The Perfect Vacation

Daryl Gay | July 30, 2019

Got that 2019 vacation behind you? The one you’ll still be making payments on in 2023?

Oh, I know all about the beach/mountains family thing, and especially when it comes to epicurean delights. After all, if you’re not allowed to kill or catch something on this family sojourn, what else is there to do other than pig out? To me, basting by an ocean or gazing at leaves—who cares what color they might be—are matters of extremely limited desirability amongst the overall scheme of things.

So what’s my idea of the perfect vacation?

Let’s go to the river.

I don’t care; ANY river!

And en route, drop by the bakery the minute it opens and pick up an egg pie and a dozen doughnuts, fresh right out of the oven. Why?

Because Daddy always did.

Not sold? Present yourself with the following pop quiz:

1. Have you ever been bored at the beach? (Correct answer is, “You bet yer flip flops…”)

2. Have you ever been bored in the mountains? (Correct answer is, “I’m leapin’ off this ledge…”)

3. Have you ever been bored on a river? (I didn’t think so.)

Lemme just focus on one I’ve traipsed up, down, back and forth for a lifetime: the Ocmulgee. And it seems that each of those hundreds of trips added something different and new to the memory and lesson banks.

Rivers are seldom the same two days in a row.

Daddy built his own boats in the backyard: plywood and one-by’s, 12 feet long. They’d go about 40 inches wide, with two one-by-12 boards as seats. Power was provided via a 1958 SporTwin 10 Evinrude.

Which now resides with me…

It’s impossible to recall the first time we put one of those boats—I remember helping construct at least three over 30 years—into the Ocmulgee at Dodge County Landing; I’d guess as soon as I could walk.

There was nothing fancy about them; function was the key. They’d go anywhere, whether the river was one foot or 20. But especially one. That’s how I learned to fish a river, meandering around or across sandbars and rockpiles, many times wading and dragging.

The important part, as Daddy said, is that the miniscule depth, “Keeps the idiots off the water.”

Well, most of the time…

Daddy was into his second slice of egg pie and tenth cup of coffee when we heard the roar. We were anchored in the edge of a shady slough, a couple dozen bream and cats on the stringer, in the midst of as peaceful a morning as a river can produce.

Then came that sound.

“Ski-babies,” he said. “Hang on, it’s going to get a little rough.”

More than he knew. I think.

It was the first time I had ever seen a fiberglass, walk-through windshield boat on the Ocmulgee. Strapped to the back was an outboard with a powerhead like a 55-gallon drum.

We could hear the raucous partying even over the motor, and as they fishtailed side to side across the river, the wake sloshed all over us as we rocked.

One glimpse and I knew Theo Gay was not pleased. At all. He was a fisherman. And he had patiently drilled into me lessons of courtesy and a helping hand when on the water. He was a gentleman to his last day…

But on this day, I semi-expected to see Mount Vesuvius at its worst. I remember starting to say something, but he extended his hand and said softly, at first, then a little louder each time: “Listen, listen, listen, LISTEN…”

That outboard screamed like a maxxed-out hemi with no pipes: “WWWWWWOOOOOOOOO…” And then “KA-BOOOOOMMM!”

The sudden silence was astounding. There was only the whisper of the Ocmulgee, ever here, ever changing.

“The rockpile up at the bend,” I blurted.

I saw approval in his eyes.

“Yep. If you’re gonna run the river, gotta recognize the rocks.”

He was a man of very, very few words, so they mostly stuck. As he reached to pull up the rear anchor, I knew to do the same up front.

“They might need a lift, and fishermen always help,” he commented with a slight smile around his pipe. “Hope nobody’s bad hurt over there.”

Turned out there were quite a few scrapes and bruises, but the four aboard were so lubricated they flowed fairly freely. They were instructed—with a minimum of palaver and a maximum of feeling—to sit STILL in the bottom of our boat, two at a time, as we hauled them back to the landing.

If any ever said more than two words of gratitude, I disremember; mostly they just groaned…

The boat, however, was a different story. First off, it was RED! I figger it just got sick of being so ugly and tried to kill itself on that rockpile. The hole in the fiberglass bottom was not really a heap larger than Providence Canyon. At some point, the outboard obviously had a lower unit, but there was no evidence of one now. 

All this was easily scoped out afterward since the conglomeration was scattered across the rockpile—itself totally oblivious and nestled in that exact spot decades later.

As for us, no way a little boat crash was going to spoil a perfect day of vacation. After all, I still had doughnuts and RC.

We went back to the slough, and the fish didn’t seem to mind all the earlier commotion. We fried quite a few in the backyard that night, which begs the question, “Who needs a beach?”

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