Laughing with My Sister

It was the most ridiculous outing I’ve ever taken. And yet, it really was fun.

We went tubing yesterday down the Platte River with my sister and brother’s families, 16 of us in inflated tubes, intended to float down a winding stretch of shallow river almost to Lake Michigan.

The tour would take two hours, after we walked along gravel road to the launch point. But the wind began by pushing us the wrong direction and we stalled at the very start. Panic set in, at least for me, and likely for my sister, too.

Our kids floated off down the river, much lighter than us, carried away by the meager current. We paddled frantically to catch up, our only tools the mess of flip-flops we carried for everyone else, and eventually gave up the hope of all staying together.

Years ago, when I was a teenager, my family sailed away on a Caribbean cruise that gave us a day in Jamaica. We climbed Dunn’s River Falls, the tourist attraction of a waterfall that is so besieged by climbers, you can hardly see the falls.

Yesterday was like that. A river so swollen with people – in kayaks, tubes, canoes – I couldn’t get to the point of relaxing.

I have to say, though, it was a beautiful sunny day with a cloudless sky. In Northern Michigan, it’s never too hot, so we basked in the sunlight and kicked at the water and if I could have escaped from the fact that I was really out of my element, I might have enjoyed it.

The best part of it all was the laughter. My discomfort paid off big time as I remembered how infectious it is to laugh with my sister.

When I flipped my tube, she thought it was hilarious. (It was.) When I couldn’t get back on it and two women had to hoist me up, the laughter turned to gales.

When we finally linked up, clinging to one another’s tubes, along with my niece, and begging my husband to steer us along to the exit point, the laughter was a salve.

Constant. Loud. Fun. At one point, I was laughing so hard, I could not open my eyes.

So perhaps this little tubing adventure was worth it. My husband and I fell into companionable laughter, too, and just carried on as if time stood still and it was the funniest moment on the planet.

Thankfully, we pulled my son back on track when he veered off into a fork of the river. The little boys had a great time altogether. My daughter swam the last hour of the trip.

At points, the river was so shallow, a sandbar of pebbles rose up to beach us. At other points, it was just deep enough to swim along and push the tube.

I heard rumors of snapping turtles living in the river and kept my feet up from the mossy bottom. Later, my husband suggested that other things lived there, too, but we didn’t catch any leeches.

After one hour, my sister and I pulled out of the river, content to be done while the others floated onward to the end.

We drove our cars to pick them up at the mouth of the river. My eldest son and I swam across it to sand dunes and hiked a ways to Lake Michigan, which was warm and lapping in waves and glorious in sun.

We swam there, dwarfed by the ocean waves of last week but loving the clarity of Great Lakes water, so pristine, the bottom of the lake so satiny soft with sand.

The best part of a family vacation like this is falling into old roles that still serve us. Not the bickering dysfunction that can happen when family get together.

No, what I have always loved about my relationship with my sister is the way we can laugh together. We know each other better than we know most people in this world, and there is this silent link, like an electric current, that runs between us.

She laughs, and I have to laugh. We see each other across the room or across the river, and we both crack up.

And I remember in that moment all the times we’ve laughed together before. Hard. Hearty. From the depths of who we are.

At the very end, as we waited for our family to finish their ride, we sat on a bench and talked. About the people who are connected to us, about our memories, about our children and our husbands and our lives.

That’s the relationship between sisters. We can say anything to each other. And we can laugh in unison.

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