My family frequently traveled with another, the C____s. This family had two children, a boy and a girl, close in age to my older brother and me. In the winter we would drive to Colorado to go skiing together. In summer we went on at least one float trip. Missouri has a number of creeks and rivers that are pretty easily navigated by families in aluminum canoes, fully laden with food and camping gear. I was too young to remember much about where we went and how we did it, but I do remember there was the Current River, and that we floated the Huzzah (pronounced “who-zaw”) and the Courtois (pronounced “coh-duh-way”).
We learned to save our worn out sneakers for river shoes. Typically, I would get the kind of terrible blistering sunburn on my back that we are now warned cause skin cancer. There were supposed to be several kinds of poisonous snakes to watch out for, but I only remember seeing one huge water moccasin, draped on a branch over the water. I was taught to steer for the “v” in the rapids.
One of my mother’s terribly embarrassing habits was collecting and recycling bottles and steel and aluminum cans. This was the late 1960s and early 1970s, when these efforts required washing, removing labels, flattening cans and collecting the sorted recyclables in the garage. Trips to the recycling center were humiliating to me; no one else I knew collected and dropped off trash like this. Pulling cans out of the river was another thing, though. You could see that the cans were pollution! Sometimes we saw people floating the same rivers in inner-tubes, six-packs of beer balanced on their stomachs. If they floated ahead of us, we were probably collecting their cans.
My older brother tells an excellent float trip story about setting off bottle rockets after everyone was snug in their sleeping bags in their tents. As for me, I do recall waking up one morning and having the water at the door of the tent because it had risen in the night, but I was too young to be responsible for pitching tents. My main specific memory is of sitting around the campfire and after all the new stories and the funny stories and the standard stories had been told (including “The Giant Purple Ape”), begging Mr. C____ to tell the story of “The Wolf that Would Not Die.”
The story of “The Wolf that Would Not Die” was supposed to be so frightening that people had died both telling it and hearing about it. We begged for it specifically. Mr. C____ insisted for years that he had been sworn to secrecy. Finally, we got Mr. C____ to tell the beginning, but just the beginning, where the leader of a fierce pack of wolves has his head chopped off, but is carried by members of his troop as they sought revenge. We were never able to convince Mr. C____ to tell the end, though, and while I did not know it then, I am pretty sure now that there was no story and he was winging it.