December 10, 2012

Swept Away!

Let's Take A Trip

One of the goals I had when I started this legacy of messages, was to also share some stories from my past. I know that my grandpa never told me much about his childhood, and I wish he had.

So follow me into the way-back machine. Buckle your seat-belt (oh wait, there aren't any), and hang on, as I share with you a true-life adventure of yesterday, and a tale of the boy I used to be  ... 

The Great Outdoors

When I was young, long before the days of the internet, cell phones or video games, we were forced to find ways to entertain ourselves. Color TV was only for those who could afford it, and there were only 3 network channels on our little black and white set. Besides, that  little video window on the world only truly held appeal on Saturday mornings (cartoons), right after school (Sesame Street), or at midnight on Friday (monster movies).

This means that when it wasn't raining, and I didn't have a good book to take me away, I spent a lot of time playing outside. We moved around quite a bit when I was young, but having a father with 8 brothers and sisters meant that whenever we lived close enough to one of them, there were always a lot of cousins to hang out with.

The Expedition

In the fall of 1969, I was five, and still looked about 3. I was always small for my age, but that didn't mean I was going to be left out. During one of our visits, two of my older cousins decided that they were going for a hike through the woods and fields near my aunt's house, in a little town called South Prairie, in Washington state. Mickey was 8, and was my buddy that autumn, and his older brother Bobby was about 13 .... which meant that he was one of those mysterious BIG kids known as teenagers.

As we went exploring through the trees, we came upon a roaring river. (Okay, it was actually just the South Prairie Creek). It had been raining for days previously and this normally quiet little stream was swollen and the churning water was racing, carrying twigs and debris along as it bullied its way to the Puyallup River, some 10 miles further downstream. In my little-guy's eyes, it could have been the Missisippi.

We Have To Cross

Bobby and his other teenage friend who had joined us, both headed right into the turbulence, and waded, with a little effort, through the water which came about halfway up their thighs. They kept on going, leaving Mickey and I to get across somehow. Mickey looked at the fast moving water, and then at how little I was, and told me he had an idea. He would just give me a shoulder ride, and we would wade across together, the water was no deeper than his waist after all, and I was light.

I remember being nervous, but since I couldn't swim, there was no way I was going to be able to get across the river, which was about 10 feet wide, but looked to me like it was a mile or more across. So in one of those moments of childish faith and adventure, I climbed up on his shoulders, and we set off ...


We actually made it about 6 steps across, and had almost reached the halfway point, when Mickey's foot slipped on a smooth rock, and we both went sprawling into the rushing, frothy water.To this day, I can feel the icy water enveloping me, tossing me this way and that, and tumbling me over and over. I remember trying to get my face out of the water, and gasping a huge lungful of dirty tasting air each time I was able to break the surface.

The swirling river carried me downstream for almost a half mile, scrambling for something to hold on to, before I finally saw a low hanging tree branch, brushing the surface of the water. I grabbed it with one hand, then wrapped my arms around it in a death hold ... and I waited. I prayed for someone, anyone, to come find me, but I wasn't really terrified. With the total faith of the very young, I knew that I would eventually get home, but it was a long, cold vigil, as the river flowed past me and through my clothes.


After minutes that seemed like days, I heard Mickey's voice, full of terror and worry, screaming my name. I was shivering so hard that I could only croak "Over Here!" in a voice that sounded way too quiet in my own ears. He emerged from the trees, dripping wet, with eyes as big as dinner plates, and ran to the branch where I clung, With a little work, he was able to climb out on the branch and haul me out of the water.

As we lay together in the grass, shivering and letting the adrenaline fade, I still remember him looking at me and saying "You're a lot heavier than you look ..." This of course made is both start laughing, and we got up and slogged our way out of the woods, about 2 miles from the house. We trudged along the road, and cut through a neighbor's  field, wondering if they had started a search party for us.

Home At Last

When we finally got to the house, fearing a scolding or worse, we found Bobby and his buddy on the porch, eating lunch. "Oh, there you guys are." ... No one even knew we were missing! After a change of clothes and some laughter about our adventure, Mickey and I got our lunch, and decided that next time we would just climb trees instead.

As a parent and grandparent, I'm glad that they never told our parents. I'm sure my mom and dad would have been frantic, had they known the truth. I had an angel on my shoulder that day, and amazingly I never developed a fear of the water, nor even had bad dreams afterward (though I remember that day very clearly). So remember, sometimes even when someone has you on their shoulders, they might slip and fall ... and even if you end up in fast moving water over your head, just look for that branch and hang on ...

From Grandpa's Heart ...

1 comment:

  1. Even though I was born in the early 90s I know that as a kid we were always told to go outside. We were always told to go outside in play. I remember the tree swing my grandpa made in the backyard, him dringing up around in a bucket on the back of the lawn mower, sitting on the playset and singing or writing poetry. Grandma drew the line with how close you sat to the TV and what we would watch. It was always Barney or Sesame Street. I miss how it used to be! Now all kids want to do is sit inside and watch tv or text on their cell phones. Love the story of your adventure! Really makes a person feel like they were actually there :) Love you!