Excuse me, can I have your attention? Everyone? Please?
While you all make sure you have a beer or other refreshment handy for a toast, I want to say a few words about what brings us here to celebrate this special day.
Twenty-one years ago today, a new addition to our family came home for the first time, and I gotta tell you, it was pretty special for me. A life-changer like none other.
I remember pulling in the driveway all teared up, nervous. Tense. Unsure how to take on this new identity.
From those first seconds together, I knew I didn't know exactly what I was doing, but I was sure this was the right decision.
I was 26 at the time and ready to settle down and take on new responsibilities. Be in charge of something more than just myself, and you were absolutely perfect for that.
And it seems like you instantly became my best fishing buddy, just like I always hoped you would.
Before you, I was usually just out flogging the waters by myself, trodding around the Rogue River in search of salmon and steelhead. That was always so solitary and a great escape from the drudgeries of the day, but none of that seemed nearly as important as being on the water with you.
You were certainly a handful at first. Kind of wild and unpredictable, but that was probably due more to my lack of experience than to your shiny youth. You were young and all over the place, and I was supposed to be the adult, but it was more like I was just along for the ride.
Though pretty frantic at times, I knew the more time we spent together the easier I'd be able to steer you down the proper path with the Rogue, our river, as the ultimate classroom.
After a while it was pretty clear that you were born to be on that river even more than I was. Over the ensuing years together, we found all those little steelhead hot-spots that most others passed on or never realized were there.
Remember that first time we pulled into that tiny slot against the alders upstream of Paddigan's Hole on the upper Rogue? You put that fly right under the tree limb and BAM, that 10-pounder hit like a ton of bricks.
We hooked steelhead in that spot, what, 11 or 12 straight trips that summer? Then that alder fell in and screwed up the slot to where we fished it for a few more summers, but ultimately it kind of fell off our radar screen.
But we always seemed to find new spots like that. Still do.
Of course, we didn't always see eye-to-eye in some of your teenage years. And there were times we just kind of brushed past each other coming and going in the mornings and evenings, but age has a way of helping everyone come to understand what's important.
I'm glad we figured that out together, and even though we don't get on the river as much as we'd expect, there's still no one I'd rather share the Rogue with than you.
Some days I doubted you'd even make it to 21, considering that risk-taking is in your DNA, your mettle. At the same time, I always believed that you'd get to here and beyond, and I must say I'm a better man with you than without you.
I know you're finally 21, and this isn't your first beer. You never could hide anything from me.
But this one's for you — not for navigating your first 21 years, but to your future. And I want to be as much a part of it as I have been up to now.
So raise a glass, everyone, for this special 21st birthday salute.
To my driftboat. Willie.