together, at opposite ends of their big boat, they appeared to be rather lonely.