As if one’s not enough trouble

Bob McKee

They were little kids when I first ran across them, identical twin boys. I couldn’t tell them apart for years, especially if they were together. Growing up they were typical boys, full of it, mischievous, adventuresome. Or in their parents’ words, double trouble now and then, more often now than then.

As they got older, they began showing up on occasional hunting or fishing trips, tagging along behind their dad. They were reasonably well behaved on those trips so none of the adults complained too much. That is until they reached adulthood. But those stories are much too lengthy to be included in this limited account.

They did grow up, though, graduated from high school, went off to college, got married and started families of their own. The twins are in their 50s now, solid middle age and they’re both grandfathers. That’s a sobering thought considering that their dad and I are the same age and that makes him a great grandfather, a plateau I’ve just recently reached. 

Several years ago their parents and another couple went with us on a float trip to the Current River. The twins, who had two younger brothers by then and a baby sister, were along. They had no experience floating a river of the Current’s dangerous Class I rapids. For those of you who don’t know, rapids are classified from I to V, the latter being the hardest and most dangerous and best tackled only by professionals. I’ve been on a river in Arkansas that had Class III and IV rapids and discovered I’m not a professional. The Current is very mild in comparison.

However, with years of canoeing experience already under my belt at the time, I felt it my responsibility to lecture the twins and their younger brothers on canoe safety: don’t stand up in the canoe; don’t jump around; don’t grab overhanging tree branches. They listened attentively while their parents tried hard to keep their smiles hidden and to not laugh out loud. We put in at Akers Ferry for a leisurely 10-mile float to Pulltite Springs, a stretch that includes Cave Spring, a cave that accommodates several canoes at a time.

But before we got to the cave, and less than 20 feet downstream from Akers, the twins were standing up in the canoe, jumping around, grabbing overhanging tree branches and swinging on them before dropping back into the canoe. They did not turn the canoe over. 

They did not fall out of the canoe. They paddled circles around the rest of us. They tackled the worst of the Class I rapids from the wrong angle. They thought Cave Spring was one of the neatest things they’d ever seen and paddled in and out of it several times. They jumped out of the canoe, swam around for awhile then climbed back into the canoe without dumping it.

The experienced, hard-core floater, however, hit a hidden snag in a riffle while watching the twins and reacted contrary to solid canoeing advice by leaning upstream, just enough to dip the starboard gunnel under the water where the law of physics took over the fate of the vessel and its occupants.

Years later they both had picked up the bad habit of smoking, one that I already had. On an week-long elk hunt in New Mexico, many miles from civilization, they brought maybe a half pack of cigarettes each. Their dad still smoked occasionally then too, but based his claim of being a nonsmoker on the fact that he never bought cigarettes. So three days into the hunt I was carefully rationing cigarettes myself but still handing out smokes to the twins and occasionally to their dad.

With one cigarette left for two more days of hunting, I sat on a log and wondered if I should smoke it or save it. Then the twins showed up and as usual asked me if I had any cigarettes. Reluctantly I pulled out the sole survivor from several packs I had started with and lit it. The three of us sat on that log and smoked it right down to the filter, passing it back and forth like it was the last toke at Woodstock. The next two days were miserable and I let the twins know I was miserable — all because of them. 

On hunting or fishing trips after that, if one or both of them were along, I made sure to ask if they had cigarettes with them. They got better but invariably would show up wherever I happened to be and ask if I had any cigarettes, lamenting the fact that they had left theirs in the truck, or misplaced them. 

I’m hoping to quit the nicotine habit before our next trip. It will be interesting to see what they do then when their cigarettes are back in the truck parked a couple of miles away or, worse, back at a motel 30 miles away. Maybe they’ll quit too, but if they don’t it may be worth the stress of impending nicotine withdrawal to see them suffer a little. Then they’ll know how I felt sitting on that log in New Mexico.