The Gunwales Of A Canoe
I often visited my parents when they lived in Plain City, Ohio, which was about an hour drive from my home in Columbus, Ohio into the farmland in the northwest. I would vary the route from the interstate highway that bisects Columbus, to sometimes take the scenic Olentangy River Road, that ran along the Olentangy River, which is adjoined by nicely wooded land with ponds and wildlife visible from the road. One day I saw a kind of sloppy sign tacked up to a tree, “Canoe Lessons”, so I took the next exit to find out who, what, where, and how soon.
Over the years I kept trying to get closer to my mother with daughterly sorts of interactions, but she was a tough nut to crack. With rare exceptions she would not cook with me, sew with me, clean house with me, discuss anything with me, or undertake any sort of project together. Of course this was strange, but I could only accept my mother as she was, and love her. This time I announced that we would be taking canoeing lessons. Amazingly, she agreed. Both of us could already work our way around in a canoe, now we would learn the finer points of it, together as mother/daughter team. I was young and strong, she was still youngish and strong, and I was hopeful, hope-full-ish.
Men, women, and a few older children gathered for our class in a park alongside the Olentangy River, where about twenty of the old-style, three-seat aluminum canoes were set out on the bank for us. A sinewy young instructor took charge of us with an “ask your questions later” attitude as he told us how-to, what-for, and then demonstrated picking up a canoe by flipping it upside down on his head to transport it. Then he said, “Women will not be able to do this.” My mother’s shoulders reared up like an old war horse getting ready to charge into an old familiar battle. Without a word, she marched into the center of the group, grabbed the gunwales of a canoe and swung it up over her head. She staggered around with it, then tossed it down. Forever loyal, I immediately followed her act with an encore of lifting a canoe up onto my head and then quickly laid the awkward thing down. I recall the instructor as being silently furious because he ignored us for the rest of the afternoon class. As we set out on the Olentangy River, the instructor sailed downstream and out of view with the rest of the class. Mother and I floundered a bit, having not unexpected difficulty getting in sync. But I was proud of my mother for having stood up for what she knew that she could do; relieved that she did not hurt herself, nor I, and the afternoon was perfect canoeing weather, slightly cloudy with a light breeze.
Caption: Olentangy River
unattributed photograph sourced on internet, 2018