My dad used to say, “Watch for snakes!” when my sisters or I checked the mailbox of our suburban California home. (He was from rural Ohio.) “Watch your intersections,” he’d say when we got our driver’s licenses. “Root sticking up,” he’d announce as we hiked. Dad felt it was his duty to warn us of every possible source of injury.
So how my sister and I ended up floating down the American River in a raft-shaped pool toy, I cannot imagine. But there we were. No life vests, no formal swim lessons, and likely no sunscreen between us, two teenagers swirling and bumping down the rocky, brambly river alongside a hundred strangers in viable vessels from River Rat Rentals.
We laughed at the way our raft threatened to fold up on itself. FOR USE IN POOL ONLY, it yelled at us in black lettering. We felt ridiculous amongst the beer drinking twenty-somethings in their thick yellow rafts with ropes to hold onto should they be thrown out. We could not afford to fall out. Or scrape a rock. Or put too much weight on one finger. I was having a glorious time.
Water cops! I had no idea there was such a thing. Really, it made sense, with all these people drinking and, well, cruising down the river in pool toys.
“Where are your personal flotation devices?” One of them asked, very official-like, from his expensive kayak.
“We’re in it.” I don’t remember which one of us was smartass enough to say that, but I think this was before I had mastered my big sister’s technique, so I’m guessing it was her.
I’m sure water cops are great for saving people, but there’s not much they can do to reprimand two teenagers in an inadequate raft. There’s no place to get out of the river besides the sand bar by the parking lot where everyone gets out. And the cops didn’t have lifejackets to give us or anything, so away we floated, laughing harder than before.
Did we see a metaphor at the time? Not a chance. We were having too much fun, and probably embarrassed about our raft. But isn’t that how it is with sisters? You are blessed or stuck with the same parents, giggling and feeling like your boat is a little crazier and more fragile than everyone else’s, and yet somehow superior to the others, too, because you are in it, and you have each other.
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Marie Millard has contributed fiction and memoir to many anthologies. Her Bible devotional, Seeking First His Kingdom (61 Days of Worry-free Devotions), is available under the name M.L. Millard. It’s soon to be joined by Anaheim Tales, a Canterbury Tales-inspired young adult novella about cheeky teenagers on a charter bus to Disneyland, and When I Grow Up, a whimsical children’s book for kids to illustrate themselves.
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