Published Friday, April 13, 2012
My young son learned to ski this weekend. Having grown up on the water, it’s a rite of passage in my family.
I remember my Uncle Hugh teaching me. He was a competitive water skier who could do stunts to rival Cypress Gardens. He’d ski barefoot, just for the fun of it, take on the practice slalom course we had set up in the lake, not to mention trick ski.
When Uncle Hugh would tire of skiing, he would take a ride on a homemade wooden saucer. Of course, he wouldn’t be content to just stand there and ride. He’d carefully climb a stepladder perched on top of the saucer, spinning wildly, being pulled 30 mph behind the boat, laughing and spitting tobacco the entire way.
We also had a ski jump that he made. (Most everything at the lake was welded by my uncle or grandfather, thus virtually indestructible.) Uncle Hugh would wake up and declare at the breakfast table, “I think I’m going to jump today.”
We children would be dizzy from anticipation by the time he did it. When the ski jump wasn’t in use, we would climb up it, hauling a bucket of water to rinse it down and make it slippery so we could slide.
Anyone who came to the lake learned to ski. It wasn’t a matter of choice. Uncle Hugh had a way of encouraging, nagging, persuading, so that no matter how sore, tired, or how much water you swallowed, you would learn to ski. Once you fell, he would whip the boat around, drive in dangerously close and circle you repeatedly, while saying, “You did good, you hear, real good! Do it one more time with your knees bent and your arms straight. Let the boat pull you out of the water.”
Usually one of my four cousins, all girls who could ski like pros, would be in the water, encouraging the would-be -skier sweetly. I can remember all I wanted to do was quit, but Uncle Hugh said try it one more time, and that’s what I did. What a great feeling it was to plane on top of the water.
Uncle Hugh suffered a severe head injury in a home accident some years ago and was in a coma for many months. Fortunately, he survived. He still has the same laugh, can still drive the boat, ski and enjoy the lake, although he may call you pumpkin all day long, as he did with my husband a few years ago.
I guess his lessons stuck with me because I heard myself repeating his words to my son, who was ready to give up after repeated falls face-first into the water.
“Mom, if I do it, can I be done?”
I was in the water with him, for moral support, and to help him keep his skis straight.
“He’ll try one more time,” I yelled at his dad. “Let the boat pull you up; don’t try to pull yourself up.”
“What that? Oh, OK, I got it.” he said. And I could tell by his form that he did.
“Hit it,” I yelled.
And up he went, a tribute to my Uncle Hugh, who is still the best ski instructor I know.
You did good, you hear, real good.
(I wrote this five years ago when my son was on the cusp of being a first-grader. This coming school year, he’ll embark on a new journey as a middle school student. But, first, I believe this summer, he should learn to slalom.)