A TRIP TO SHASTA LAKE ONE BIG FAMILY AFFAIR

September 13, 2002 11:00 pm

Bea Batten said her large family's recent house boat trip to Shasta Lake started out really hot.

"That day, I'm telling you, when it was 108, I was thinking, ‘this isn't too wise!' " she said. It was their first day out, and fortunately, the boat was air-conditioned, and they all had a wonderful time, she said.

About half of Batten's "family" was actually residents of Batten's Foster Home in Brookings. She said the five physically and mentally challenged adults who live at her home in Brookings are family to her.

"Four of my folks have no family at all," she said. "I've had Raymond (Diebele) and Eva (Christman) in my home since 1982. I made a commitment to have (all the residents) in my home as long as they want to be here."

Their eight-day boat trip, beginning Aug. 16, started with a drive to Medford to go to the mall and spend the night in a motel.

"Everybody loves to stay in the motel," Batten said. "We have to do that."

Batten takes some of the residents on a house boat trip on Shasta Lake, 16 miles north of Redding, about every two years. They first went in 1997 and it was a big hit. This was the first year all the residents went.

Batten said her daughter, Sharron Merwin, who works at the home, "turned us on to boating – she goes with her church friends on a house boat."

Merwin added, "The first trip I did so my mom and all the residents would have a vacation."

Merwin piloted the house boat and brought her own little boat along. Batten said zipping around in it is one of the residents' favorite things on the trip. "Raymond loves to go out on that boat," she said.

"My kids helped out a lot," Merwin said. "My son Joey drove my boat around, the Bayliner. He's our boat man. He's 18. Eva's afraid of the water, but she got in the paddle boat. She loves it."

She also loves the time off from work, Merwin said. Christman works at McDonald's.

One thing Batten said pleased her about the trip was the variety of ages that shared the fun on the excursion. Merwin's 14- and 18-year-old came, and two of their friends came later. The last two days Batten's 11-year-old grandson and 1-year-old great-grandson came, and her other daughter, Karen Andreason, came later.

"So on the last day we had (from) 82 down to 1 year. That's pretty neat!" she said. "I call that mixing generations."

Batten said that Doris Williamson, the 82-year-old resident, loved all the children coming and going because they treated her like their grandma. She remembered Williamson saying, "I just don't understand – I'm not a mother and I get to be a grandmother."

"It's her first vacation since she's been with us," Batten said, "but she did so well. She's afraid to get out of her environment." Williamson did not remember the trip when asked. But when Batten pulled out the snapshot of William-son beaming on a deck chair, remembrance appeared to flood her face.

Chris Sorvaag said he enjoyed doing a lot of fishing on the trip.

"Chris and my daughter, Jessica, fished the first few days," Merwin said. "He helped her with her line." But he said his favorite part of living on a boat was "just sitting back and laying back, and sleeping."

The other Chris, Kris Fosmark, loves to swim, said Merwin. "He's very social, and was so glad to be going that he was cheerful."

Fosmark, who rarely talks, let it be known that he wanted the top bunk of the only bunk bed, Merwin said. He is about 6-feet tall, and she was amused watching him trying to get into the bunk.

Batten said she liked the ease and delicious results of cooking meals on a grill on the deck.

"We had steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecued chicken, pork spare ribs. We wrapped corn on the cob in foil and put it on the grill. It was so good." She said that eating, along with rides in Merwin's boat, were the resident's favorite pastimes.

"We had popcorn at night when watching videos. Popcorn and movies and sodas go together – we had lots of soda."

Batten said none of the residents were afraid of being on the boat, not even Williamson, who had never been on a house boat. She said safety is the workers' number one concern. "The boats are safe – they have the railing. When Kris swims, he has to wear a life jacket."

One reason she felt they weren't afraid is because of the slow, smooth ride. "I think we were going 15 mph, which is perfect if you want to see something," Batten added. "The scenery is just so beautiful; it's such an interesting shoreline."

"Raymond loves any kind of wildlife," Batten said. "He saw the osprey nest, the trout were jumping, and we saw the wild ducks on the lake. In fact, they came right up to us so we could feed them." She remembered Diebele exclaiming, "I like 'em, I like them ducks, I do!"

Batten said she likes taking the "family" on a houseboat because "I think it's a way to go on a vacation where there's something for everybody."

Christman enjoyed working on crafts and her embroidery, Batten said. She was surprised and touched to see Christman hand her embroidery to Williamson to work on. "It was the sweetest thing," she said.

Christman said she "had a bunch of stuff to do." She also helped Batten with chores, and took snapshots of the trip. She brought one of her favorite videos, "Stuart Little," to watch at night.

Batten said the residents behaved "wonderfully" the whole trip. She attributed it to having a good time. Upon reflection, she decided it was because the residents are treated with respect by the staff.

"I love what I'm doing," Batten said. "I'll never understand why so many are put in institutions. They have so much to offer us. Even those with mental illnesses."

"I teach children in churches that being disabled is OK. We all have challenges. These people have the same worth as everyone else."

Batten reflected on what she had enjoyed most about the house boat trip. "The water temperature was 75. It was wonderful to swim in." But she said what she most enjoyed was the evenings, when her work was behind her.

"It was so beautiful. I just sat out on the deck and looked at the moon reflecting on the lake. It was one of those picture postcard places to be in the evening."