“I am so proud of you girls for just popping out of the water on those skis at your ages.”
Prior to my dad’s comment, I had never considered pushing him off a dock.
“Did you just call me old!”
My parents bought their boat not too long after they married each other and made us four girls, sisters. Despite the challenges that plagued blended families, we all loved the lake. My parents, my sisters, and I spent countless Saturdays water skiing. We left with a cooler of turkey sandwiches, a sand box pail of sunblock, and a roll of hot pink flagging to tie in our french braided hair to increase our visibility after a wipe out. Dad could, and still can, teach anyone to ski, and we often brought friends. We stayed out until we could ski no more or ran out of food, and no one had a cell phone. Every once in a while, someone brought a film camera along, but mostly our wipeouts lived on through stories that grew like fish with each retelling.
This past week, we found ourselves twenty-six years later sitting on the same boat. We still have a favorite blue ski, and the same favorite wide-v ski rope. My older sister’s ski gloves, now a bit crispy, live in the glove box. Pink flagging still makes us visible in the water, and we all still have hair long enough to braid. I laughed to myself as I listened to conversations about reapplying sunblock, sharing knee braces, and the need for adequate hydration.
When we were younger, we obsessed about tans; now we obsess about skin cancer. Sometimes, we still talk about boys though they have grown into their own rights as men, flirting by washing dishes instead of driving fast, sporty cars. Conversations over the years have, for the most part, lost sisterly bickering and the need to one-up each other. Though life gradually humbled us and wiped away our youthful views of invincibility, we gained trust in and love for each other. We learned to cheer for one another and ask if someone was okay. We adjusted ski sizes, rolled up ropes, and tried not to admit when we peed in the lake. We put sunblock on each other’s backs and braided each other’s hair.
Perhaps, I had been in the sun too long while ignoring my older sister’s insistence that I should drink more water, but I wondered what the boat might say to us now if it could talk. I think it would say we are welcome when the water is perfect and smooth as glass and when the waves white cap. We have a place here. We belong. The old boat may sputter to start every now and again, but so do we. We need knee braces to ski, obsess about drinking enough water in the heat, and have conversations that address the hard parts of life like fear, illness, and loss. It’s funny to call a boat home since we never lived there, but it’s where we learned to live together. Perhaps, it is fitting that home for our family is not a place on a concrete foundation but rather floating together in a little less certainty. In lake water, we found what blood didn’t give us – each other.
So, yes, Dad, twenty-six years later, we can still pop up on skis, but more importantly we still have each other’s backs with more than just sunblock. We may not have always listened to what you said to us, but we learned to love by the life you lived in front of us. You taught us about so much more than skiing.
Happy Father’s Day.