Maggie snapped her left turn signal on as the sign for the river expeditions facility came into view. “Okay,” Gene said, nodding his head, “now I remember this place.”
“You mean you didn’t before?” Maggie asked, coming to a stop in the gravel parking lot and looking at him with her head tilted to the left.
“No, I did, but now I really remember. I mean it’s been what, at least ten years since we’ve been here, right?”
“Yeah, that makes sense,” she answered, hitting the button that unlocked the doors, getting out of the car and opening the Taurus’ rear door behind her. “Okay, Coalie give me a second to get you out of your booster seat.”
Gene climbed out of his seat, arched his back, swiveled his head back and forth slowly and opened the door behind him. “Okay, big guy, we’re here,” he said, holding the door open for his son.
“Alright, everybody stay together,” Maggie commanded. “We need to get signed in, get our equipment and get going.” She took her daughter’s hand and used the car’s key fob to lock the doors after John was out and his door had been closed.
Nicole said she needed a bathroom and Maggie looked at John asking, “You want to take her or should I?”
“You go ahead. She’s getting kind of big to go into the men’s room.”
“Okay, but that means you have to sign us in.”
“Yes, dear,” he responded, saying the phrase exactly as her father did whenever he responded to his wife.
She gave him a snarled, evil eyed smile in return. He knew how much she loathed the expression and its implication that she was acting the same way her mother did. “Just do it, will you?” She walked away, shaking her head and mumbling something that he couldn’t hear before she scooped Nicole up and ran with her in her arms whooping and laughing with their little girl.
“Come on, Johnny boy. We’ll get the paper work started.”
Gene and John entered via the building’s main entrance and John said, “I want to use the bathroom too.”
Gene looked around a second and pointed to the restrooms sign saying, “Over that way. Come back when you’re done,” and then walked to the reception desk. “Hi,” he greeted the sweet young thing that acknowledged his presence with a big smile and her head cocked slightly to the right, “my name’s Gene Reese and we have a reservation for four on this afternoon’s Pigeon Ford River float?”
The petite blonde wore a name tag that said Trixie and she nodded as she grabbed an appointment book. “Oh, sure. Reese. Did your wife make the reservation? It says Margaret Reese, party of four, two children.”
“Yeah, that’s us.”
Trixie confirmed the reservation, gave Gene four release forms, and asked for his credit card. “Uhm, didn’t my wife already pay?”
“No, we just took her credit card info to hold a spot. We need to imprint a card,” she answered with a smile and her hand out, ready to slide the card through the imprinting gadget.
“Does it matter if my wife used her card to make the reservation? She’ll be out in a minute; she just took our six-year-old to the bathroom.”
“No, it doesn’t matter. We only took her card to hold the reservation, we haven’t processed it yet. Yours is fine,” she added.
Gene took his wallet from a side zipper pocket in his nylon cargo-shorts, removed his Visa and handed it to Trixie just as his wife walked up next to him. “Oh! We already paid,” she said to the girl as she looked at her husband with her hands held in front of her, palms facing upward.
Gene flicked his fingers quickly in Trixie’s direction half a dozen times as he said, “Nope. They just used your card to hold the reservation.”
“Oh. Well if you’re sure,” Maggie responded emphasizing the sure and looking hard at Gene.
“Yes, ma’am,” Trixie answered, handing the Visa back to John. “We do this all the time. Have you been here before?”
“Yes, Gene and I have but not the kids. This is their first time.”
“And you said your littlest one is six, right?”
“That’s correct. That’s why we’re doing the river float instead of the easy white water trip. Your literature said kids had to be at least seven for the white water. There’s no way around that, right? Nicole is quite the athlete.”
“No, I’m afraid not. Insurance restriction,” Trixie answered, handing Gene the imprinted receipt to sign. “So since you’ve been here you know that there are changing rooms just beyond the bathrooms. You’ll need to head over to the fitters to get personal flotation devices, helmets for the kids and paddles. You can get helmets for yourself too if you’d like but they’re optional for adults on this tour. Have a nice float!” she added, looking beyond them and raising her eyebrows and smiling at the white haired woman who stood behind them with three children in tow.
“Hi,” Gene heard the woman say as he and Maggie turned away, gathered up their kids and moved to the fitting area. “Lenore Cunningham. We’re here for the Pigeon Ford River float.”
After changing into swimwear they were outfitted and sat through the safety video the Cunninghams and Reeses were introduced to their river guide. “Hi! My name is Leo and we’re doing a class six rapid today so everyone needs to get a helmet. No, no!” he added quickly, speaking with a South American accent, “I’m just kidding! We are doing the river float today which is very relaxing. Perfect for the children.”
Gene and Maggie looked at each other, eyes wide and jaws dangling as Leo began to speak. “That’s our guide from last time, isn’t it?” Gene whispered in Maggie’s ear.
“It has to be,” she answered. “He’s a little heavier than I remember but that’s definitely him. How funny is that?”
“Hey, you two!” he said loudly, looking gruff and pointing at them, “No talking when the river guide is talking!” Leo held his serious pose for three seconds before breaking into a big smile. “Just kidding! We will be leaving soon so make sure we have your signed waivers and that you pack up your gear before we go, okay?”
The three adults and five children slowly filed out of the room, turned in their waiver forms and gathered up the equipment. “Thomas, I don’t want to hear it!” they heard the other lady say to her youngest companion. “Go inside and use the bathroom before we go. Sheesh!” She then turned to Gene and Maggie, held out her hand and introduced herself. “Hi. I’m Lenore. It looks like we’ll be floating together today.”
Gene took Lenore’s hand and said, “Looks like. I’m Gene, this is Margaret, aka Maggie, and the boy over there is John and the little girl is Nicole. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too. That’s Michael,” she pointed to the older boy, “Marie and the little guy who had to go to the bathroom is TJ. Is this your first trip here?”
“No, actually we were here in 1988 BC- before children that is,” Gene answered.
“Tell me about it. Those are my grandchildren. The gift that keeps on giving.” As they spoke TJ reemerged from the building and the five children huddled together talking and getting to know one another.
“Well it’s nice to meet you,” Maggie answered. “Not from around here I take it?”
“No. New York originally and now we’re just over the line in Danbury, Connecticut.”
“Oh, sure,” Maggie said, “I know where that is. My folks live in New Jersey. We drove down from DC on our way to The Four Corners.”
“That should be nice. Michael! Get down from there!” she added, stopping the boy from climbing a concrete and stone retaining wall.
“We hope so. How old is the younger boy? TJ did you say?”
“Yes, Thomas or Thomas junior or TJ depending on what he’s doing. He just turned nine and the twins will be 13. How about yours?”
“John is eight,” Gene said, “and Nicole is six. We’ve only been here that one other time before but Leo was our guide then, too.”
“My heavens, how did you remember that? Didn’t you say it had been ten years?”
“Yep, but we had a weird encounter. I want to see if Leo remembers it,” Gene answered.
Leo emerged from the building, checked to be sure the raft was safely stowed and strapped on the trailer, checked and counted permission slips as well as paddles and helmets and then hollered, “Okay, people, gather up! We need to get in the van so we can get going and have some fun! Let’s go,” he added as he waved the kids into the van. Once they were all seated and the driver entered the road Leo stood in the van and said. “Okay. Let me see who is who, okay? Let’s see.” He pointed to Lenore and said, “You are Lenore, right?” She nodded and then he looked at the three Cunningham children and said, “Well, obviously you are Marie, and I bet the small muchacho is TJ so that makes you Michael, right?”
The Cunninghams all nodded and TJ called out, “Right!”
“And that means you are the Reese family, correct?”
“Correct,” Gene answered, “and you were our guide once before.”
“I was? I hope I did a good job. You look familiar but I don’t remember when.”
“Ten years ago!” Maggie exclaimed.
“Ten years ago? Aye, yi, yi! That is crazy. How do you remember me?”
“Do you remember starting out on a rafting trip and there were a pair of Scotsmen leading a bunch of girls? They were giving the girls a lesson on focus?” Gene asked, smiling widely on the last word.
Leo pursed his lips and looked down at the ground before raising his head. A hearty laugh erupted and he said, “Focus? Oh! Oh my God! Yes! Yes, I remember! Focus! With their strong accents we all thought it was something else they were saying! Oh my God! You were there? I remember that! Those two were brothers and I worked with one down in Venezuela one summer. Well, one winter here. I worked with Brodie and his brother was Callum. I had forgotten all about that. Focus! That was so funny! Well, no white water today. Today we float down the river and towards the end those that want to go for a swim can. This is just right for the children. You wait, we will have fun!”
Once they were at the river Leo and the driver dragged the raft off of the trailer and Leo told everyone where to sit. “I want all the women on the left, and all the men on the right. Nicole, you sit in front, then your mamasita, Marie next and Lenore back here next to me where I can keep an eye on her. TJ, you are up front, then big Mike, Don Juan and Gene, Gene the dancing machine in the back. Nicole, you be nice to TJ, don’t make him cry, you hear?
“Do you know why I put all the women on the left side? Because the Latin word for left is sinistra, like your word sinister. The left side is the devil’s side and it is sinister and I think maybe you muchachas are a bit sinister, no?” he asked with a big smile.
Lenore responded with a big, “Ha! Hardly. The truth is everyone is born left handed and you only become right handed after you commit your first sin.”
“Oh, is that how it works?” Leo looked at her with his mouth drawn down, nodding. “And I take it you are left handed, Mama Lenore?”
“You got that right.”
“So, now we have a problem because I am ambidextrous,” he answered.” I am as good with my left as I am with my right. What does that mean?”
“That you’ve committed venial sins but not mortal ones?” she laughed.
“I only wish that this were so. No, I have you divided because we want to have about the same strength on both sides of the boat; there is nothing sinister about it.
“Now, sit up on the edge and tuck your outside foot in behind the seat area in front of you, okay? Good. Now, when I say go everybody paddle three times hard, okay? Go!” Everyone paddled and the raft slipped toward the middle of the lazy stream.
“Good! Now, when I say, I want everyone to paddle backwards three times. Whoa, Johnnie boy, not yet, wait till I say. Ready? Go!
“Excellent. Now we try something different. I want all the ladies to paddle forward six times while all the men paddle backwards, got it?” The boat began to slowly spin in a clockwise direction. “Okay, do it again!”
The boat was drifting down the river, spinning in circles as it went. “No, this is getting me dizzy. Men, paddle backwards six times, ladies, forward.” The raft’s spin was depleted and Leo paddled, again pointing the raft downstream. “Much better. Sometimes we will paddle to stay away from rocks or maybe other rafts but mostly we will float today. If we want to spin just say so.”
“I want to spin!” TJ called out.
“Not yet, Thomas,” Lenore responded.
“Yes, not yet, Thomas,” Leo concurred. “I am still a bit dizzy.”
Leo had been right. The leisurely two and a half hour float, minimal paddling and silly antics had been fun and the kids had enjoyed one another’s company. After gently banging into boulders, “accidentally” getting stuck on one and slipping into the water for a brief swim they rounded a bend in the river where they met the waiting driver who helped Leo pull the raft up onto the wide, sandy river bank. When they were back at the outfitters Maggie whispered to Gene, “Don’t forget to tip Leo.”
Gene had looked at her with his head turned down so that he had to look through his eyebrows and said, “Right. Thanks,” shaken his head and handed the man a twenty while shaking his hand. “Thanks Leo. That was fun. Maybe I’ll see you again in ten years.”
“Okay, Gene. Thank you very much,” he added before high fiving all the males and hugging all the girls. The Cunninghams and the Reeses bade one another goodbye and as they walked away Gene heard TJ say, “They were nice, weren’t they?”
“That was fun!” Nicole declared, “But I’m hungry.”
“Me, too!” John seconded the statement.
“Okay, we’ll go check in at the hotel, quick shower and then get something to eat,”
Maggie promised as she got in the passenger seat of the car.
“Leo was a riot, wasn’t he?” Gene asked.
“Yeah, he was. A big, brown, cuddly riot. Turn left out of the parking lot. I’ve got directions right here,” she said, pulling a notebook out of the glove compartment.
“Speaking of showering and hugging we could save time if we showered together,” he whispered.
She looked at him and said, “Yeah, well, we’ll see. We’ll see.”
Gene was pretty sure that meant no.