The year I was born in 1954, Hemingway came to Africa once again. He was older then and was drinking heavily. He came with Mary and they planned a safari together. He also wished to visit his son, who was living in Tanganyika. The visit came unfortunately in the midst of Kenya’s Mau-Mau rebellion. It was a violent uprising against the British colonialists. Papa almost died, but it had nothing to do with the Mau-Mau. On the flight from Nairobi to the Congo, his plane had several emergency landings.
Then they had not one, but two life-threatening crashes in Uganda. They survived, but were injured after the plane went up in flames. Feeling the bad vibes, they made a decision to return to the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi.
I built a raft once and decided to float down the small creek near my home place through the center of my small town and from there I had no plans. I worked for days strapping the small logs I had cut with my own axe. I used pieces of rope and knots taught to me by my brother. I had found in the trash at a local hardware store. I conscripted a friend who worked cheap. He just liked to hear my adventure stories and get a free bottle of pop. We labored for a few days and then sealed the gaps with some roofing tar I found in our smokehouse. We smoked grape vines and corn silks in a corn cob pipe and talked like grownups as we sweated.
After stocking up with supplies which meant filling up an old pillowcase with peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a few pieces of peanut putter fudge, and a jug of water, I christened the vessel with an old milk bottle after we drug her to the creek bank. A day filled with thunderstorms had caused the normally shallow creek to rise to a level that would provide some real exciting activity. We stepped on board with a paddle made from an old broom that had stiffened after we used it to apply the roofing tar. I raised a toast to one of Tennessee’s favorite sons, Davy Crockett, and after we both took big slugs from a coke, we pushed off. We made it around a couple of rocky torrents and then hit one smack dab in the middle. All of our work went down in one big crunching sound and then we found ourselves sitting on the bottom with the bluegill.
The entire voyage had been less than a minute and a half in duration and maybe a hundred yards. That sorry beginning was only one of a thousand journeys that had taken an unfortunate turn in my lifetime. The list is endless. Breakdowns, accidents, cancellations are just a few of the variables that have impeded me. Hindered me, but not stopped me. I understand exactly how the Hemingways must have felt when they arrived at a safe and familiar haven and climbed between two clean sheets and thanked their lucky African stars.