Sunday, August 29, 2010

Still Waters Run Deep

Most people have childhood stories centered around the old swimming hole and I am certainly no different. My grandmother's pond was the source of many a story. Her house and yard in general were great fun, but that little body of water provided something more. Everywhere we went there were woods filled with adventure, but not everywhere had a pond. We went fishing and swimming as well as boating. It was a source of great fun.

To begin with we have to go back to a time when I still lived right beside that old pond. We lived in a trailer in Grandma's back yard at the time. I couldn't have been over six, because I was that old when we moved to Williston. The story takes place on an unusually cold South Carolina winter. It had gotten so cold, in fact, that the pond was frozen over. The ice was so thick you could walk on it.

I know that at this point many people will be thinking “So what... A frozen pond is no big deal!” Well, keep in mind this is South Carolina. I've stepped on top of a pond roughly three times down here and I'm over thirty years old. It's not something that happens to us every winter. It's like when you tell stories of how it got to be over one hundred degrees for a week that time. It's a big deal to you even if it makes us all laugh.

Dad was very excited about the whole thing. He still gets excited about things like a child would. I do the same in fact. It's important to hold on to your youth. (Dad has managed to do a very good job of it.) In addition to the frozen pond we had gotten snow. (Again, I know it's not a big deal to everyone, just run with me here.) As a result he decided that we needed to do something fun with it while it lasted. After a few minutes contemplation he went and got the hood of an old Volkswagen Beetle.

There are actually a few stories about that Beetle that culminate in it catching on fire and burning up Dad's dream, but that, as they say, is another story. The point for the moment is that the hood was left and that Dad had gotten it while Mom and me stood there looking around the winter wonder land. As soon as Dad got back he explained his plan.

“We can use this as a sled.” Said Dad as he started to walk up one of the hills beside the pond.

“I don't think that's a good idea.” Replied Mom. (Mom likes to say that to Dad every time he has an idea just to make sure he's serious about whatever it is.)

“Why not?”

“You're going to end up in the pond.”

“The pond is frozen. We've walked on it already.”

“I know, but you'll break through.”


“I don't know.”

Mom has never put together the fact that this kind of talk drives Dad on to do whatever it is he's set out to do. All she had done was make him more determined to slide down the hill and out onto the pond. He got to the top, put his sled down and hopped on. He flew to the bottom and out onto the pond in a blaze of snow. Needless to say that as soon as I had seen Dad do it I wanted to as well. While this in no way pleased Mom it made Dad very happy.

I walked up to the top of the hill with him. He climbed on board his Volkswagen sled and I sat in his lap in front of him. He pushed off and we flew down the hill. My added weight meant added momentum, so when we hit the pond we slid out further toward the middle than Dad had alone. Of course, my added weight also meant, well, added weight. So as we slid out to a thin spot we were heaver than Dad had been alone. The result was simple: we broke right through the ice.

Dad grabbed me and made for shore. Fortunately he could stand on the bottom where we were. Unfortunately he couldn't climb back up on the ice. It just broke before him as he tried to climb up here and there. Still, all things considered we were very close to the shore and in less than a minute we were both standing there soaking wet in the freezing cold.

“I told you that would happen!” Mom said as we headed back to the house.

I won't bother to record Dad's reply. It was one of the many cases where Mom had just happened to be right when she made a completely blind guess. Dad was also annoyed that the hood of the Beetle was now at the bottom of the pond. He never did get it back out. That was end of the sled and of the old Volkswagen.

The next tale takes place when I was a teenager. Sam, Josh and I had gone to stay with Uncle Grover and Uncle Hans for a few weeks in the summer. Almost every day found us out on or in the pond. We would often row around in the old john boat lazily fishing for an hour or so. We often had a good catch, but we weren't allowed to keep what we caught.

Uncle Hans and Uncle Grover didn't believe in killing things to eat them. Oh, they believed in eating meat whenever you could get it, but only if it was already cleaned and processed. Now, by this time Grandmother had already passed away so it was just us and the bachelors. They weren't as careful about feeding themselves or us as Grandma might have been.

Everyday we scrounged for whatever we could find to eat. Hunger was increasing each day and it was with increased pain that we put our catch back into the pond. Each night there was one light at the end of the tunnel. Uncle Hans was going to bake a cake. One night we had carrot cake, the next German chocolate. On and on it went for weeks.

In the end Sam and Josh finally cracked. They had been fishing on the far side of the pond and caught a big Bass. The view from the trailer to that part of the pond was blocked by a small forest of pine trees. They decided to take a chance. They landed the boat cleaned the fish and started a fire. They then roasted and ate the fish. Both of them claimed that they would have come to get me, but both were afraid of raising the alarm. After weeks of the cake only diet the fish seemed like manna from heaven in the wilderness. (Uncle Hans and Uncle Grover have never heard this story. I ask them to keep in mind that the fish killers were starving children and to look within their hearts to find forgiveness.)

All this is only to set the scene really. During that Summer we did all kinds of things to keep our minds off the hunger. (Some of you may be wondering why we stayed in this starving condition. Well, UG and UH were and are great fun. It was more than worth loosing twenty pounds. Even when you hadn't weighed a hundred to start with.) One of the things we were allowed to do was to dig through everything Uncle Grover and Uncle Hans owned provided that it wasn't actually in their bedrooms. Even there we were allowed to mess with almost everything.

As we were digging through one of the sheds we stumbled upon some old diving equipment. It was like finding a pile of gold to us. Each of us had always wanted to go scuba diving. We pulled everything we could find out and piled it up. We were ecstatic! There were some old face masks, a number of wet suits and some old respirator equipment. Then it hit us... No air tanks! We stayed calm. All we needed to do was wait until Uncle Grover got home and then ask him where the tanks were.

“We found a bunch of your old scuba equipment today.” I started when he came home.

“That's good.” He replied.

“You don't care if we use it?”

“What? No, go ahead!” He said with a smile. (Honestly, neither UH or UG ever stopped us from doing anything that wasn't dangerous.)

“So, we couldn't find the tanks. Do you know where they are?”

“Oh... I gave them away.”

“To who?”

“Some guy. I don't remember.” He said laughing.


“Well, I mean I gave them to one of my scuba friends. It could have been...” Here he started to list a bunch of people that I had never heard of.

“So, no chance of getting them back.”

“None. Sorry!”

Well, it was a setback, but we generally accepted such things with quiet dignity and grace. The next day we decided to pull the wetsuits out and see what we had. Josh and I had found tops and bottoms that would fit us and were soon wet-suited up. Sam went with a one piece suit that zipped up the side. After he had slipped into it he looked like a Scottish Jacques Cousteau. As soon as we were all attired we went and jumped in the pond.

It was my first experience with a wetsuit and I have to say it was amazing. At first cold water poured into the suit and it was freezing. However, as soon as it was full of water it started to warm up to body temperature. Once it was warm it stayed warm. We swam around enjoying the sensation for about an hour. It was just the three of us and we weren't willing to swim out too far in the old pond. Occasionally you would see alligators around, so it was best to stay close to shore.

Finally we all climbed out and started stripping off our wetsuits. Josh and I had no problem. The separate tops and bottoms came off just like shirts and pants. Sam on the other hand ran into a little trouble. His zipper unzipped about eight inches and got stuck. He pulled at it furiously for a minute or so and then realized he couldn't handle it alone.

“Hey Germ, help me with this zipper.” Sam said still fighting with it. (Germ was one of my childhood nicknames. Sam and Uncle Grover still use it.)

“No problem bro!” I replied as I stepped over to help him.

I pulled as hard as I could, but the zipper would move.

“It's stuck!”

“Yea, I know. That's why I asked for help...”

“Ok, hold on.”

I jerked on that zipper with everything I had. It didn't budge.

“It's not going to move. We're just going to have to get you out of the unzipped part.” I said.

“There's no way! It's like eight or nine inches tops!”

“Well, it's that or stay in the suit. I ain't cutting it up.”

“Fine. How do we go about it?”

“Let's get your arm out first.”

Here it will be impossible to describe what happened. The twisting, turning and squirming was fantastic to see, but to write it out would take pages. Imagine someone trying to win a gymnastic, limbo and interpretive dance competition all at one time. Slowly we worked and pulled and stretched the suit. I almost had one of Sam's arms out when it slipped from my grasp. The rubber was stretched out and it slapped Sam's arm down to his side. His upper arm, elbow and lower arm were all out of the suit, but his shoulder and wrist were still in. The resulting position left him looking like a modernized Gainsborough's blue boy. It might have been entitled “Gainsborough's scuba boy” or something. (I know that not all of you may be familiar with the painting which is why I posted it in the blog.)

For a few minutes all I could do was laugh. Sam stood there yelling and straining against the rubber, but the more he fought the more I laughed. He spun around in a circle waving his elbow like a chicken wing as he tried to pull his wrist out. It was no good, he couldn't do it himself. Finally I got myself under control and again started helping Sam out. I got his arm out, but the result was that the suit was stretched up on one side and, if anything, even titer on him.

“We're going to have to go all the way and try to get your head out next.”

“Fine! I'm burning alive in this thing!”

We had been standing in the summer sun for twenty minutes fighting this suit with all our energy. The fact that it was jet black didn't help keep it cool. Sam was begging to understand how meat in a crock pot felt.

We began to pull and shove and stretch again. Slowly, but surely, he got his head twisted around to the hole. He jammed his face into it with all his strength. As his head began to emerge it pulled the skin back on his face, made his eyes roll back in his head and pulled his lids back as far as they would go. His mouth was pulled open and he was yelling with everything he had as he put every once of strength he could into gaining freedom.

It looked as if some wild dark animal was giving birth to a possessed Scotsman. Had I walked up on something like that in the woods I would have run for my life. As it was I had to stop helping because I was laughing so hard. At last his head popped out and after that, just like in a normal delivery, the rest was easy. He lay there breathing in the free air for a moment while Josh and I laughed until we were about to cry. Sam had won his freedom and he never again dared to put on that accursed suit.

It's been a long, long time since we went down to that old pond. We all grew up and got busy. I still think of it though on hot days when I wish I could take a dip or go fishing in that old john boat. I can't go back to those days, but I carry them on with me as memories. That's where most of reality is, in our past. Moments fly by too fast for us to truly consider them, but as we look back at them as memories we are able to consider all their shades. As I sit here quietly contemplating these deep thoughts it proves the old saying: “Still waters run deep”.

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