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It's a funny thing about struggles. Some go on and on and some stop in a relatively short time. Some are important and serious and some merely unsolved inconveniences. This story is of the latter type, an unsolved inconvenience that a satisfactory solution had been given up on.

The setting for this very personal struggle was at Lake Shawnee, near Topeka, Kansas, in the early 1960s. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the heyday for water skiing at that time. My sister, Virginia, and her husband, Chuck, were charter members of the Shawnee Boat and Ski Club. The club sponsored safety lessons for the community and many other activities as well as providing an excellent place to ski. One did not need to know how to swim in order to ski. Life jackets certified by the Coast Guard were a must. Chuck taught most of our relatives and many friends to be expert skiers. But not me.

I had many chances to get out there and ski, and I tried to a lot of times, each time taking ski time away from the next skier waiting on the dock. It was frustrating and embarrassing. I thought I was doing everything right, but the moment I tried to rise from the water I would flop right back in. Sometimes I would plop down to the right, sometimes to the left and sometimes I panicked and let go of the ski rope. There were probably not many ways to not ski that were not done by me. I finally gave up.

Since all the rest of our families loved to ski we were at the lake most weekends. My part in the activities was confined to the shelter house where I could prepare food and then sit in a comfortable lounge chair and enjoy the tricks of expert skiers as they skied by. But, one day I was removed from my comfort zone. My brother-in-law Chuck said to me, “There is no reason why you cannot learn to ski, and you are going to learn today." I was reluctant to try again. It took a lot of persuading to get me into the boat, into the bulky life jacket, and the skis adjusted to my size. Then instead of using the usual beginning spot for takeoff near the docks, he took off toward the middle of the lake. He explained that it would be easier for me without an audience.

Once there I jumped out of the boat into the water and worked with the skis to get them on and aimed in the direction of the boat, which was directly ahead. Chuck threw me the ski rope and I grabbed the handles — tightly! He yelled, "Ready?" and I nodded. He gunned the boat. I did my usual flop. I reached for the skis and struggled to put them back on while Chuck circled the boat around me to get the ski rope in place again. When he yelled, "Ready?" I again nodded, dragged a few feet out of the water, and plop! Again, and again this continued to happen. Not one or two more times, but more like a hundred and that is not an exaggeration. I was so tired I could barely get the skis back on. Chuck surely must have been tired, too, with all the starts and stops and the circling with the boat.

I wanted to stop and go back to the shelter house. Chuck had been patient and kind with all my struggles, but he was firm when he said, "You are not getting back in the boat yet so keep on trying." Maybe there is a point where physical fatigue outweighs everything else, but finally, at long last, I came up out of the water on two skis and skied in the boat’s wake, holding on to the rope handle for dear life. I was revived, relieved and thrilled! As he pulled me in front of the docks he blasted the horn and there was cheering and me feeling like Cleopatra sailing down the Nile! So much so that I stayed on the skis for another round, so happy that I could not stop. Then Chuck slowed the boat in front of the docks, and I sank into the water, pulled myself up onto the dock, ready to celebrate!

What a brother-in-law! He believed in me when I did not believe in myself. No wonder he has a special place in my heart.

This story describes a small struggle in a world full of more serious and important ones. But it makes one wonder. Would many peoples’ struggles end well if persistent help was given to them as Chuck gave to me?

Una M. Thomas

Una M. Thomas says she enjoys "writing about family and special people I meet, and those special people are usually veterans."  

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