Heart palpitations! Those were the only words I can think of to describe what I felt as fear gripped my soul at the thought of my brother John drowning. Paralyzed to do anything, I watched the horror unfold as numerous family members attempted to lend their aid.
On a four-generation family vacation in Branson, Mo., several of us had been out on the White River below Table Rock Dam kayaking when my elder brother and his daughter, Rachel’s two-man vessel flipped over plunging them into 30-degree icy water 80 feet deep.
The only thing I could think about was how we were going to return to the resort and tell my sister-in-law, Jenn, that her husband had a heart attack and drowned on their anniversary.
I shook my head to get that dreadful thought out of my mind.
The day had been sunny and bright as we trekked down the steep hillside to the boat launch not far from Table Rock Dam, which measured nearly 6,500 feet in length and rose over 250 above the riverbed.
It was a colossal concrete mass built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1959.
We had been on the opposite side of that dam the previous day with the pontoon boat having a good ole time water rafting.
As with all of our excursions, not everyone attended each of our planned activities, but since I had been weight training for almost a year, I was definitely going on the four-hour kayak trip.
Nothing was going to stop me. Armed with a “Superman” baseball cap, sun block, and bottled water, “I was ready to get my party on.”
This outing was special because all three of my siblings, along with me, were a part of it. In addition, Kathleen’s husband, Tony, both her children, Ashley and Michael, as well as Michael’s girlfriend, Carolina, and John’s daughter, Rachel, rounded out our band of merrymakers.
Prior to taking our multi-generational vacation, my youngest sister reserved a specially-made kayak just for me. It was designed for disabled individuals. Wider than the normal kayak, it was tip-proof. It had a raised seat with a back which was attached to the top.
Of course, it wasn’t attached to the bottom. Otherwise, I would have been under water.
So I was sitting head and shoulders above the rest. I was sort of like the “king of this expedition.” Shh… don’t tell any of them because they’ll just say I have a big head; and we all know that is a very true statement.
I was one of the last to have my kayak put in the river and was way behind everyone else. I was like, “Hold up.” I didn’t like this bringing up the rear thing. I wanted to be out in front.
After paddling from side to side for what seemed like 30 minutes, my arms felt like rubber. I was no closer to the rest of my crew. “I’m not going to do this all day. I want to be with everyone else so I can be a part of the conversation.”
They finally stopped to let me catch up. Then it was time to reapply sun block.
Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about being in last place anymore. My sister, Kathleen, and her husband, Tony, were behind me smooching. “Oh brother. Get a room.”
We passed many houses along the river on our journey downstream. I thought how cool would that be to have your back yard butt up against the river. I would certainly have a boat.
In addition, there were many floating docks. And there was even an ice cream shop on the water. But no one wanted to waste time getting to our pickup destination. What a bunch of party poopers. It was hot. I wanted something cold. But all I got was, ‘If you’re hot, put your foot over the edge of your kayak.” The water temperature was a teeth chattering 30-degrees.
Seriously? I don’t think so. So I just drank some of my now lukewarm water.
Some people in our party were getting tired. I won’t mention any names. They were actually pulling up to the boat dock behind someone’s house.
We can’t call the guys back at the kayak business to pick us up at a random house along the river.
Not to mention the fact that if we would have stopped at the floating ice cream shop, we could have not only had some delicious yumminess; but we could have also had a potty break.
I thought my bladder was going to rupture.
But with some of my family members getting lethargic, I had a sudden burst of energy and was able to secure the first place position only to be called back.
That’s when panic struck a chord in my heart. The guys back at the boat launch put my brother, John, in the rear and his daughter, Rachel, in the front. Well, Rachel felt like she was doing all the paddling. So they switched places.
They, along with the rest of us, quickly found out why they were positioned as they were. The weight shift tipped the kayak landing them in the below freezing water.
Luckily, we all had life jackets Rachel easily climbed back into the kayak once it was flipped back right side up. But John was paralyzed by the cold water.
And the rest of us were too far away to help them. Try as we might, fighting the current was a losing battle. Somehow, John finally managed to pull himself back into the kayak.
It scared the “living daylights’ out of all of us.
Shortly thereafter we reached the pickup destination. We were actually a few minutes early. See, we had plenty of time to get ice cream. Maybe next time they’ll listen to me. On second thought, probably not.
Mark S. Price is a former city government/county education reporter for The Sampson Independent. He currently resides in Clinton.