Sunday, August 08, 2010

Things You Do for Family

When I was a kid, we were on a family vacation in Missouri in our Winnebago, and we came to a flooded spot in the road. Mom and Dad really wanted to keep driving, so they tied a rope to my brother and sent him out to find out how deep the water was. I asked to go instead, but they wouldn't let me. They were worried that I'd be too big to pull out, while my brother was smaller and they figured if he got into trouble, they could pull him out. To this day my brother tells my parents that they owe him for therapy.

I was always the one saying things like, "Hey, let's do a controlled prairie burn in the back yard!" So today my dad figured he would make it up to Mark and me for the fact that I wasn't the one sent out into the floodwaters in Missouri, and he would send me out onto the riverbed in front of his house to remove a piece of twisted steel that was marring my dad's view of the river.

We've been going to Lake Delhi since the late sixties, but last month the 1922 dam burst, and all the lake water ran out, leaving only a small river. When the flood receded, inundating the towns below the dam, a lot of boat docks and boats went down the river with it. The former lake floor is now littered with twisted hunks of steel, and there's an upside-down pontoon boat across the river from my parent's house.

The lake floor has about four feet of sediment, most of it runoff from fields--fields that are fertilized with hog excrement. People try to walk on the mud, and they sometimes sink in up to their waists and have to be rescued. Dad figured that if we could just get our weight distributed well enough so we wouldn't sink, we could get out there and collect the eyesore in front of his house, a big hunk of tin.

His first thought was water skis. You would simply step into them, and they'd be attached to your feet. However, Mom and I didn't think that would distribute the weight enough. That mud looked pretty sticky. (We were right, too.) We talked about plywood and other things we did not have at hand, but Dad remembered some 1950s planks he had that were well made, and that he didn't mind ruining with mud and hog excrement. He drilled holes in them and tied ropes through the holes so I could hold onto the boards. Naturally, being my father's daughter, I was all in. (I did not know about the hog excrement.) Besides, he threatened to go out there himself, and I wasn't about to let him do that.

The mud was sticky and slimy, and it was hard going to reach the piece of debris. Then, when I finally made it, I realized I would not be able to pull it out of the sand and mud. On top of that, even if I had been able to get it out, I discovered I would not have been able to move it very far. It was too big and heavy. I had to turn back.

I was out of breath and shaking from exertion, and on the return crossing of the stream, I lost one of the boards. It floated downstream at a fast clip, and I just stayed in the center of the other board and hollered for help. Dad found another board, but a much narrower one, and at this point he had changed his mind about walking out there himself. He started laying out long boards across the mud so he could get as close as he could to me without trying the plank walking himself.

At this point the neighbors had come over, and they were willing to send the 12-year-old out, but they figured the other adults were all too heavy to come out there. Luckily, the 12-year-old's father thought to throw me the long ski rope that was tied to the new board and have me drag it to myself, so nobody else had to come out on the water. The board burrowed through the mud and emerged covered in about three inches of sediment that I had to scrape off.

The new board was way too slim, and I kept sinking, but I worked fast and made it back in safely. Even though I was wearing gloves, it is going to take me a few days to get my nails clean, and I still smell faintly of a pig sty.

Kids, don't try this at home!


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