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Jul 3, 2012
Learning How to Water Ski Without Losing Her Glasses
Non-athletic and 'half-blind' sans bifocals, a local girl got to experience the thrill of this Michigan pastime with the help of a determined friend and family
Each summer when I was a child, my friend, Gay, invited me to spend a weekend with her family, water skiing on their boat on Higgins Lake. They were an athletic family of three daughters – all tanned limbs and Speedo suits, core members of their club swim teams. Gay's father was a former Olympic swimmer – her mother, a former model.
I was plump and pale, half-blind without my bifocals and not at all athletic. I wore my older sister's hand-me-down swimsuits, with the too-tight top and the elastic sprung in the bottoms. And I did not swim particularly well. But Gay was my best friend, and that golden family was not giving up on me. I was going to learn to water ski, or they would die trying. As the girls shouted tips and encouragement from onboard the boat, with Gay's dad at the wheel, Gay's mother spent countless hours in the blue water of Higgins Lake, floating behind me, holding my skis in tuck position, while I gathered my courage to holler, "Hit it!" and struggled up. And fell. And then did it again.
Eventually, I did make it up on those water skis, and I loved every second skimming across the water, with the spray in my face – only to realize that without my trusty eyeglasses on, I couldn't see a thing. And I was afraid to go out of the boat's wake, or double ski, or "jump the wake" or any of the other things that water-skiing kids do. But I couldn't wear my glasses water skiing because if – or when! – I fell, my glasses might fly off and sink.
So Gay's dad started inventing. He cut up an old kickboard into red plastic-foam cubes. He fashioned elastic straps that snapped the foam cubes onto the earpieces of my glasses, and held the glasses strapped onto my head. The cubes stuck out from my head like the bolts on Frankenstein's neck, but if – when! – I fell, those kickboard cubes kept my glasses afloat. And with my glasses on, I could see everything: the sky and the spray, the docks and the shoreline, the speedboats white against the blue water, and the wind-milling arms of Gay's family, waving from the boat.
Those summers are long ago now, and Gay's father has passed away. But Gay is still my best friend, and each year, my family and I still join her and her family on Higgins Lake. Now Gay drives the boat, and we have a new generation of children learning to water ski. Last year, it was Gay's sister in the water, holding my son's and my daughter's skis in the tuck position, while Gay's mom and I shouted tips and encouragement from the boat.
And then, out of the blue, Gay reached into the boat's glove box, and tossed something into my lap. "Remember these?" she said, and smiled. I looked down at a couple of faded red kickboard cubes. Then I looked up, at my beautiful children, slicing through the spray behind the boat. And just for a moment, I saw another little girl, in a hand-me-down swimsuit and with Frankenstein cubes on her head, skimming over the lake, and shouting with laughter beside them.