Remembering Dad, The Inner Tube Incident
My father died on June 28th, 2018, after suffering a heart attack on June 23rd. We had the funeral on July 2nd, 2018. It was a touching funeral and I had a chance to speak. I was thinking, I want to share that story, and other stories about my childhood about my dad and my family. What I call “The Inner-tube Incident” is what I told as my eulogy., as best as I can remember.
I was thinking about my most “Dad” moment from my childhood and I always remember an incident we had with an inner-tube, a river, and a lost pair of glasses. It was the summer of 1987. We often went to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains for vacation. We would always drive there, in the case, in a large Chevy conversion van. My older brother, Ron, had his learner’s permit. In Illinois, you can drive at 15, with a permit. This is an important fact to remember. Dad let him drive part of the way down to Tennessee.
A couple days into the vacation, we spotted a store where you can rent truck inner-tubes to go tubing down the river. The first day was a beautiful, sunny day. The river was flowing well, but nothing scary. It was a rare day where there was no real rain. We spent a couple of hours going down, then back up, the river. It was so much fun, we decided to do it again the next day.
This day, my dad decided to try tubing with us. At first, it seemed much like the day before, except for one major difference, it rained in the mountains earlier that morning. The river was already running much higher than the day before, but not terribly so. About 10 minutes into the tubing, the river decided to turn from manageable to a raging torrent.
My dad made two mistakes that day: He wore his glasses, while he was tubing, and he got out of the tube. As soon as he was out of the tube, he lost his glasses to the raging river and started calling “Help! Help!” I think this was the first time in my life I heard my dad call for help, with real terror in his voice. I paddled over to him (while still in my tube) as quickly as I could. My brother and I did help him back to shore. This left us with a major problem: my dad has worn glasses his whole life, and needed them to drive. Mom never had a driver’s license, and Ron, who was not even 16 yet, had a learner’s permit.
So, Ron, with 5 other people in Chevy van, had to drive us down the mountain. A problem with Chevy vans at the time was the fact if you used the brakes too much, the viscosity of the brake fluid would change and you would lose effective braking. Simply, if you braked too much, you would be driving a 5,000 lb vehicle down a mountain with no brakes. I know when I was 15, I didn’t know much about down shifting, so we had to make our way down the mountain, occasionally stopping to let the brakes cool. Ron did a great job getting us back safe. There were some moments of real terror there, the road was long and winding and we are looking at couple of decades before GPS.
This did leave us with another issue, dad still didn’t have glasses, and the prescription was over 1,000 miles away. To this day, I always pack a spare pair of glasses on every vacation. We found a local optometrist in the yellow pages, this was the late 1980s, and we were able to get a new pair made pretty quickly. I am sure it cost a pretty penny, but it only put our vacation on hold for day or two, which gave us time to swim in the poor.
While at the pool, someone decided to step/sit on my mother’s glasses, so the lucky optometrist in Sevierville got to make two pairs of glasses. Other than the lost glasses, I did enjoy that trip. I believe they recently opened The Village mall in Gatlinburg, which featured a hologram store. Back in the day, holograms were art, not just a way to make sure coupons are legit and I can never forget Fannie Farkles.
Writing this really makes me miss my dad and the trips we took together. I’ll try to post from time to time, it has been almost a month since he died, and it still it very raw to think about.