Terry Talbert's abnormal family outing

August 09, 1997

(Writer's note: This is the first of a three-column package I collectively refer to as "What I did on my summer vacation.")

When my family went to our annual fishing trip to Ontario's French River a couple of weeks ago, we were under no illusions that it would be normal. That's because our family is not normal.

Think about it. My sister-in-law Gail can't go to bed without cream on her feet. Her mother Shirley keeps dead things on a display board in her garage. Her dad Bill, in prior trips, has lost all but his shorts while fishing and has titanium knees.


My 44-year-old brother Ralph is a pilot, former band member, motorcyclist and former drag racer. His one enduring hobby has been pulling my chain.

Ralph is going through his second childhood. He once pulled the arms off a dentist's chair. He's afraid of spiders.

And then there's my mother. What can I say? She's fed ants.

I could have made a case for the fact that my teenage nephews Chris and Mike and teenage family friend John were sane - until they spent about an hour one night with a flashlight in our cabin watching large spiders consume vast numbers of mosquitoes clinging viciously to the outside of the cabin's large front window.

(Yes, they clung viciously. They peered in at us viciously. Mosquitos there do everything viciously.)

"God, look at that one!" John said. He was holding his stomach. "Aarghgh. Oh, man, look at the size of that spider. Is it ugly, or what?!"

"Look at the size of that mosquito !" Chris said in awe.

"He must have 100 of 'em in that web. It's a very clever web. Look the way he built it, so it curves in ... ," said Mike, the analytical one of the bunch.

"God. Oh. Ack. Jeez, I'm going to get sick," said John. "He just bit that bug's head off. Man, that was disgusting!!!&*."

So much for sanity.

It was our first year without Dad, who died in January. He was probably the most normal of us all - a mental anchor of sorts.

Actually, we weren't without him entirely. In fact, he was with us, both literally and figuratively.

We were taking him with us. We would leave him there, after scattering his ashes on the beautiful river he so loved.

It just took a lot longer to get him there than we expected.

Everything was going well - as well as can be expected on a 12-hour trip in which a bunch of closely-related crazy people are sharing very limited space.

Then, we had been up all night and were only about two miles as the large mosquito flies from the Indian village and dock which was our destination, Ralph suddenly stopped.

We were driving on a road that could be described as a large, dusty washboard. Ralph had been driving the van, and pulling the boat, the entire trip.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"The bearings," he growled. "The new wheel bearings we just put on the trailer ... "

"Yeah?" I asked.

"THEY BURNED UP," he replied.

"How do you know?" I asked.

It was the wrong question. My brother knows cars inside and out, and at one time made his living teaching people how to take apart and put together diesel engines.

He just glared at me with his bloodshot blue eyes.

He got out of the van. We got out of the van. In the car behind us, my mom and Gail's parents also got out. The deer flies thought it was a feast day.

I looked at the boat trailer. The wheels were slanted in at the top at a rakish angle. "Ralph, are the wheels supposed to look like that?" I said.

Ralph glared again. Then he started giving orders. That's what men do when there is a mechanical crisis. They give orders.

"Get a flat rock," my brother said.

All us women immediately scattered to the woods to the side of the road. Men don't like to be bothered when they're handling a crisis, so none of us asked him what size flat rock he needed, or why.

We each came back with one. They weren't the right size.

"No, we need one thiiiiisssss size", he said, like we were supposed to know.

Then he dictated a list of all the things he needed to fix the trailer. Shirley wrote them down on a scrap of paper on Bill's back. "Grease gun. Ball bearings ... ."

As it turned out, the trailer finally got fixed, and we finally got to the river, at which point most everybody was tremendously tired, and irritable.

"What a fiasco," dad would have said.

And that was only the beginning.

Terry Talbert is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail.

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