Maybe the first sign that I’m not meant to challenge a raging river came when I fell out of my tube three times - and that was before I even got into the thing.
Well doggone it, that Comal - she’s a mean one, don’t you know. Roaring whitewater, Class 6 rapids, inescapable whirlpools and waterfalls plunging over escarpments …
Things did seem to go OK for awhile, once I finally got situated in my tube - first by belly-flopping onto it and riding downstream like a skydiver, then managing to reboard butt-first and tubing the way one normally does.
Well uh-oh, spillway alert! Water’s pounding over it … Wife and our two youngest Johnsons easily paddled into a chute and bypassed this dunker of cat jugglers. Me and the oldest Johnson didn’t see the chute and shot over the spillway. He did fine.
Now the way this story (and our vacation) ends is … cat juggler: capsized and under water. Cat juggler’s tube: somewhere downstream, never to be seen again. Cat juggler’s glasses - never to be seen again either, probably being worn by a fish somewhere in that cursed river.
Poor, pitiful, woeful me - with my 20-2,000 uncorrected vision, I was at the mercy of whoever would lead me around for the next 2 1/2 days, when I was able to procure new glasses.
Back in Brownwood, I couldn’t decide if it was a funny story (I didn’t really think so), and I asked several of the Johnson clan their opinions. Some said it wasn’t a funny story, but burst into laughter anyway; most thought it wasn’t not funny, laughing even harder than those in the first group.
“That’s hilarious,” Walter “Mr. Big” Johnson said. “Intrepid reporter getting swept under water and losing his glasses? That’s what you get for being a dork. You idiot! How could you do that to your family? Only you, Nash. … It’s not my job to salve your feelings.”
I told Walter Johnson that I might have become the only person to drown in the history of tubing on the Comal. “That would be pretty embarrassing for Brownwood, wouldn’t it?” Walter Johnson said.
James Johnson looked at me thoughtfully as I told the story, and said it was in the “not necessarily funny category … yet. It’s gotta be worked.”
James Johnson added some of his own description of the disaster, which was remarkably accurate for someone who wasn’t even there.
A lazy, leisurely, relaxing float down the river turned into my personal Poseidon adventure … “Up became down, down became up … it made you reflect on all the thousands of children whose vacations must have been cut short because their fathers became instantly optically challenged.
“It made you think of either floating frames or a TSO floating kiosk on the river so you can get your glasses back in an hour. … tumbling like an old sock in a dryer at the bottom of the dam. … the leader of the house, the man of the house, the role model for my kids, in less than a minute reduced to Mr. Magoo, churning and bobbing …”
It really wasn’t a failure, James Johnson explained, but a time for the cat juggler to realize his limitations, and “another example of a situation where you should let your wife be the lead. She seemed to know her way around the river, which is another opportunity to recognize she’s the boss.
“We’re getting there. I’d head down that angle with it,” James Johnson continued, noting the story was finally starting to get funny. “You couldn’t even negotiate a two-foot drop in an innertube. You’re in the infantry, boy.
“Unfortunately for the boys, the outdoor role model is mom.”
Ray Johnson said he’s been in the Comal and has gone over the same spillway. “Having been there, I can tell you there’s undertow,” Ray Johnson said.
Floating down the Comal, though, “is calming, it’s cool. It’s a place where someone as water illiterate as you can suffer the worst fate and live through it - and that is being over a three-foot spillway and you lived to tell about it,” Ray Johnson said.
“The best thing that happened is, it didn’t suck your shorts off.”
Jayme Johnson was, at first, sympathetic when I told the pathetic story. “It’s getting funnier the more we talk about it,” Jayme Johnson said. “At first I didn’t think it was funny. The more you hear it, the funnier it gets.”
A few Johnsons offered morsels of sympathy - but still thought it was funny. “I would say, yeah,” Nannelle Johnson said. “I’m sorry. It sounds like a bad day.
“I guess we all try to do things with our kids and they don’t turn out the way we think. It sounds like a string of bad luck when you’re trying to do good. It sounds like something that could happen to all of us.”
Gene Johnson offered a similar sentiment. “That’s was one of the worst series of events I can imagine,” Gene Johnson said. “I think it’s … since it happened to you and not me, it’s funny. But to you and yours I know it’s not. It’s hard for me to say in good conscience I think it’s funny.”
Finally I did receive some genuine concern: “I’m glad you made it out safely,” Ellis Johnson said.
Steve Nash writes his column for the Brownwood Bulletin on Thursdays. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.