Thursday, August 26, 2010

Family Fun

It would be an understatement to say that I am not a particularly outdoorsy person. Yes, I like to garden, but that seems to me more like an inside activity, just taken outside. To me, the garden is just like another room. However, through the miracle of parenthood, I often have the opportunity to broaden my horizons.

Fishing isn’t something that I ever imagined I’d like all that much. The last time I went fishing was well over 20 years ago and it wasn’t a success. It was probably the first time I ever really wanted to go fishing. My mother, an avid “fisherperson”, liked to spend Saturdays and Sundays along the river and I would take a book along to try to pass the time. I think once or twice it was Anna Karenina, which shows you just how boring I thought fishing was when I was 14 or so. If a three pound Tolstoy paperback on a sunny 4th of July was my idea of a refuge, fishing must have been pretty bad.

However, on this particular trip up the McKenzie River, I was ready to cast that line and bring in some fish. I was going to make this happen, and it was going to be great. No sooner had we arrived than my mother caught herself. Her finger spiked with a particularly barbed lour, it looked like fishing was done for the day. I couldn’t believe it. I finally want to fish and this is the prize we catch? (No offense, mom.) A long drive back to town and a visit to the emergency room completed the day. Looking back on it, despite the pain that I am sure my mom endured, it makes a much more memorable day. And isn’t that how it usually is with family events? It’s the disasters and mishaps that we laugh about years later.

One of the most memorable family trips I can remember took place almost ten years ago. It was the last Saturday before Halloween and it could not have been a stormier day. The sky was black, the wind was fierce and the rain was coming down in sheets. Despite the weather, we drove to a farm just outside of Corvallis, my home town and one of my favorite places. As we arrived, the rain let up a bit, but it was still cold and windy. My wife, four of our kids and I left the security of the family van and tramped along the path to the pumpkin patch, really more of a muddy lake by now. Being the only visitors, the farmer let one of my sons drive the tractor with him, perhaps the highlight of his life to that point. As we slipped and slid around the patch, we searched for the perfect pumpkin. Jack, the most intrepid of my children, found his - halfway across the farm and twice his size. I’ll never forget the sight of that boy trying to push that enormous jack-o-lantern through the mud, sliding and falling along the way. That’s Jack to a tee – he will do whatever it takes to accomplish what he puts his mind to, no matter how messy the process may be. It is no exaggeration to say that we were absolutely covered in mud by the time it was all over. Everyone except my wife and daughter – two people somehow able to maintain their dignity in the most trying of circumstances - had to make the 45 mile drive home pantless and shoeless (how would you explain that to a State Trooper?). This, however, lives in my mind as one of the best outings ever.

Families are imperfect, to say the least. We all try our best to live up to the ideal, but if we try too hard, we might miss some of the best moments. Years from now, we’ll still be talking and laughing about that fishing trip and our pumpkin hunt. And I hope we’ll have many more of these times together.

And, by the way, I’ve finally been won over by fishing – the original topic of this piece. Thanks to a very persuasive son, the redhead with the electric smile - I was able to spend a perfect morning with my hook in the water… and in the trees, and the grass and, almost, my finger. It’s not just the mishaps I’m thankful for, but also the opportunity to find new interests, and new ways to connect with my kids.

You know, life really is a great gift.