The Redhead, Taz, and myself watched the critters splash in our pool. Ages 4, 5, and 6, with the one-year-old toddling around in the grass, we were busy.
The six-year-old climbed on top of the rocky waterfall.
She landed close enough to the other two to roll them off their floats. Instead of reacting, I waited until everyone surfaced and swam to the side. The Redhead had been watching to see what I’d do, which was nothing.
“You don’t get too worked up about anything, do you?”
“How old are you?”
“Then you should know by now.”
“Yeah, but I never could read you very well. Even when those park rangers were taking us down into Wind Cave and murder us, you never changed expression.”
I laughed. When she was eleven, and Taz nine, we vacationed in South Dakota and took a cave tour. For some reason, the Redhead’s imagination took over as we gathered around the guide and she was convinced the tour was a ruse to get us underground and turn everyone into hamburger.
“I’m surprised you remember that.”
“Of course I do. I had a vivid imagination and it was terrifying. Riley! Don’t jump on your brother!”
Splash. Near miss.
Taz came by with the toddler in tow.
“That wasn’t as scary as the day y’all took us down to Mexico and I was almost eaten by that giant fish. You know, I’m not sure you weren’t trying to get rid of us.”
“You were the only one afraid.”
The Redhead shook her mane.
“Nope. I was afraid, too, but I was so scared I froze and couldn’t levitate like her.”
We’d been snorkeling in a wide bay of brackish water not far from Cancun a year after South Dakota. With one girl holding each hand, we paddled around the edge of the bay, watching the fish. We came to a walking bridge built across the open end.
School after school of brightly colored fish swam back and forth. Other saltwater fish pecked at the wooden piers. A turtle paddled fast.
Then we came face to face with a massive Goliath Grouper that had to have been over 500 pounds. The Redhead clamped down on my hand. Taz vanished. Concerned, I looked all around us, then raised my head to find her standing on the bridge with an absolutely white face.
“How’d you get up there?”
She shook her head.
“I really don’t know.”
Her toddler squawked as she peeled off his diaper.
“That was the worst I’ve ever been scared in my life.”
I watched the two girl grandchildren hold hands and jump off the waterfall, trying to splash Parker, who was shooting at them with a water gun.
“You were the spookiest kids when we were trying to have fun. Remember when we spent all that money for you to swim with manatees in Florida?”
The Redhead nodded.
“Parker! Quit shooting the girls in the face with that water gun.”
“Why?” He was genuine in his surprise. “They’re already wet anyway.”
“Good point,” I said.
“Can I just shoot Logan?”
“You heard me. Do not shoot your cousin, either.” The Redhead turned back to our conversation. “Anyway, those things were gigantic and you probably didn’t get Dad of the Year because of how you made us get in the water.”
Taz joined in and sat the toddler in my lap.
“Yeah, like when you said, and I quote, ‘Get your butts in this water with me right now or I’ll climb back in that boat and throw you both overboard.’ Hold him while I get his swim pants.”
“It worked, didn’t it? And once you were in and saw that calf swimming with them, you were fine.”
“He was cute…Parker! Do not jump backward off that waterfall the girls are….”
Taz pointed two fingers of one hand at her eyes and back at Parker.
“Boy, I’m watching you. Hey Dad, you also put us in water down in Florida where alligators could eat us.”
“It was a protected swimming hole on the river. They had a barrier to keep them on their side.”
“Yeh, right. A string of buoys.” The Redhead picked up a water gun and shot Parker until he threw both hands up in surrender. “There. Now, don’t shoot them again. You know Dad, there were no less than three alligators swimming in that river, just waiting for a chance at one of us.”
“Y’all just blew things out of proportion. I’m sure they had a net down there to keep them out.”
The toddler made a puddle on my jeans at the same time Parker shot me with the last of the water in his gun, and the girls splashed close enough to drench my other leg.
Taz handed me the swim diaper.
“Serves you right for scaring us when we were kids.”
“I was just trying to take y’all on adventures you’d remember.”
The Redhead nodded.
“Yeah, and we remember ‘em every night in our nightmares.”
“At least you all remember those times, but none of you recall watching the mermaids swim at Weeki Wachee Springs park there in Florida.”
“That’s because it wasn’t scary.”
I watched all three kids hold hands and jump backwards off the waterfall, trying to land on a float.
They missed and the resulting flops probably stung so bad I figured they’d remember them forever. I guess that’s how such trauma works.
Reavis Z. Wortham is an award-winning outdoor writer with family ties to Lamar County. He is the author of “Hawke’s Target.”