The best air mattress, wide and long, with the reminiscent smell of a sturdy Goodyear tire, tried and true. Every seam of the mattress was sealed to perfection, above and beyond the rest of any just plain water toy.
The green mattress had the feel of suede. Surely, this rubberized canvas was sea worthy if a mast could be installed without puncturing the sturdy fabric. Standing on the edge of the beach, looking out over the Gulf, one could imagine launching the float towards Cuba and arriving, if only to push up on the foreign soil for just a moment before discovery.
Landfall in Cuba brought to mind the struggle of the old man and the sea, and his daily tin can of hot coffee for breakfast before sunrise, another day searching, using the handmade ropes to capture the glory fish of his last days after a lifetime of just enough.
My imagination would be only a slight match for the old man's small wooden skiff. The race of a silver blue fish out into the Gulf, caught in an unknown trap, a heavy load to shake off. The old fisherman's gnarled hands gripping the endowed rope, the prize finally within his seasoned grasp. The untamed, unchallenged will of the wild fighting with every cell this unknown outcome.
The stillness of the sea, the unshadowed sun, the scavengers of the defeated. The strength of anger to raise an oar and strike at nature's predators circling and circling. The real one that couldn't get away.
The call to come in, dragging the air mattress behind me, leaving stripes in the sand as I turn towards evening camp chores. When my parents were still drinking coffee around the fire, Sister and I would head to bed. Finally tucked into my cozy sleeping bag on top of the taut mattress, the worst sound would be the barely discernible buzz of air escaping. Or the high pitched noise might be a blood thirsty mosquito dive bombing my ear. At this point in the trip, a mosquito was the preferred option. With rolling over came the realization that morning would find me on the surface of the topography of this campsite with only a tarp and a canvas floor as a cushion between me and the hard, rocky ground. Nothing is flatter than a flat air mattress that has given up the ghost, slowly all night long.
When camping, we had exactly what we needed, carefully thought out for the two week trek to the echoing Colorado mountains or the Atlantic Ocean. Year after year, my mother mapped out a trip months ahead of time, sending letters inquiring about the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde and the free maps offered by the different states we would travel through. Or procuring tickets to visit The White House and The Capitol. (We didn't camp while in Washington, D.C. but going and coming.) Those mattresses were packed and unpacked many trips.
|On the trails in Colorado|
Campsite unloading. Always a happy family time. The folded mattresses would be put on the concrete table. We didn't have anything resembling an air pump but two pairs of lungs. Oh the joy for the lucky children who got to blow up the mattresses. But the campsite was not up and running until the "beds" had been made in the tent.
Blowing up the mattress would make me dizzy. My cheeks would hurt. I would blow and blow and see little result. I would throw out a complaint which would not usually be noticed by parents placing stakes and smoothing the tarp. I can still hear the sound of the heavy green canvas tent unfolding and becoming a shelter against the wilds of the wilderness like bears and cougars and skunks and hurricanes.
Immense effort continued in my physically exhausting attempt to get that float finished. Sister would be working on her air mattress. I don't know if it was the time expended in achieving the result or the burning lungs and exhaustion after the fact. Toting water back to the campsite from the distant water spigot. Shining a skinny flashlight down the camp road to get to the facilities in the middle of the night. Waiting for the rain to stop while staring at the green canvas, not daring to touch the sides and start a horrible leak. Blowing up the air mattress was the least favorite of the unfavorites.
But suddenly the welded rubber seams would straighten up and the flat columns of air would pop and I would quickly close off the brass nozzle. The stress and struggle would result in something that would hold me up as I floated in the nearby lake, laying across it sideways, dangling my legs into the water which got cooler as I went farther out. Or laying down on the mattress as I bobbed across salt water, soft waves on a quiet sea running underneath.
But without the stress and the struggle I would only have a flat piece of suede-like rubber.
When life gets hard, look for a buffer. Don't lay down on rocks covered only by a plastic sheet and canvas. Pour the stress, anxiety and pain into something that can lift you just inches above the uneven surface. Without the tension of the trapped air, the mattress can't inflate.
You can be standing on your little Ship of Life and a rogue wave knocks you into the water. Lady Overboard! For a minute I flounder before I remember I can swim. The best air mattress is thrown my way and I grab it and hang on tight, kicking out of the deep water. Finally on top, I lay back resting on the pillow, as my tears of panic dry under the glory of the sun.
Originally posted 4-3-14