Merge Wright: Canoeing With The Zig Zag Brothers


Canoeing with the zig zag brothers

When I was a youngster growing up on the west side of Detroit in a very heavy industrialized neighborhood my dreams were water, water and more water. I wanted to swim when I first heard about it and wanted to go canoeing when I saw a picture in a book at age 5. When I reached my 9 and 10 years of life and had learned to swim and was on the swim team competing every year I decided to learn all about canoeing. 

That picture when I was 5, of a canoe, a dad and his two kid’s canoeing was telling me to get involved and learn about canoeing. Belle Isle in Detroit was a beautiful island with an amazing stream that flowed beautifully from one end to the other with great views around every corner. You had to pay $2 to rent a canoe for a few hours and had to be 14, years old. I was only 12, when I decided that after multiple visits to the local library I had determined that I knew how to drive/paddle a canoe safely and never tip over. And I did that one Thursday morning telling my grandmother who was raising my brother and I that I was going to play with Carl down the street. I left the house took two separate buses to Belle Isle about a 45 minute ride for ten cents. Went to the canoe livery and in minutes had my life vest on and was paddling a canoe for the first time. Yes at age 12 I met the love of my life a canoe. 

I canoed like an expert never hitting any objects, making turns perfectly, right, left, sitting in the middle of a small lake and filled with emotion for this beautiful life accomplishment at age 12. In my teens I had many dates canoeing at Belle Isle and listening to multiple concerts in the lake area. I canoed on several rivers in upstate Michigan and enjoyed them all. Getting married in 1967 and having children would bless me to the moon and back. I could not wait until our first two were 5, and 6. We were living in Twinsburg, Ohio and not far from the Cuyahoga River. We canoed up and down the river loving every trip more than the last. Our final year in Twinsburg the kids 9 and 7 now asked if their friends from across the street the Zarlino brothers could go with us. We’ve been telling them all our great stories over the years. They want to do it. OK, they were a little older 9 and 11 and very healthy looking youngsters and knew how to swim. I decided to give them a few simple lessons on paddling their canoe. I

t’s not difficult at all if you do exactly what I tell you I told them. A beautiful sunny day in July and we all head to the livery about 7:30 in the morning. We select our two canoes and life preservers and board the bus upstream to where we’ll launch into the river. Question from our bus driver when we arrive. Is there anyone here that has never canoed before? The Zarlino boys raise their hands. We meet at the rivers edge with our canoes and our bus driver/canoe instructor begins his ten minutes of the correct way to paddle your canoe down the river safely. Off we go everyone is excited. Upps the Zarlino boys are heading across the river to the bank, ohh no they are leaning to the right, they are tossed into the river and standing in 3 feet of water. I pull up in our canoe and explain no leaning again and right and left paddling. Their canoe sinks when they try to get back in tipping it over. 

Finally after about 20 minutes we’re ready. This time they move downstream about 50 yards and slam into the right bank. They are new at it so it’s taking them a few minutes to get the feel of the paddles and how they work. When the trip ended there had been 10 or 12, minor run ins or crashes into limbs or brush. They we’re safe, uninjured and shouting “We zigged when we were supposed to zag and zagged when we were supposed to zig but it was a great fun experience that we’ll never forget.” My son tells me that was it for the zig zag brothers never canoeing again. They are friends on FaceBook today.

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