The challenge for this week’s blog post: write about your first brush with death. Mine occurred at an early age.
Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.
At four years old, the world was still new and full of surprises. I was always ready to see what adventures awaited me with the dawn of each day. As long as Mom or Dad or someone I knew was within hollering distance, the sense of fear was foreign to me. Inexperienced yet willing to learn, I was an eager, trusting soul, which often proved to be a dangerous combination.
Lake Wauwanoka was about thirty miles from my childhood home. An 1100 acre, recreational community in its early-development stages, Wauwanoka was out in the country. In my parents’ minds––at least Dad’s anyway—it would be the perfect, weekend retreat for their young family. With that notion embedded in his brain, Dad bought one of the lakefront lots and even drew up plans for a small cabin. Dad was always a dreamer, so, in the late 1940s––before I was born––he purchased one of the lakeside properties.
By the time I was old enough to appreciate and recall the lake’s amenities, our lot was still void of a cabin, but the water was always refreshing. According to stories I heard about the place, our Wauwanoka lot had accommodated many family picnics and provided cool, wet escapes from the summer heat of the suburbs. My first vivid recollection of the place, however, would also be my last.
It was 1953. As they had done on numerous, toasty July weekends, Mom and Dad packed gear, food, and their boys into the family car and headed to Wauwanoka. Not wanting to portray the image of snobs, they also invited my aunts and uncles to join us and share some relief from the heat.
After arriving at the lakeside beach––which was as muddy as it was sandy in the early days––the other adults spread blankets, doled out food and drink, while Dad inflated tire inner tubes for us youngsters to float on. Watching him work up a sweat with the tire pump, however, quickly got old. From my perspective, I could eat and drink any time, but our home’s backyard didn’t feature a lake. I wanted to splash in the water, dang it. Because voicing my desires was one of my annoying traits, Mom stifled me long enough to prevent Dad from erupting, which allowed him to finish his task. With tire tube in hand, she eventually escorted me down to the water’s edge.
Standing a tad over two-and-a-half feet tall, I was instructed to hang on tight to the black, rubber doughnut and stay close to the shoreline. Happy to be wet, I agreed. Happy to no longer have me pestering them for an inner tube, my parents retreated to food and drink and talking about whatever grownups talked about. The lack of attention didn’t bother me one bit. Jumping and splashing about inside my circle of protection, I was as content as a naïve four-year old could be.
It’s said that ignorance is bliss. In my case, that statement was appropriate. Bouncing on my inner tube had propelled me from the shoreline. In his haste to get me off his back, either Dad had neglected to insure the valve stem was tight, or one of several tire patches had begun to leak. Either way, it didn’t matter. The tube was going flat, and I was about to discover the effects of gravity.
Panic set in once my head went underwater and my feet could no longer touch anything solid. I grasped the tube and pulled. My head bobbed upward. I squeaked, “Help” before going under once more. More mature thoughts about death began to enter my mind. Then a hand reached down and grabbed me. Was it God? Was I going to heaven?
One of my uncles had tired of adult chatter and decided to cool off. He yanked me from my flattened inner tube, held me to his chest, and patted my back. I coughed a bit of the lake from my lungs and started to whine. Tears of frightened relief trickled down my cheeks as my mother joined us, squeezed me into her arms, and shared my emotion. I was safe again. Shortly after recovering from the episode, we’d all had enough fun and packed up to go home. Not long after the incident, my parents sold the property.
I knew about having a sister who’d passed before I was born. Many years later, I finally understood that I was to have been her replacement. Mom had already lost one child. That day at the lake, she almost lost another.