Where There’s A Will…

By Tricia Sanders

There are worse things than spending a weekend with in-laws – like spending the weekend with all the in-laws. Especially since I chose the reunion location, and it turned out to be only a little higher-classed than the Bates Motel from Psycho. In our cabin we found holes in the wooden floor big enough for critters to crawl through and a toilet wobblier than the town drunk.

I knew better than to trust an advertisement in the newspaper, but good judgment is not necessarily my strong suit. Rustic charm, it turns out, means “this place is falling down.” Family-style dining means “you get what we fix, whether you like it or not, because the closest restaurant is twenty miles away.” Homey atmosphere is code for “we treat you like family, so shut up and quit complaining.”

The first night at dinner, my ears perked up when I heard rumblings about a float trip. What float trip? I certainly didn’t plan an outing that involved canoes and bathing suits. Leave it to my husband’s sisters – those wicked girls with slender thighs – to pounce on the idea of doing something athletic. What happened to lazing around the resort playing croquet, lounging in a chaise reading a good book, or heaven forbid, catching up on family gossip?

The next morning, on the bus ride to the put-in point, I concentrated on chewing my nails. Maybe I should have updated my will before the trip.

My daughter – bless her family-loving heart –said, “Don’t worry, Mom. It’ll be okay.”

I made my mind up right then that when I got home, if I got home, the sisters-in-law were out of the will. No way would they inherit my belongings – especially if they were responsible for getting me drowned.

The bus jolted to a stop and everyone clambered out – everyone except the smart sister-in-law. She stayed at the resort with a good book and a bottle of SPF45. Now why couldn’t I be like her? No, I have to take the challenge, any challenge, even if I’m out of my league. It’s not that I can’t swim. I’m a great swimmer in a pool, if I can see the bottom and there aren’t “things” that can slither past my legs.

To my right, my brother-in-law settled a cooler in his canoe and topped it with his two young children. They were nestled snug in their life vests, grinning. They were actually excited about our adventure. Hey, they weren’t scared, so why was I? The river looked safe. The stream was narrow, clear, and barely a foot deep. I could see the bottom, so all was well.

My daughter and I had previously had a bad experience in a canoe with my husband, so suffice it to say, we chose to paddle together and left him to single-handedly pilot his canoe. Let’s just say we weren’t impressed with his boating skills. She assured me she was up to the task. Since I had shelled out money every year for summer camp, I put my fate in her hands.

We slathered on the sunscreen and rolled up our shorts. So far, so good. Our oars sliced through the water with the precision of an egg beater chopping rocks. Less than twenty feet from our embarkation point, the river made a little turn, and so did we – upside down. The water was barely a foot deep, and I could still see the bottom. No problem. We righted the canoe, climbed back in, and pushed off for our second attempt.

“Mom, I’m in the back. I’ll steer. You just paddle straight and keep an eye out for obstacles.”


The rest of the family meandered down the river, in front of us. We paddled like hell to catch up. Ahead, a large sycamore had fallen across the river blocking all but a small section of water. Everyone maneuvered by the tree with ease – except us. Our canoe headed straight for it.

“You’re supposed to be steering,” I shouted.

“You’re supposed to be on lookout duty.”

“Okay, big tree ahead.” I paddled like a lunatic.

The tree had apparently died of old age, rotted at the base, and fallen across the river. Fortunately, there were no leaves or limbs to deal with. The main section of the trunk was about six inches above the water. Both ends were slightly submerged. We got caught in a whirlpool, and our canoe spun sideways and slammed into the tree. We fell out and the force of the water tipped us upside down. My shirt caught on the bow, and I was sucked under.

I don’t remember if my whole life flashed before my eyes because I was too busy trying to get untangled. I finally pulled free, but the current was so strong I couldn’t get my bearings. By this time, the others in our group had come to our rescue.

My daughter was on her feet barking orders. “Mom, stand up. The water’s only two feet deep.”

Easier said than done, but I finally managed. The rest of the group worked to free our canoe. It took half an hour of pushing and pulling before we resumed our journey. The canoe suffered a dent to its underside. My pride was only slightly more damaged. We tipped a few more times before we reached the bridge, which marked the end of our float.

At dinner, I was the talk of the table. Sure, everyone showed their concern, but there were snickers hidden behind cleverly placed napkins. The conversation turned to the next day’s activities and the possibility of another float trip. No way!

I sought out my “smart” sister-in-law. “How do you feel about antiquing tomorrow?”

She grinned.

She gets to stay in my will.

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