Mary Ann and Nonie invite us for a boat ride to close out the summer. While there’s been rain all over the area for the last several weeks, Marble Falls has remained so dry that BURN BAN warnings have been posted at the entrance to every country road. Spending an afternoon surrounded by water sounds like a lovely relief.
They live on the Austin side of the Mansfield Dam, which is part of a chain of dams that are under the auspices of the Lower Colorado River Authority, the LCRA, which I’d never heard of before moving to this part of the world. But believe me, the LCRA is a mighty entity, controlling every aspect associated with every resource and recreational activity produced by the dams and their resulting lakes on the Lower Colorado River—parks, boating rules, safety, environmental stability, water usage, and water level; and, essential to the whole of central Texas, hydroelectric power. You don’t water your tomatoes here without LCRA approval.
Mary Ann’s house is located on a charming street that ends in a ramp from which they drop their boat right into Lake Austin. It’s worth a mention that the houses on the cul-de-sac are mostly older homes that are slowly being replaced by new-builds. Near to the water and near to Austin, the real estate prices are exorbitant. And, seen from the river, the grand mansions with walls of windows, rolling green lawns, and commissioned art works and follies are eye-catching; but also poignant in that you look at what is and you can’t help but see what once was. There is not a square foot of space along the waterfront that isn’t vulnerable to development.
Mary Ann is a hero of mine. She works for the Office of the Attorney General for the State of Texas, in the child support services and enforcement division. In addition to the noble way she earns her paycheck is the even more amazing fact that she has no flab or cellulite on her butt and thighs. I know this because I watch her as, in her bathing suit, she moves around the boat doing ski-prep. How can this be?
“Mary Ann, your butt and thighs look great,” I tell her. “How is that you have no flab or cellulite?”
She looks pleased and says thanks, but Nonie is the one who gives the answer: “It’s her squats. Oh, you ought to see her get after ’em. She squats when she’s putting the dog food down, when she brushes her teeth, when she’s working in the kitchen, when she’s gardening.”
I laugh at his word picture. Squats. Years and years of them, from the look of it. But I suspect there’s more to it than squats. Good genes, for sure. Also, I doubt she’s spent her whole adult life going up and down forty pounds in both directions. And skin stretches a lot better than it shrinks. I admire her, and I accept myself; and I let it go.
We all enjoy being on the water, which is smooth in some places and choppy in others. The reason Mary Ann owns and maintains a boat is because she loves to ski. She proudly shows us her new slalom, demonstrating how light and balanced it is. It’s a beauty. Because she’s been skiing for so very long, she’s comfortable with the equipment, and it’s no time before she’s rising from the froth and being pulled smoothly along.
She bumps back and forth across the wake, from far on one side of the boat to far on the other. Effortlessly graceful, confident, serene. Her beam of pure joy radiates from beyond the rope and forms a soft cloud of bliss that wafts over the whole of the blue ribbon.
A memory comes to mind. Just like this, we used to watch my mother ski. She wasn’t athletic. Watching the woman try to throw a ball was just embarrassing. But when she got up on that slalom, she was elegant and the elegance blossomed into a delight that infused every facet of her being. Her heart became weightless, her smile was huge, and for the period of time that she was skimming across the water, she was truly, deeply happy. Buoyant, she was lifted above life’s tensions; and there were always tensions—between her and us kids, between her and Daddy, between her and her co-workers; and ultimately the tensions she held within, her feeling of never being smart or productive enough, talented or strong enough. And because of her floating light heart, we in the boat, her appendages, were also lifted up, our spirits high above all the frictions and conflicts that she unknowingly scattered like small firecrackers in all directions and at all times. Except when she was skiing.
My mother at peace. A nostalgic tear.
Thanks, Mary Ann, for letting me watch you ski.