I put the bike in the garage and carried the mitt into the house, being careful not to let the screen door slam. My mother was at the stove preparing dinner. It was Thursday, so she was making spaghetti. The menu never changed during the week, except on Sunday. We could have fried chicken, or flank steak, or ham, or something else on Sunday. The rest of the week was the same menu. On Thursday it was spaghetti, and I love spaghetti. Of course, on Friday, it was fish. Fish sticks, aptly named, or fresh trout which I despised. I still hate fish.
“Did you boys have fun?” my mom asked without looking up from her now boiling pot.
“Yep. I’m going to go wash up,” I said and walked quickly through the kitchen, made a left at the dining room table and headed towards the one bathroom we all shared. Thankfully it was available. I quickly shut the door. We weren’t allowed to lock it.
One good thing was my hair was short. My Dad was our barber, so to speak. By that I mean he mastered the use of a #2 attachment to some barber clippers and shaved our heads every other month. All the boys got the same look: the infamous “crew cut,” “buzz cut” or military cut, whatever you wanted to call it. I think he learned it in the Army. Anyway, it was easy to take care of, no combing necessary, but in this particular case, easy to wash in a sink.
I lathered up my head with the bar of “Lifebouy” on the sink and rinsed it good. At least I smelled less like Big Goose Creek. I took off the shirt and scrubbed the chest, arms and face. Satisfied, I put the shirt back on and went out front. I had pulled it off, for now, and I didn’t even have to use any stories, although my mother was probably surprised I had any interest in cleaning up after a day of baseball.
At this moment, garages around the neighborhood were being looted for rope and some kind of a big hook. I checked around our garage but couldn’t find anything that would work. Now that the crew knew where the stairs were, we planned to meet there tomorrow and rescue the raft. I had it all figured out in my head, but like most well-thought-out plans, it didn’t go that way, at all.
The next morning I went “bike riding.” I got to the staircase around nine-thirty and there were five or six bikes already lying around or leaning against the fence. I recognized a couple of them, but not all. After locking my bike, I crossed the fence and headed down the trail. Jimmy, Opie, Jeff, Curt, Randy and Alan were all waiting for me. They had coiled ropes, a couple of smaller hooks, and even a wire hanger. We marched off towards the dam. The raft was still there swirling in the water. The water was pretty deep here. Clearly deep enough to be over our heads, not to mention the swirling vortex which would surely drag anyone down and into the current to be instantly drowned.
I tied what appeared to be a tow hook to the end of a rope that looked long enough to reach the raft. I used a bow-line knot, learned in my short stint in the “Boy Scouts of America.” Besides the “Boy Scout Motto” and the “Boy Scout Salute,” that was about the only other thing I learned. A bow-line is how you tie a boat up to a dock because the knot doesn’t slip loose. I coiled some of the rope to the side of me, and had two of the crew on the end of the rope. I twirled the hook and rope over my head like Roy Rogers and let it fly towards the raft. It missed by a mile and dropped short in the water. I tried it again…and again. I wasn’t getting close.
”Shit,” Alan said, “let me try it.”
He my have looked better in his delivery but his accuracy wasn’t much better. He tried several times and then threw the hook and rope on the bank in disgust.
Curt had a few trys, then Jimmy, and finally Randy landed the rope on the raft. He pulled slowly back, the hook started to grab, and then fell off and sank into the water.
The next thing I know, Jimmy is taking off his shorts and shirt – he already had his shoes off – and runs down the bank and jumps into the creek. He starts swimming towards the raft and we watched in horror as the current pulled him under. We kept watching, but we didn’t see him come up.
“Do you see him?” I yelled. ”Can you see him.” ”Shit, what are we going to do!” Everyone was standing on the bank now calling out his name. Nothing.
Then I thought I saw an arm grab on to one of the logs of the raft, then another arm and his head popped up. He was climbing on the raft holding on as best he could. Then he stood up and the raft stopped spinning as much.
“Throw me the rope,” he screamed. We sprung into action. After some more failed attempts we managed to get the rope close enough for him to grab it which made him slip and almost fall off, but he managed to hold firm. ”Start pulling me in,” he yelled. Four of us, pulling as hard as we could on the bank, slowly moved the raft out of the current and back upstream. We kept at it until we were a safe distance away and tied it off to a tree. Jimmy had tied his end to the raft and was standing proudly on deck, his arms crossed, chest puffed out.
“That’s how you rescue a raft,” he said.
“That’s how you damn near drown,” I said. ”What the hell is the matter with you?”
“Aw, it was nothin’. Piece a cake.”
Everything is always a piece of cake. I was still wondering how the hell we were going to explain how Jimmy drowned swimming out to a raft, at a river I was not allowed to be near, probably on private property, not to mention, you had to figure this raft belonged to somebody. It was going to take some repair though. Most of the floor was missing. We would need some wood planks, some nails, a hammer or two, and a long pole of some sort to move it around. We headed off to loot the garages again. I needed to make an appearance around the house so as to look like I was riding around the block.
…not done yet.