Russian River Reverie

Near the Del Rio Dam, 1948. The author’s grandmother Lee McEnhill (center) is pictured holding hands with her son, Don McEnhill Sr., who was on leave from the Air Force at the time.

Awakened by a familiar thunking noise of canoe paddles banging on metal boats, the sounds of summer fill my ears as I half doze under an umbrella. I listen to the shrieks, splashes, and screams of children playing in the water, and a radio is faintly informing us the pitch count is 2 and 2 with someone on second. In the background, nature’s playing its soundtrack with the screeches of the osprey overhead, the cry of a killdeer on the beach, and the hypnotizing song of the Swainson’s Thrush in a tree nearby. It’s another hot lazy summer day when motivation for chores and work is nowhere to be found and the desire to relax is overwhelming. So I’m at the river.

Every family has its summer tradition. Ours always started a few days after school let out, when we’d load up the station wagon to spend some 90 days on the Russian River. Growing up, the rituals of the river began with moving out the field mice and spiders to make way for extended family at the summer cabin. The work didn’t end after that initial cleanup; each summer day started with a chore list dispatched by Mom. As soon as my siblings and I got the OK on chores, we disappeared to catch up with cousins and friends, but never with an agenda — it was just get down to the river to do whatever sounded like fun. Some days that meant catching frogs or turtles or crayfish. Some days it was seeing how many kids could pile into a raft before it sank or splashing the people canoeing by. Many days went back and forth between exploring nature’s wonders and just staying cool in the water.

Today much has changed in our family. We’re all grown up and have kids, my brother moved to Virginia, our aunts and uncles no longer have places near the river. But certain traditions endure. All 18 cousins I grew up with on the river and their kids now get together every summer for a reunion we like to call Lee’s Kids, after my Grandma Lee. We always go back and forth on what to eat for the dinners and who’s going to host them, but one thing is never, ever in question. As they say, location is everything, and our family reunion takes place where our hearts are. We meet at the river.

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