I was probably about seven years old one summer when I went with my friend Jimmy to his parents’ lake house on a Sunday afternoon. The lake house was a small, two bedroom cabin with wood paneling throughout. About 30 feet from the back door was situated a small, brown dock, constructed of milk chocolate-colored posts and planks. It was just a small, ordinary, brown, little dock.
The lake was not very big, not even to me as a child. It seemed to be about the size of two football fields, lengthwise and widthwise, and there were about a dozen cabins similar to theirs dotted around the rim of the lake.
The water was not the pristine, crystal-clear water you would expect in the Appalachian foothills. The color was more of a pea soup green mixed with a light brown mud.
Jimmy and I were standing on the dock, trying to force the slimy, wiggly little earthworms onto our hooks. We would cast our rods and the worms would catch a whiff of freedom and fly off of the hooks in another direction. The few worms that stayed on the hooks were snatched and quickly transported away by lightning-fast fish.
Needless to say, we quickly ran out of worms. Jimmy thought we might have better luck using lures, so he ran to the house for his tackle box. As he was heading towards the house, I saw one of our bait worms floating towards the dock. I couldn’t tell if it was dead or alive, but it didn’t matter. I wanted that worm!
I leaned forward, reaching for the worm with my fishing pole, and promptly fell in headfirst!
It happened so suddenly, I had no time to take a breath. One moment I was breathing crisp, clean, summertime, mountain air and the next I was sucking in salty, mud pie soup! The putrid, seemingly waste-filled slush was more than a match for the cow pasture across the street from Jimmy’s house in the horrible smell department.
I was a decent swimmer. I had been swimming since I was three or four years old, but the shock of falling into this ice cold, muck-filled water headfirst caused me to forget my skill. All I could see was the murky fog of the creamed spinach-green water with occasional glimpses of brown bark, leaves, or twigs floating by.
Without my vision as a guide, I thrashed about wildly, lurching forward, as my feet furiously propelled like an angry helicopter. I cannot remember calling for help. With my mouth and throat stinging as if I had swallowed a shot of Tabasco with an onion and salt chaser, it is not likely that I was able to. Plus, only the fish, or possibly Aquaman would have heard me underwater.
Constantly reaching forward, I finally managed to touch one of the posts of the dock. Its algae-covered surface was oil-slick mixed with the water and its needle-sharp splinters stabbed at my cold, pruning fingers. I could not grab onto to the post.
Suddenly, I heard a rumbling above my head. Horses seemed to be galloping along the dock, but it was a neighbor who had seen me fall in. He ran right over and plucked me from death’s icy, dripping grip.
I was a quivering wet cat when he pulled me out, half cold and half mad that I was forced into the water. My trembling cold soon gave way to a steamy, red heat of embarrassment.
We thanked the man for saving my life and all was soon right. To this day I cannot remember the man’s name, or if I ever knew it in the first place. All I can remember of him was his bushy, brown caterpillar of a mustache. I wish I could have thanked him in a more proper fashion.