The “Rivah”

Posted by on Jun 7, 2006 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

Even though I have lived in Virginia for 40 years, you will know I am not a native when I say that I do not enjoy vacations at the “rivah”. The concept of renting a house where I am required to do all the same chores as I do at home, only in a place where I can’t find anything, never seemed like a big treat to me. My spouse however, always gets a faraway look of nostalgia about summer rentals, because he recalls delightful childhood memories of summer adventures with his Mom and siblings. Of course, you really can’t go home again, but since neither of us had even seen the river cottage, I was willing to let him try. Our baby girl was five months old and crawling about on all fours, in that daredevil way that came to define all her activities. Our toddler was not quite three and a bit on the cautious side, and our oldest son was just thirteen, and not yet completely turned off to family vacations. At the last minute we had acquired a needy kitten, and not knowing anything about cats at the time, I assumed they were sort of like dogs that purred, so I decided to take him along.

We were very relieved when we finally arrived at our destination with a carload of suitcases, cat barf, fussy babies, and grim, silent adults. The weather seemed pleasant and sunny, the river was broad and beautiful, and all the houses along the bank were expansive— except for the one where my husband parked our station wagon. As soon as the car door opened, the traumatized cat took off like a shot and ran under the house, where he cowered for the entire week. Thinking he would come out later, I decided to take the children in to check out the house.

I walked through the back screen door and took in the whole of the downstairs in one glance. The steps immediately to my right bore a strong resemblance to a ladder. The postage size bathroom on my left had no room for a tub, only a small shower, tiny toilet, and diminutive sink. Okay, I thought, I can use the kitchen sink to bath the babies. Taking the three short steps to the food prep area, I found a 15 inches square basin, which was in scale with the mini stove and fridge. In fact, the whole of downstairs was no more than 8 by 11 feet, not counting the tiny “L” projection that held a miniature table and two bench seats. The living room contained a couch, a chair, a bookcase, and a small TV and a radio, neither of which seemed to be connected to the outside world. Even for the young and fit, the trip up the “stairs” carrying a baby was perilous. Once there, it didn’t take long to discover the same miniaturization in the upper story. One room contained what looked like two ship bunk beds with the world’s smallest table wedged between, and the other had a standard bed squeezed in so tight there was no room for a porta-crib. Fortunately there was a balcony off the bedroom just wide enough to hold the crib, and that would do as long as we had no rain through the screen windows, but I get ahead of myself.

We settled in as best we could, unpacked and surveyed the river and surroundings. There was a swimming pond that looked promising, filled with brackish water and guarded by what was purported to be a jellyfish filter. I took inventory of the pots and pans available, and finding nothing much but a crab pot, skillet, and a few utensils, I added a few essentials to my grocery list. We ate sandwiches for dinner then decided to get the children settled down for the night. After the screams over my little one’s first ever shower bath, I added a plastic tub to my list of supplies needed. Bright and early the next morning, my husband was up and out to go fishing and I was left with the task of heading back down the road umpteen many miles to find the one overpriced grocery store and get food and supplies.

When the babies and I returned, we put away groceries and poked about under the house for the cat. I tweaked the TV and radio a few more times, but finding only static and fuzz again, gave up on that as a lost cause. I decided to speak to my neighbors, hoping they might advise me on some way to relieve the boredom, but they pretended that I was invisible. I guess they thought no one with any intelligence would bring three children to a dwarf cottage for vacation. When my husband came in for lunch he decided to take the boys swimming while the baby napped, the incident that Jason still refers to as “the time I almost drowned”. The purported jellyfish filter turned out to work just as well as the TV and radio, making the pond as appealing as the neighbors. While dodging the painful stingers, My husband looked away long enough for our two and a half year old son to fall face down in the water. Retrieved unhurt, but sputtering and crying, the toddler was soon deposited back in the house, and my husband took off to go crabbing.

We soon fell into a grinding, horrible, routine. My husband took our oldest with him to fish for crabs all day, while I cleaned, cooked, took care of babies, and called uselessly for the cat. In the evening I would cook the crabs, and we would sit around the little table and pick and eat them. For almost 15 years after that week I was not able to eat crab, or stay in any room when they were cooking without experiencing nausea. Since we had no TV or radio, the tropical storm that hit midweek came as a complete surprise.

Now what my husband recalls about the storm is that it “ruined the fishing”, that is, it reduced the number of crabs he was able to snag with a net and a chicken wing on a stick. As we sat jammed into the tiny downstairs, he kept reassuring me that the storm would pass soon and we would be able to get back to our previous fun. Meanwhile, I tried to drape a plastic barrier over the balcony’s screen window to protect our daughter from the rain. As you may have ascertained by now, my husband and I do not have the same remembrance of this vacation, and he is not always an expert at reading my moods. Somehow amid the torrents of rain, we eventually got the drenched cat out from under the house, perhaps with that chicken wing on the stick, packed up the kids and suitcases, and left the “rivah” behind forever.

Every summer for years he still mumbled around about another rental house for a family vacation, even mentioning Alaska from time to time, but I was wise to his schemes by then. In fact, he has never, since that week, been allowed to have anything to do with the planning of our vacations. Call me unreasonable, but if he wants to go on a fishing trip, he’s going to have to find some seasoned river woman to cook and clean for him next time. When the kids were more self-sufficient we did make a few forays to North Carolina beaches, staying in much larger houses, in areas with restaurants and grocery stores. That ceased the year we were told to leave because of an approaching hurricane, and my spouse wanted to stay to watch the storm. I told him that would be fine, but the children and I were heading inland. He remained stubborn while I loaded the car, but finally came along when they cut the water off in the house to discourage insane tourists from riding it out. It’s really too bad, because if we had lived through it, I could have headlined that as the worst vacation I ever had.

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