The Canoe Race

Memorial Day threatened thunderstorms all day.

When the rain started at 6 AM, I knew that the weatherman had been at least partially correct.

In Cooperstown, a 70 mile canoe race begins early on the lake on Memorial Day. When I was little, I remember running down to the river from our house, crunching through skunk cabbage and violets, to stand on a tree that extended over the river. My family cheered the canoeists on from that secluded spot.

My oldest son at our tree spot — 1989?

When my children were little, we would get up early and go to the bridge down the street that was the site of the first portage. For many people this was the first place to cheer for the racers once they left the lake. Afterwards, my parents would join us for a big family breakfast at our house — eggs, cinnamon rolls, fresh fruit, orange juice, and coffee.

Always a thrill to see the line of canoes coming down the river.

Portage — 2005

Now, since I’m staying with my father, I suppose we could go crunching through overgrown pasture and hope to find our tree over the river, but I doubt it’s still there. Plus the idea of getting wet trekking through the tall grass doesn’t appeal to me. We usually drive in to the bridge and follow-up with the pancake breakfast at the Baptist Church.

Except this year.

Oh, the rain! It wasn’t drip-dropping. It was out-and-out pouring.

I pitied the canoeists.

My father and my brother once participated in the race on a rainy Memorial Day. My father told me that in the middle of that miserable race, my brother said, “Dad, if you finish this, I’ll never ask you for anything again.”

They finished. Not sure about the rest.

The things we say in the midst of trials! Another time when they entered, he had accused my father of having no rhythm, but, then, I may have said something similar when my husband and I attempted a different canoe race. In fact, I think I threatened to throw my husband overboard.

We also finished.

Paddling together is a learning experience.

This year, however, with the rain, and with my father having had a small scare (ER visit, one night hospitalization) a few days before, I didn’t ask him if he wanted to watch the regatta. I hoped he wouldn’t remember it.

But, of course, he did. The next day. When the results were on the front page of the newspaper.

“We missed the canoe race,” he said to me, a little accusingly.

“It was pouring, Dad,” I told him, and he acquiesced.

But he brought it up again.

And again.

The last time he said it was when we ran into a lady from his church.

“Did you watch the regatta?” she asked.

He looked at me. “No. We missed it,” he said.

“It was raining,” I offered as explanation.

“Pouring,” she said. “Plus, if you’ve seen one canoe race, you’ve seen ’em all.”

That may be true, but not for the racers. It was their day, their race — and we missed a chance to cheer them on. I still feel a trace of guilt.

Next year.