By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published June 16, 2003

"Learning How To Stay Young"

It's been several months since the last time I contributed to News From The Woods. To be honest, I had been so very busy I didn't even realize it had been so long until I got an email from a friend who asked why it had been so long! I had to go to the web site and actually see the last dateline, and I have to tell you it shocked me that it HAD been so long.

Where did the time go?

Looking back I can account for it all. For one thing I have a new series of videos that I now produce for 14 funeral homes, and the work has been steady and unrelenting. Holidays and weekends don't mean anything in the funeral business, and I got sucked along with their hectic schedule, keeping my promise to deliver the goods 24/7. In the meantime, my regular studio business has kept purring right along (thank goodness!) so I work everything into my already dwindling free time. Also, it's now officially summer which means my son, now five years old, expects Dad to keep his word and spend some quality time on the lake with family. It was one of those promises you make during the cold of winter, when I still have to work but everyone is cooped up in the house: "Don't worry, I'll make it all up to you this summer! We'll spend every day we can on the lake". Well, Robert takes such comments quite literally, so now, here it is….. Summer - and he really expects me to spend each and every day on the lake. Literally.

Robert graduated from the Montessori School in May. Mom had tears in her eyes. I said "But Honey, he's just graduating INTO Kindergarten!" But you know Moms….. Her little boy is already "growing up". So now for this summer, he attends Montessori but they don't do studies. They go bowling, or to the park, or on a nature hike, or some other fun activity. So he still "goes to big school" (as he calls it) in the morning when Jane leaves for her job, but in the afternoon I have to be all his. Usually at the very least we go down to the end of the road and he gets to swim and practice his underwater diving skills. But if they get home early enough for two or three hours of daylight before supper we launch the PWC (Personal Water Craft). It is a Polaris 750 SLT, seats all three of us in a pinch, and is the source of G R E A T fun for the family! I used to be an avid water skier, but in recent years finding a boat powerful enough to get me up slalom has been difficult. You see I have a bad back from an injury I sustained when I was a teenager. It has something to do with driving a jeep over a 45-foot cliff, but that's another story. Anyway, my back cannot take the strain of being pulled up on a single ski. To put it mildly, it can be quite a drag, and I cannot risk furthering the injuries of my previous misspent youth. Oh, I know I could still take the wakes and show off, but after all, I am nearing the dreaded SIX-O, and many might look upon such actions as not only suicidal, but also just plain foolhardy. Cutting the wake on a turn and hitting the water at 50 MPH can have severe and devastating effects on an aging body! Even young fools break arms and legs when they don't properly roll up into a ball and skim the top of the lake until they slow down.

In recent years I've had to seek out someone with a jet boat or a craft outfitted just for water skiing. Only a boat with enough power on take off can pull me right up out of the water in just a few seconds. In that fashion I can get up quick and still have enough energy left to do my stuff before I collapse in a heap of exhausted flesh and have to be almost literally pulled out of the lake and into the boat, gasping for air! It's Hell getting old!

But I have really missed water skiing. There is such a freedom associated with the sport, and merely explaining it to a non-skier is inadequate. Anyone who has done it for long enough to get the knack knows what I'm talking about, though. Well, last year I got the opportunity to test drive a couple of PWC's. I drove a couple of smaller ones and even tried out a SeaDoo Bombardier. They all drove okay, but I wasn't satisfied with the stability, especially at idle speeds, until I got the chance to drive a Polaris. It has something to do with the weight distribution, floatation, and design of the hull. They don't look as flashy or sporty, but they definitely are more stable in the water. I can step onto a Polaris from the dock and put all my weight on the one side while doing so (and I'm a big guy) without tipping the craft over. And at slow speeds - like powering down as you enter the dock area - they handle a lot better. Well, I have to tell you, after half an hour with the 750 I was absolutely sold! I HAD to have one! It's ALL the thrill of skiing without the struggle! And believe me, doing 45 MPH on open water is a lot more exciting (and can be pretty hairy) than on land. With practice, I learned how to be doing full speed and then yanking the steering wheel in one direction and while leaning into the cut you can make the vehicle do a complete 360 degree spin without falling off. Talk about exciting!

All it took for Robert was a single ride and he too was hooked. He sits directly in front of me and hangs onto the handlebars for support. This way he not only feels how I steer the craft, but is learning which way to lean as I turn it under full power. And just one look at his face at the end of each ride, with his blonde hair windswept back over his head and sticking straight up answers the question of "was it worth it". I didn't buy it new, but it was still pretty expensive as far as toys go. I have only spent money outside my career twice in recent years. I bought myself a sports car a couple of years ago and still manage to write most of it all off as I need a vehicle to deliver videotapes to clients round the state. And I bought the PWC. It was used but in excellent condition and the price for it and the trailer was reasonable. Anytime you can spend less than $3,000 for something the entire family enjoys I consider it a good deal. After all, some people spend that much just for a single vacation. All we have to do is practice good time management so everyone in the family gets ample time to play. My wife even loves it. She prefers to take off and explore the coves, riding in solitude and running about 30 MPH most of the time. I'm the daredevil of course, and always take Robert with me for our jaunts into the wild green yonder. Each time we go out Robert scans the lake for any sign of a big boat or a houseboat. Anything which leaves a large wake! When he spies one he points it out and we go dashing towards it and cross it's tall wake, at which we usually get major air and the entire PWC comes out of the water. Then he will scream and laugh and yell "Turn it around and do it again, Daddy!" Of course I oblige him, telling myself I'm doing it all for him (yeah, RIGHT!) until I'm laughing so hard I have to go back and let Jane take it out so I can recover kidney function again.

So now you know why I haven't written anything lately. I'm still here working away, but I'm spending much more time during these summer months tearing up the water with a big grin on my face. When my friends all say Robert will keep me young…. NOW I know what they're talking about! Here I am, 56, acting like a kid, and I can tell you the plot of every single Spongebob Squarepants episode.

Life is good.

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