The six of us waited in line to hang priceless ornaments as our mother unwrapped them from tissue paper. An evergreen took up half our living room Not because the tree was so large. Because our living room was so small. That was a long, long, time ago. Over the course of my life, December twenty-four has been our family Christmas. The holiday hosted by my parents. The last twelve of these great get togethers were held at their condo. And for the last ten of these successful soirees, it was only our matriarch running the show. In January of 2019 she too left this world. And just like that. The universe changed again. The coveted date of December twenty-four has been relinquished. It belongs to the new generation. That is why, the first weekend in August is now, Keeler Christmas Eve. No presents. No strings attached. Come as you are. Unless you think you can pull off a bikini made of floss. The trial run was in the Upper Peninsula, more commonly known as the UP. A familiar place that we have all gathered as families in our pasts. The same picnic table is there. The one that Jonsie, my nephew, asked his grandpa, my dad, which fish in the book of fish they were studying, was called a keeper. I would first of all like to give a shout out to my baby brother, Pitter, for his forward thinking and great initiative in creating, The 2019 Jan Keeler Memorial Tubing Event. I would also like to applaud my other little brother, Tee-Jay featured in the above photo, for his assistance on their trial run in kayaks. Helping out with inflating eighteen innertubes and also helping to secure them into and on top of a couple of vehicles, while the rest of us listened to the sound of an air compressor up top for hours while we floated about on the water with our Bloody Marys, wondering how in the hell those two hooligans thought they were going to transport all those blown up monsters, anywhere. And how they thought they could pull the whole thing off. I was pretty sure they could do it. It turns out there were sixteen takers, about half the crowd that had made the journey from Georgia, Kentucky, and Wisconsin, who agreed to go on an adventure of a lifetime. The entire jaunt was 1.5 miles as a crow flies. Estimated time to float from point A to point B, two hours. The quick thinking on the part of my little brothers was to purchase three floating beer holders. They resembled Styrofoam noodles. These noodles however came with straps and were hollowed out with a cap on the end. Each could hold six cans of beer. Yes, it's true. The sky was filling up with clouds. But our cell phones assured us that the cell coming our way would not arrive overhead until 5:00 PM. By our calculations we had a half hour of clearance. My daughter-in-law, Nicolette, parked her car at the take out site. The vehicle shufflers joined the rest of the mob at point A. Eventually we were all settled into our floating apparatuses. "We will be getting out at the Highway 2 bridge," my sister-in-law, Marguerite, announced. "Not the railroad bridge." "To you Jan Keeler!" someone toasted. "Merry Christmas!" We held our beers in the air with tears in our eyes. A slight breeze pushed my tube upstream. I paddled my way back into the group. And we were off. It wasn't exactly a shot gun start. The going was very slow. Like, not moving, slow. I couldn't imagine ever going under the bridge that was in sight from the get go. I glanced over at the joyful crowd. "Louisa," I yelled to my sister. She was floating, head back on her tube, eyes closed, beloved new personally engraved Yetti in hand, and in her own little world. "You coming?" I said. "I am chilling," she answered. "I am on vacation." Between you and me, there is no messing with Louisa. When she was a kid, she refused to swing the bat. "If I do, I am just gonna strike out!" she screamed to the entire neighborhood in the tiny backyard. As you can imagine, without an umpire, this scene can go on for a long time. Until your mother finally sends your father out the door. Well, neither were available. So. The first set of rapids was right after that bridge. "You are gonna wanna keep your butts up," advised Tee-Jay. And then we were like a bunch of happy little bumper cars bouncing off boulders. Jonsie was the first one to take a spill. I could see him up river trying to get back into his tube. It looked like a struggle on the slippery rocks underneath. I heard later that the bill of his hat saved him from what could have been a nasty injury. "Are there more rapids coming?" I asked my brother. "Yeah, like ten more sets." "Sweet," I said and took a sip of my warm beer. As the river wore on, our entourage formed into a front section, a middle section, and a rear. It appeared that Louisa and my son Marques, were in the way back. No one had seen them for a while. I wasn't worried. I knew my baby was guarding my little sister. I did however want a new beer. The only noodle cooler in sight was up ahead with my brother Calvin and my sister-in-law Sher. I made my way toward them. But then, rumor had it that Cher had packed one glass bottle of beer, prohibited on the river, for my brother and mineral water into their noodle. WTF? My baby sister Kiki and my twenty-one year old granddaughter, Oceanne, who was wearing a bikini and rubber boots, were close behind. A deer crossed the river up ahead. The sky rumbled. The breeze picked up. And another set of rapids appeared. Laughter and screams could be heard up and down the water. We zigged and we zagged, bouncing from rock to rock and from shore to shore. Whichever way the current took us, we went. And every so often the current took us into dead end pockets. Once one landed in still water one had to push and one had to paddle one's way back out into the current. An hour and a half of floating had gone by. "Is that thunder?" "Either that, or rumble strips out on the highway," said Calvin. I pushed myself off a tree branch that was mercilessly attacking me. Back into the middle I spun. I watched Kiki fight with the exact same tree. She spun out to the middle just as I had done. "Hey, look there's a railroad bridge up ahead." We in the front section wondered what that meant. We weren't getting out at a railroad bridge, but that was all we knew about a railroad bridge. Another set of rapids appeared. This time I got hung up on a big rock. With much effort, I was able to push myself off. And when I did, the current picked me up and flung me to the left. Over the shoot I flew. I believe I was airborne before I crash landed and a wave went over the top of my head. The sky was growing very, very, dark. An ominous gray. And the constant rumbling was a constant reminder that our time without a storm, was running short. The breeze was now classified as wind. Goose bumps covered my over sunned skin. Kiki screamed. I twirled around and saw her fly into the same wave as I had. Ahead Calvin and Sher and their tubes were parked on the rocky left bank. They were under a bridge. "Do you think this is highway 2?" "Probably, but I don't see any car anywhere." I hoofed my way up the steep hill and walked a long path through tall grass, all the way out to the road. There was nothing to see. I turned around. And there on the other side of the river at the top of the other hill, was Nicolette's car. "Halelujia!" I turned and ran back down the path. And found Kiki there refusing to get back into her tube after receiving a couple of nice sized bruises while trying to get out of it. She was a slipping and a sliding and a bitching with that southern twang of hers. We managed to get her back in the thing and we pulled her through the current to the other side where Jonsie successfully pulled her out to safety. The rest of the pack was arriving a couple tubes at a time. But. There was no sign of Marques. And. There was no sign of Louisa. Thunder rumbled loudly. Wind blew. With purple lips we tried to deflate our innertubes. And there was still no sign of Marques and or Louisa. It began to sprinkle. Tee-Jay who had ventured upstream to investigate finally yelled, "Hey! I think I see Louisa!" The crowd cheered. And after another long delay. "I see Marques! He is behind her." As the wind whipped around us we sat on our semi deflated innertubes. "Maybe we should poke holes in them." Louisa stood there in a trance. Her white cover up and sneakers were covered in mud. "Are you okay?" I asked. "I don't want to talk about it," she snapped. The other vehicles began to arrive. Innertubes, towels and people hopped aboard, just as the rain came pelting down. Doors slammed shut, and we were off, driving back through windshield wipers. It was later that night. Around the campfire, where the stories started to spill. Kiki for one said, "Well, I thought we were going tubing. You know, when you get pulled behind a boat." "Ha ha ha ha." "We are going to do that tomorrow." "Oh," she says. Marques turns to me and starts talking. "Louisa completely disappeared from view. So, I pulled over and sat on a rock. I stayed there for about ten minutes. And when she still didn't show up, I figured something was wrong. So, I parked my innertube on the shore and started walking upstream to find her. I went quite a way before I saw anything. And then there she was. She was out of her tube and trying trying to walk on the slippery rocks. She was falling all over the place. By the time I got to her, which by the way wasn't easy, I had a hell of a time getting her back into that tube. Finally I said, Louisa, just fall over like you have been doing and you will land inside it." "And?" "And, thank God, she did." "Why in the hell did you get out of your tube?" I said to Louisa. "Because I was scared," she says. "All of a sudden it was real quiet. I opened my eyes. I looked around and there was nobody in sight. I was all alone out there, Millie." "Yeah." "Well, it was scary." "Oh." "It was!" "Why didn't you just stay in your tube? The current would have brought you to us." "I didn't know it was a bend up ahead. It looked like the river ended. So, I got out of my tube and I was trying to get to shore to find some help. I even threw my Yetti out. I didn't want the extra weight dragging me down." "You threw out your brand new Yetti. The one you just got with your name engraved? You must have been in shock." "I was." "Holy shit," I said. "You waited a week for that thing to come," I said, looking at the Yetti she was holding on her lap. "I know. It came floating back to me. It was my Wilson," she says. "My one and only friend. I was so happy to see it. I snatched it right up." "And then?" "Well, I finally got to the shore and then I just sat there for about ten minutes trying to figure out what to do next. And then way in the distance I could see a man. So, I got up and started walking toward him. I was going to ask him if he could please contact my family." "Seriously?" "It was Marques!" The fire continued to crackle in front of all of us. S'mores were out of the way. Different sizes and shapes of all kinds of bottles were making their way around the family circle. A few were playing, a duck and a couple of geese. My mom's ashes and her picture were sitting on the picnic table. And then it was time. Before a Red Solo cup with some of our beloved leader's remains were sprinkled along the shoreline, anyone who so chose to, had their chance to say a word or two. What all was said in that first new Christmas Eve ceremony, is a little fuzzy. But, something that sticks with me is what Bri, Jonsie's other half, had to say. "Thank you," she said. "I never got to meet this woman you call, Grandma Jan. But I would like to thank her, for all of you." Grandma Jan would have liked that girl. The campfire continued to crackle into the dark. Our tears began to dry. And once again, laughter could be heard clear across Lake Mary into the wee hours. "A duck." "A duck." "A duck." "A duck. A couple of geese." "A duck. A couple of geese." "A duck. A couple of geese." "A duck. A couple of geese." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens. Four big brown bear." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens. Four big brown bear." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens. Four big brown bear." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens. Four big brown bear." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens. Four big brown bear. Five fat females fixing for a fight." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens. Four big brown bear. Five fat females fixing for a fight." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens. Four big brown bear. Five fat females fixing for a fight." "A duck. A couple of geese. Three French hens. Four big brown bears. "DRINK!" "What'd I do wrong? "Bears. There is no s. "Well, shit." On our way home I said to my sweet Sven, "Next year you should come on the tubing event." "Why? It sounds like it was horrible." "What?" "Well, all that stuff that happened to Louisa." "Oh Sven. Only my family could have turned that cute little float-a-thon into a sequel to Deliverance." And they all lived happily ever after. "Hey, did anybody else see that sign on the river?" "What sign?" "The one that said, DO YOU HEAR BANJOS YET?" "For real?" "Yeah."