Summer Daze: The Day I Drank Part of the Warrior River!

I have to admit, in the aftermath of the tornado that ravaged one seventh of my home town, it has been difficult for me to think of what to write. I am not one to EVER be at a loss for something to say. EVER. And I wasn't.  I just did not want to write.  I had to grieve. I had blogs planned for the next several weeks until April 27th changed things.  I have grieved and raised money and talked about Tuscaloosa to my friends and family here in LA, but to most, I am sure, they don't get it.  I am part of Tuscaloosa in a way that is hard for them to relate, since I don't live there anymore.  Ahh, but see, that's where they are wrong.  I still live there.  My heart is there every minute.  I have looked at videos and pictures and talked daily to friends and family there.  I am there.  And I will be there physically, soon, to help in rebuilding and putting us back together. And as we have all suffered a terrible, seemingly insurmountable loss, life DOES go on.  And that in and of itself is why WE ARE TUSCALOOSA. We Know this.  We will rebuild and go on and count our miracles. And Summer is coming!
The heat, the bugs, the lakes and rivers, all still right where we left them before April 27th changed the landscape. And we do need to laugh.  It makes life bearable, after all.

Summers in the South, like everything else down here, are a little different.  The heat  is wet.  Like a prickly wool blanket just from a hot tub, it is thrown on top of you as you go out into it, from a nice cool air-conditioned room.  Or, it can feel like the inside of someone's mouth.  It is just purely uncomfortable.
And it would be unbearable if not for the lakes and of course the wonderful Warrior River.  On any given hot Summer day, the lakes and rivers are busy with folks cooling off from the intense Southern sun. And there's always the annual trips to the gulf. More on that in a future blog.
One Summer, years ago, when I was just a teenager, I was on my uncles boat on the Warrior River.  We were down near Greensboro where he lived.  It had been a wonderful day, cloudless sky and bright sunshine....and the endless river stretched out before us toward the horizon and kudzu.  It was so hot, my skin was stinging with sun drops within the first 20 minutes.    My uncle was very well-known in Greensboro.  We rode the river and everyone waved to him and called him out by name.  We had loaded the boat with lots of food and snacks.  I slathered myself in what was probably pure baby oil with a hint of delicious coconut scent, and took my perch along the very front of the boat, like I was a pageant winner in a parade.  I waved at everyone too, like I knew them, but didn't. 
 I was the only girl on the boat that day.  My brother, and my two uncles and me.  They decided it would be a great idea if we water-skied.  Uh...No....I am happy just sittin' here wavin' at folks, thank you very much.  The skiing might mess my hair all up, then I wouldn't look pretty while I waved.  No, thanks, I'll just stay here. 
 Men!  They didn't give up.  My brother decided to show me up.  Nothing new.  He volunteered to give it a try.  I think he was 12.  We had just moved back from living in Oklahoma, and at this age he thought he was macho, about to start middle school.  He knew he could get up on those skiis and he then could tease me the rest of the day, or the rest of my life.  It was a ploy.  A manipulation.   My uncle threw him the skis and after a couple of tries, he was up!  And I was getting agitated.
"Hey look at your brother," my uncle said.  "It was easy for him.  Come on you know you don't want him to be the only one."  Uugghhh.  Really!  Ok fine.  I was 14 and not to be out done here.  To say I am competitive is to put it rather, mildly.  I left my perch.
First of all I really didn't even want to get into the water.  It was dark and deep and I knew I wouldn't be able to touch the bottom.  Ok, I am not a great water baby like my brother.  He is now a trained and certified diver.  Whoopee.  So I slid, gingerly, off the back of the boat. The water was so warm.  Hot almost.  Like bath water.  My uncle dropped the skis into the water.  They SAID they explained to me what to do, but,I beg to differ.  So I leaned back in my life jacket, trying to figure out how in the world I would reach my feet to get those skis secure .  In leaning backwards I accidentally rolled over...backwards into the water. Like a water ballerina doing a turn.  I surfaced and tried again.  They were all laughing at me from the back of the boat.  "Where'd you go, Beth" My uncle said.  "Doin' a little dance for us?"  I did not find this amusing in the least!  I finally got the skis on and looked for the ropes.  This certainly did not feel very lady-like.  I was missing my perch.  
"OK, my uncle shouted, "you ready?"  I felt my heart stop and my stomach drop like I had been pushed out of an airplane.  "Here we go.  I'm gonna speed it up.  Just hold on and pull up." Oh Goody!
 Yeah, right.  Uh Huh.  Just push me out of the air plane now.  It would be easier.  In that moment, I was so filled with fear, and such anger at my brother, whom I could see at the back of the boat, standing there laughing at me.  
The boat sped up, the water rushed by and within seconds, my skis  were off.  And the boat kept going, faster and faster....and I WAS STILL HANGING ONTO THE ROPE FOR ALL OF DEAR LIFE AND LIMB!....like I would most certainly die if I let go.  My uncle who was trying to "coach" me , and I use that word very lightly, was screaming something to me but with the waves and rush of water washing over my ears and face and eyes I could not make out what he was screaming.  I was in my moment of death and had switched to survival mode.  I do remember seeing my brother doubled over. At the time I thought he was weeping hysterically for me to be saved.  I learned later he was hysterical....but not actually WEEPING.
The unbelievable thing, well beside the fact that I did not, in my moment of death, have sense  enough to LET GO OF THE ROPES, is the fact that my uncle KEPT DRIVING THE BOAT!!!  Faster and faster.  No one told him I was skimming, at lightening speed on my stomach, down the Warrior River!  I drank a lot of river that day.  And while I LOVE that river, it really does not make for a delicious beverage.  After what seemed like an eternity of body surfing, being dragged behind a boat holding onto ski ropes like death would be imminent if I let go, my uncle finally cut the engine.  I was alive.  Coughing and full of the river, but alive just the same.  My uncle, the "coach",  jumped into the river and swam over to me, shouting,"Good God, why didn't you just let go? What the hell?"  I could not answer at the moment.  I was coughing my head off and saying a prayer of thanks that I was actually alive.  My uncle finally got over to me and, after seeing I was OK,  said, "Beth, this might be proof that you have to be the stupidest person on earth!  he was still laughing as he swam. Why did yo not just LET GO?  I was yelling at you didn't you hear me tell you to let go?" I'M SORRY, I WAS BUSY DYING AND COULDN'T THINK!  I know he meant well as he dragged me through the Warrior River back to the boat.  They all had a fabulous laugh, and I returned to my perch, drenched with messy hair and, a very bruised ego.  
Needless to say, I am not a skier to this day!  
And I still love the Warrior River.  Especially looking at it, writing about it, and watching it roll on by me, as the sun sets in all its misty, liquid, brilliance....while I am dry, and safe upon its shores.  

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