We’d waded through feelings of dread, anxiety, anger and impatience, a prelude of sorts to Hurricane Irma.Now, a day — or two … really, we didn’t know what day it even was — since she'd passed, we were wading into the brown waters of the Suwannee River.
We hadn’t bathed since Irma. We took our last showers Sunday evening. I took time to carefully shave my legs while wondering how long the hairs would grow without power, without a well pump to supply our water.
Going on hour 48 (or was it 72?) we’d had enough of the sticky, clinical-smelling wipes. Mom and Dad, clad in swimsuits, announced they were going to take a bath in the Suwannee.
I paired my worn sports bra with a floral bikini bottom and grabbed shorts to wash; I hadn’t packed enough clothes when we evacuated.
On the drive to the boat ramp, I soaked up the scene of the green pastures, the crisp sky, the sun setting in the rearview. It almost felt like fall. The cows seemed happy. I wondered how they’d survived the winds; they weigh a lot, I guess.
The boat ramp was unusually empty. It's gradual slope allowed us to wade into the Suwannee’s cold current.
The sun was quickly setting, and goosebumps covered my body. I decided I couldn’t go past my belly button; that’s the hardest part to submerge. So I hung my head forward into the water and then lathered my greasy hair with shampoo.
Icy river water ran down my back.
About that time an older white F-150 pulled up. A couple likely in their fifties, aged by life, hobbled out and headed towards the bottom of the ramp.
Mind if we join ya? The woman asked.
She explained they lived on up the road and were also without power. She gingerly set her shower caddy and towels on the side of the ramp while her husband waded right on into the river and dove under.
Wooooo, we collectively exhaled for him.
“Been doin’ it 57 years…” he trailed when he came up.
This was Bill and Larri. Larri with an ‘i,’ and, no, it’s not short for anything.
I sudsed up a washcloth with Dove soap — didn’t bring Ivory, amateur mistake — and listened to everyone around me chat about Irma.
Boy, we dodged a bullet.
Man, were we lucky.
I learned that Bill is a barber in town. He was born and raised here. You know that camper you see down here at the boat ramp in the summers? That’s his. That’s where he camps. Just down the highway from his home.
Larri’s mom’s name is Jerri. She has sisters, something like Barri and Carri. Larri gave herself a haircut last year, and it’s a good thing she did because it’s easier to wash now. Larri doesn’t drink, but she’s been holed up with her mother-in-law, and she had a few cocktails before coming down for her evening scrub.
She decides to trod deeper into the river.
“Jiminy Cricket!” she exclaims.
We all laugh.
The conversation wanders; welcomed chuckles echo on the other side of the otherwise quiet river.
At one point, a sturgeon jumps and pounds the river with its natural armor.
It feels good to be friends with nature again, to connect with strangers over what could have been a catastrophic event, to be thankful, to take a deep breath and let the cold water splash up on my face and wash away those faded tears from the past week.
As we bundle up in towels and barrel towards the last bit of sunshine that’s left, another truck pulls up. It’s a younger couple with four little girls. A few hop out of the bed of the truck. One carries a stuffed animal, a brown dog. The family just needed to get out, the man says.
We leave Bill and Larri to charm them, to recap the storm, the downed trees, the loss of power. To talk about their line of work, their favorite camping spots, their siblings’ names and the mother-in-law waiting back home.