We didn’t have a lot of extravagant family vacations growing up. My mom stayed at home, while my Dad went to work. Mom would take odd jobs here and there to help bring in supplemental income, but we didn’t have a large surplus for frivolities. Usually our vacations consisted of places within driving distance. Places like the SeaTac airport where we’d spend hours riding the tram and watching planes gallop down the runway. This was back before security was tighter than the eye of a needle.
While we lived on a shoe string budget my parents still provided some great adventures. One of our greatest ones was that of the Steam Boat Twinkie, an inflatable yellow raft barely big enough for two full-grown adults, let alone one full-grown adult and his two unsuspecting children. Dad had found it on sale at the Pay & Pack hardware store, a business that has long since gone the way of the Dodo.
Our merry adventure began at Steamboat Lake, just east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington. In the middle of the lake was a Pygmy Island. I asked Dad if we could paddle out to it. He said “sure,” then went back to furiously pumping up yellow Twinkie with the bicycle pump he’d brought. Mom unfolded her puke colored lawn chair. She set it next to the lake, sat down and burrowed into her book.
I asked her if she was going to go with us.
“No, but I’ll sit here and wave to you from shore,” she said, without looking up from her book.
At last the hour had come, Dad declared. He hoisted the raft above his head and marched it down to shore. It made a wet plopping noise as it landed on the water. He held it steady for us while we climbed in before he got in. Using the plastic paddle Dad pushed us away from shore.
We glided out onto the water and set a course for Pygmy Island. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, nor a tear in the eye, when we left. There were nothing but smiles and the feeling that all was right in the world, if only for a brief tender moment. Mom gave us a warm wave and smile before nestling back into her book.
Dad started a slow steady rhythm with the paddle. Droplets of water hit the sides of the raft and occasionally my bare legs. I tried to adjust, which made the boat rock back and forth. Dad told me to keep still, something I was never good at as a boy. I was always fidgeting.
“But you keep dripping water on me,” I whined.
“I don’t care. Sit still,” he barked.
As we approached the island Dad looked for a safe place to land. It was surrounded by jagged rocks. We sat for a bit enjoying the bucolic view. It was tranquil. Serene. The smell of fresh air. The sound of nature…and bubbles. Dad glanced over the side of our ship. A steady stream of bubbles was erupting from our back-side.
Dad began swinging the paddle side to side like a samurai sword. Water flew about us.
“I’m getting wet,” I complained. Water crept over the stern of our vessel and went down the back of my pants. I shot up out of my seat. “My bottom’s soggy!”
“Sit down,” Dad yelled, quickly pushing me down.
My sister Rose didn’t appear too concerned. She sat with a blank expression in the bow of the farting Twinkie while I kept standing up and Dad kept pushing me down, a game of whack-a-mole on the high seas.
Out of nowhere the sky turned black. We all looked up. The sky opened up and sheets of water began to fall down on us. There was no way my Dad could swim to shore with one child on each arm. He had no other choice but to paddle to shore like a mad dog.
By the time we reached shore the raft was nearly deflated, our cockpit was filled with water, and no one was smiling. Mom waded out into the water to help bring us in.
While mom helped pack us into the car Dad strangled the air out of Steam Boat Twinkie with his cold, shaking, blistered hands.
The ride home was a long wet one. Not much was said. Mom would snicker every once in a while. Dad would shake his head, still steamed. As I gazed out the window of the car I wondered what other families vacations were like. Did anyone ever get that Disney ideal, or does this same crazy Griswold family vacation shit happen to every family?