As a child, I spent most weekends at our cabin on the Lake of the Ozarks fishing, swimming, boating and exploring the woods. I was a bookish, woodsy tomboy. Well, I was a bookish, woodsy, fearful tomboy. You see, Missouri is full of poisonous snakes and if the water moccasins don't get you the copperheads will. I once saw a copperhead chase down and kill a baby bunny. This made quite an impression on me, so, I tried to stay away from snakes and places where there might be snakes and places that snakes might have given a passing glance. My mother was not afraid of snakes. Once, I saw her kick a snake off the dock. She didn’t kick and cower as I might have done - she was matter of fact and walked on without looking back. Another time, I watched as a copperhead was approaching her while she burned some brush. I was in a panic and, without a change of expression or missing a puff on her Viceroy Long, she scooped it up with her rake and tossed it into the fire. I remember my mom wading into a mass of tall weeds in the lake to pull them and clear the beach. When she insisted that I join her, I gently suggested that perhaps we should not invade the home of venomous snakes. She shrugged her shoulders and told me to get in the damn water. I did get in the water, partly because she seemed magically brave and partly because I feared her the tiniest bit more than I feared the snakes. I reflect on these times when we go to our friends’ cabin as we did this past weekend. I wonder what my children will remember about these trips, what they will remember about me. I doubt that they will remember me as heroic or larger than life. I do hope that they remember my encouragement to confront their fears but also the comfort that I gave when they couldn’t. I hope that they remember how much we delighted in the natural world and how free they felt in those moments. More than anything, I hope that they will remember how my arms felt draped around their shoulders, how my fingers felt going through their hair and how much I laughed. If they remember me this way, I can do without bravery. I can do without heroic.
One thing they won’t remember from this past weekend is my tearful fit when I caught a fish and it swallowed the hook and the hook poked through its eye from the inside. They won’t remember the needle nose pliers and the eye bulging and the fish blood and the eventual horrible, floppy death. They won’t remember me putting the dead fish in a Curious George bucket and going out in the canoe in the rain (without a bra, no less) with Luisa and our friend, Peggy, to take the dead fish far away from the beach so that they didn’t have to see it the next morning. They also won’t remember how we then spent 10 minutes looking at the top of a tree, thinking there was an eagle on the very top because our friends had been gesturing wildly to us. They won’t remember that it turned out to be a bunch of leaves and they won’t remember that our friends were actually gesturing at a muskrat that was swimming right in front of our canoe. Considering they missed this whole incident because they were sleeping, I may still have a shot at heroic. Nah, probably not.