I Remember Dad: Remembering the Delaware River

By Richard Mabey Jr.

Of all of my memories that I shared with my Dad, our many week-long trips canoeing down the Delaware River, hold a most dear and precious place in my heart. Oh, to just go back to share that old canoe with Dad, for just an hour. For just one solitary hour. I’d give an eye tooth to relive just one hour of floating along the wide and glorious Delaware River with Dad.

From the Summer of 1967, when I was 13, till the Summer of 1971, when I was 17; Dad and I traversed the mighty Delaware River every year. The senior scouts of Boy Scout Troop 170 would begin the week-long canoe trip in New York State at the town of Hancock and end at the Delaware Water Gap.

I had just graduated from Chapel Hill School in Lincoln Park, the summer that Dad and I took our first canoe trip down the Delaware with Troop 170. I was very nervous about what high school was going to be like. To say I was nervous, doesn’t quite define it. I was scared out of my skull. I was a nervous wreck. I had heard horror stories of the legacy of Boonton High School, from some of my older friends.

It was during my week-long canoe trip with my Dad that I had this wonderful time to talk to Dad about my fears and anxieties about starting high school. All that week, Dad assured me that I was going to be okay. That I was a good student and that I would continue to get good grades in high school.

There was something very special about sharing a canoe with my Dad for one full week. I took command of the front of the canoe and Dad took on the role of look out, in the back of the canoe. It is not an easy thing to take command of a canoe, paddling and drifting along the current, in the powerful Delaware River. There are spans where the water is peaceful and the current is relative calm. Yet there are other places in the Delaware that are like a roller coaster. One such rough spot along the Delaware River is a stretch called Skinners Falls.

There are quite a few video accounts of canoes riveting through Skinners Falls on YouTube. I think it was canoeing through the rough, white water rapids of Skinners Falls that my Dad and I developed a greater respect for each other. Skinners Falls is as rough as any roller coaster ride. But here’s the catch, there’s no safeguard at all. You are totally on your own. And it takes all your strength, all your wits, all your quick reflexes to avoid the massive boulders that abound in this stretch of the Delaware River.

I remember as we plowed through Skinners Falls, Dad would shout out to me, “Richie, rocks to the left, steer us to the right, quick!” Or Dad would shout out something like, “You’re doing good, Richie, stay alert, you got this!”

Right after all the scouts successfully survived Skinners Falls, Dad called all the scouts to beach in their canoes and take a breather. As Dad and I steered our canoe toward the shoreline, I remember my father said to me in a most sincere voice, “Richie, I’m proud of you son. You did a good job back there.” It meant the world to me, to have my Dad say that to me.

My father was such a good-hearted man. He firmly believed in the adage that it is better to teach a young boy morals and the right way than to try to straighten a wayward man. My father used the scouting program to teach hundreds of boys to love and respect nature. To be self-reliant. And to help other people in their time of need. 

In memory, I cherish the times I spent with Dad hiking, camping and canoeing with Boy Scout Troop 170. I am most grateful that I had a father who was willing to take the time to teach me the good principles of scouting. My memories of scouting have often helped me to get through life’s tough times.

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