So far, Debbie and I have been able to carry on this tradition with our kids - for 40 years. Our adult children have traveled thousands of miles every year so we could meet at a cabin on a lake in Mississippi where the rules at the Thanksgiving table have never changed. Whether you are five or fifty, you’d better be able to remember 10 things that happened during the year that you were thankful for.
Now that I am the patriarch of this clan, I find myself listening more and more to the grandkids and paying attention to what they are thankful for from the following year. You know what? In a world that seems to be dominated by technology, it’s been fascinating to hear what today’s teenagers remember about the previous year.
“I’m thankful for the Ryals annual catfish tourney, and how my cousin had a bigger fish than I did, but it was wrapped up in a log and we couldn’t get to him, so I won” said 10-year-old Parker.
Yes, we make it a tradition for each grandchild to decorate their own jug the night before Thanksgiving, and we scatter them around Turkey Creek. Whoever has the biggest catfish pulling his jug around the next morning gets to go shopping on Grandpa.
Another grandchild said, “I’m thankful for that wreck we found in shallow water so we took a break from sailfish fishing to all put on masks and jump in to explore it.” And another, “I’m thankful for all the dolphin and sailfish we caught on summer vacation.” I think my dad’s ancestors were probably thankful for much different things than my grandchildren could ever imagine. Living outdoors was much more a necessity than choice back then. Exciting vacations were not priority for them.
As for me, my list is always pretty simple. It always centers around family time outdoors. I was working way too hard a few years ago, and I shouldn’t have been shocked when a predictable heart attack changed everything. I was still in the hospital when I knew what I had to do. I had to build a boat, and I had to get it started immediately. I was suddenly aware I had nine grandsons who had never seen a tail walking sailfish. They had never seen the sunrise from twenty miles offshore. They had never visited a remote north Florida marsh island filled with wild hogs. I absolutely had to build a boat to start making memories with them.
For our family, and where we live, our 27-foot Young powered by twin 200-horsepower Yamaha’s has been just the ticket. We fish her 68 miles offshore Jacksonville, and 20 miles upriver in 2 feet of water. Scalloping over on the west coast near Crystal River has become an annual ritual. The kids’ grandmother has 64-year-old eyes, and she can’t spot the scallops in the weeds. The boys get great fun out of swimming just ahead of her and dropping scallops she will be certain to find. Perhaps my favorite trips with the older, more experienced grandsons are those we run for the “Florida Sportsman’s®, Fishing for Fighters” program, sponsored by Yamaha. That’s when we spend a day catering to either wounded combat veterans, or families from all around the world with children going through treatments at the University of Florida® Proton Center. The trips are catered around the physical capabilities of our guests, but the lessons for the boys are invaluable. I want them to spend a day with people that have made actual physical sacrifices for our freedom or be exposed to families that are fighting battles most of us can only imagine.
Look, I’ve spent most of my career in the fishing and boating business, so trust me, I understand the cost of owning, and maintaining a boat of any size can be a challenge. As for me, I needed a wakeup call to remind me that I may only have a few dollars, but I don’t have any idea how few healthy days I have left to spend making memories with the kids, thanking a veteran, or giving a family a day away from their troubles.
Now that we’ve had our boat for seven years, all our kids, and grandkids have caught plenty of fish, and we’ve made a lifetime of memories. I think they’ve all gained some gratitude for their country and our amazing lives. I just hope when my time comes, one of them calls Turkey Creek and makes reservations for Thanksgiving weekend. Some family traditions need to go on forever.
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