I don’t know who fired the first shot, but I do know when and where the war began. It was in 1991, at Fontana Resort in North Carolina at the ninth Pryor Family Reunion. The war continued for decades; family “water warriors” from five states gathering once every two years for great battles with intermittent skirmishes among members of the clan in several other locations between reunions.
Back in the day, humans roamed the landscape on foot. We were nomadic individual families that turned into clans that turned into tribes that, with a steady birth rate and population increases, eventually turned into nations. The personalities of dominate family members shaped the family as a whole, which in time, evolved into distinct, cultural qualities of clan, tribe, and nation. Today’s family is no different than the families of early humankind.
Water is essential to all plant, animal, and human life. But our clan took it a step further, and no, I’m not talking about baptism, although that is an important component to our clan. I’m talking about the “Water Wars of Pryor Reunions,” which might be considered our cultural distinction.
In Great Britain there was the “Hundred Years’ War,” which led to the “War of the Roses,” which led to the “Seven Year’s War…” all that death and mayhem can wear a body down. And don’t forget our little dust-up with our English cousins starting in 1775. But the marked difference between the civil wars of nations and the Pryor Reunion “Water Wars” is that no one died. There was an occasional injury, but that was usually a stubbed toe from running barefoot or a bashed noggin from running into a tree while taking cover.
In honor of the recent passing of my Uncle Tad Wyckoff into the heavenly realms, I give him credit for the idea of starting the “Water Wars” at our family reunion in Fontana, N.C., and for firing the first shot heard round the world. He was the mischievous instigator. Team-Uncle Tad, which consisted of my brother Cris, U.T., and me, slipped out of the family dinner undetected. We went to our cabin, gathered our munitions, loaded up the ”water barrels,” and got into the car; Uncle Tad in the back seat, I in the front seat, and Cris driving the getaway vehicle.
With darkness as our friend, we lay in wait as the families unsuspectingly strolled down the road after dinner and split off to their respective cabins. Cris drove us by those families we knew would appreciate, yea verily, enjoy this sort of sport; a perfect activity on a hot summer night. We rolled down our windows, and like the old black and white gangster movies, we unleashed H2O hell. Yes, it was a senseless drive-by soaking.
The gauntlet had been tossed. The “Water Wars” declared. With each reunion that followed, Uncle Tad would visit the toy stores or go online to purchase the latest models of super-soakers months in advance. We would study the locations and layouts of each facility where a reunion was to be held for the coming year to determine what could be classified as a “war zone” and what was considered a “wet-free zone.” Some of the people in our families frowned on the notion of being soaked…party poopers.
We would plot and scheme optimal positions for surprise attacks and always were prepared for the unexpected ambush from other family members. We could have drained or filled swamps with the amount of water used to drench the “enemy.” The cover picture for this story was taken by my brother Cris at the Pryor Reunion in 1997 at Salt Fork State Park in Cambridge, Ohio just before we stormed the cabin of our Colorado family.
The last time Uncle Tad wore his stars and stripes outfit was at Lauren and Erik’s wedding in 2007. We had rented Hidden Hollow Resort for the weekend. The property included a four acre lake equipped with paddle boats, a dock, and a rope swing. Even though it was not an official family reunion, there was enough family (and good friends who were game), to warrant a time of all-out water battles. You think with an unlimited supply of water, plenty of weapons, and an armada of paddle boats that we would let that opportunity go to waste?
During a lull in the battles, Lauren and her bridesmaids lined up at the rope swing, and one-by-one, took flight over the pond and dropped into the lake. They began to form a cluster just beyond the drop-zone, treading water as they cheered on the next rope-swinger. Lauren was the last to fly over the watery abyss and make her splash.
Then it was Uncle Tad’s turn. He grabbed the rope in his left hand, but before he launched out, one of the bridesmaids began to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in honor of Uncle Tad’s patriotic swimming attire. He immediately came to attention and saluted. All the bridesmaids joined in the song…a chorus of water nymphs honoring the red, white, and blue patriot. And then he flew off into the wild blue yonder creating a wake with his splash that rocked the paddle boats floating around the “drop zone.”
In Uncle Tad’s last days, the immediate family would sit at his bedside and read cards and e-mails sent to him from family all over the country. Of course, everyone had an “Uncle Tad” story to tell (many recounted their various reunion baptisms at his hand), several of them humorous, all of them celebrating the joyful exuberance of his true nature: his generosity, his readiness for mischief, his quick wit, the kindness of his spirit that never ran empty and always on offer to family and friend. He was truly everyone’s uncle.
I have often said over the years to anyone within earshot regarding the likes of Uncle Tad, “Every family should have an Uncle Tad.” We were just the lucky ones to have gotten him. Flights of angels escorted his soul to the heavens on March 2, 2020, but the memories of his high-spirited life remain with us forever.
Cover Photo by Cris Arnold just before the battle of 1997. Notice how dry U.T.’s clothes are, and those sexy legs with the sock demarcation circles just above ankles.