This past summer, my wife and I treated the family to a weekend in the woods. This was a particularly important vacation to me, as it was to take place in the national park that I enjoyed several times every summer, beginning at age 6. Now, we have had a number of short jaunts this year, mixed in between hearings, depositions, and garden variety ass-whuppins, but the vacation to the National Forest was my vacation. The vacation that I planned eight months in advance. The vacation that brought the promise of sanctuary, far away from the hustle-bustle that pollutes adult life, where my young family and I would be able to commune with the squirrels and bears and birds, whatever kind they may be. (I used to--and still do--ridicule serious bird watchers as a matter of course. In fact, my sister recently admitted to me that she enjoys identifying birds on hikes, the nerd.)
Anyway. In order to ensure that this trip would be as relaxing as possible, I was delighted that my father, his wife, and our new extended family would be coming along. To protect the innocent, the extended family's name has been changed to "the Brits." "The Brits" is not really their family name. It is a code name (see previous postings). The Brits and the Trouts became one unified family (under Cayman law) when their daughter decided that it was a good idea to marry my father ("These are for you!"). As their surname suggests, the Brits hail from Texas.
Before I proceed, I must express my sincere love and appreciation for the Brits; they bring a new warmth and vigor to my family (and our presence in theirs); we are always very happy to spend time with them, as they bring with them a kindness and curiosity that is refreshing and genuine. I am truly glad to know them, and pleased that they choose to spend any time hanging out with my family, even though they have had ample time to get to know us and should, by now, know better.
But they also bring a relentless--and unforgiving--sense of independence. So fierce is that conviction, that I am unable to withstand it without the assistance of a healthy round of gin & tonics (mixed by Mr. Brit). And so fierce is that conviction, that he is a fool who holds his life cheap that dares to attempt acts of unwarranted politeness. Which brings me to the subject of this entry: Frankie (real name not used, I SWEAR). The only way to preamble this entry is to state, simply, that you mustn't f**k with Frankie. Ever.
I learned this lesson for the first time from behind the bow of a kayak in the Lake, near our campsite. Frankie and her husband, Mr. Brit, had gone kayaking and left us with the River Folk (explained below). My father was enduring the torture of relaxing with the River Folk on a giant inflatable "party barge," his "Range Rover" licensed baseball cap firmly planted on his head. (Everyone liked the hat, even though they didn't say anything about it--it was a quiet reverence.) Dad's wife was along for the ride, sipping a Corona (extra lime) under duress. I stood on the beach wondering how long this would last.
The Brits, however, had departed--they had paddled off into the Forest aboard OPK ("Other Peoples' Kayaks"), leaving us to party like it was 1978. Now, the family's predicament at this point was not the Brits' fault. As I later learned, my own father and his wife were responsible for visiting these circumstances upon us. And they accomplished it literally within minutes of emerging from their car and finding themselves in the River Folks' camp. In a moment of diplomacy that would have killed President Carter with envy, my father not only embraced the River Folk, but--in a very substantial and almost legally-binding way--agreed to vacation with the group of forty-odd complete strangers this very trip, then repeat the untested experience next year. By the time the Trout family (me, my wife, and the youngster) arrived, we had gained another forty cousins. We were promptly invited to join their tribe at the Lake. In all of our years in the Forest, we had never been to "the Lake."
As it turns out, there's a good goddamned reason why not.
But I digress. Now that my parents were stuck on the Party Barge of Death, I was charged with commandeering another kayak (also not ours) to hunt down and retrieve Frankie and Mr. Brit so that we could surrender the kayaks, then graciously get the f**k away from the Lake and return to our cabin to drink whatever alcoholic beverages had not already been carried off by the bears. So, off I went. I charged. And when I found Frankie and Mr. Brit, about halfway across the Lake, they greeted me in the customary way: "We're doing just fine, thankyouverymuch, and we've kayaked more times than you've shit in your life, so don't feel compelled to 'rescue' us."
Thus welcomed, it appeared that the balance of my kayak experience could only improve. Indeed it would have, had a school of piranhas nibbled the bottom of my kayak out and eaten me alive. But the Lake offered no such rescue for me.
So, I paddled on, waiting for Frankie to whack me in the back of the head with her oar (or "paddle," as those who have kayaked more times than I have shit know to call them). When we reached the shore some minutes later, I made the mistake of attempting to help Frankie land and exit her kayak. It was suggested, again, that I go to Hell. So, I decided to retreat to Mr. Brit, who would, no doubt, soon pour me a gin and tonic. He did so, and to make the long story short, Frankie and I made up a short while thereafter. As it turns out, she had properly identified me as a patronizing boy scout, but decided to forgive me for it anyway.
The next morning, I made a fatal error. I brought Frankie a cup of tea. The tea was Earl Grey, in honor of her heritage. (You know: "Duke duke duke, duke of Earl, duke duke, duke of EARL duke duke, duke of EARL . . . .") When I approached Frankie with the cup, I extended it to her and cheerfully said "Here's your Earl Grey! :) ." Frankie paused in disbelief at the offensive beverage, then responded, "Well thanks, whipper snapper." Then, she shot a thunderbolt from her eye that caused my clothing to vaporize. It dawned on me that I had just committed the mother of all f**k-ups. (Apparently, she wanted "red zinger," instead.)
What had actually happened was this: When I said "Here's your Earl Grey! :)", Frankie heard "Here you go, Ole' Gran! :P" I understand the confusion there. The words are only slightly dissimilar, and the term "ole' gran" is part of my everyday parlance. So, it was not entirely unreasonable to think that, the day after I was nearly killed for patronizing her during The Paddle From Hell, I would throw a cup of hot tea at Frankie and call her "Ole' Gran!" I do that sort of shit all the time.
After the scalding stopped and I regained consciousness, we all had a good hearty laugh together. Deep down, I think she thought it was funny--even if I really DID mean to call her "Ole Gran." Really, this is how nicknames are born.