I have told so many stories in the good old Town Crier that I had to go back and read a few to see if I told this beauty. I did not find this story so — here we go.
It took place in the summer of 1960 or so.
Back in those days we spent a huge amount of time at Silver Lake. At the age of six, seven or eight we would walk, run, or ride bikes to the lake and spend all day there and then head home the same way we came. I can still see the line of exhausted kids dragging our towels as we made our way home after a long day of “fun in the sun!”
It still amazes me to this day that we were allowed to travel all over town at such a young age. Two things come to mind about that. For one — that was a very different time. It was an innocent time in a small town where you trusted your neighbors to look out after your kid if they needed help. Also (for my family of 10 with a single mother) responsibility for other kids was handed out liberally at a very young age out of necessity.
I was the “oldest of the little kids” in my family. I was often in charge of four little brothers and sisters. I believe the job should have been my sister Sharon’s job — but she was often troubled with a lifelong illness that kept her from that responsibility.
Thus the job of watching these kids came to me.
Which brings me to this story.
Back then there was a grocery store called Stevens Market right across the lake from the public beach.
My mother sometimes dropped us off at the public beach to swim while she went grocery shopping. After shopping she would sometimes go for a swim with us as she picked us up.
On this particular day my mother let us out at the beach as she looked at me and said, “keep an eye on the little kids!” Oh boy, this meant I had to watch two brothers and a sister. My youngest sister was too little to come with us at that time.
Imagine if you will — a seven year old boy keeping an eye on three kids, on a hot day, at a crowded beach.
Most of the times, these guys would do as I said, but other times they could be stubborn and do what they wanted and not listen to me at all. They could and would say “you’re not the boss o’ me!!”
Watching these kids was a tough job that I seemed to embrace with an open heart because I had a deep love and sense of responsibility to them.
Things were going along pretty good that day when suddenly all hell broke loose!
I was looking at my next younger brother Cliff when a GIANT horsefly landed on his forehead and bit him. The next thing I knew his head started to swell to biblical proportions.
I panicked as I broke out in chills and goose bumps. I ran for help. I knew there was an older lady there who ran the beach. I remember she used to sit on the beach and knit to this day.
I’m not sure what happened. Whether I was afraid to ask her or if I found her or what the hell happened but I came up empty. No help!
I quickly ran back to my kids and grabbed my brother and started to shove him towards the chain link fence gate as I yelled and pointed.
I pointed to Stevens Market way across the lake and yelled, “Ma is over there, Ma is over there, run to her, run to her!!
No kidding — that’s the best I could come up with at the time. I could not leave the other kids and it was all I could think to do.
I can still see in my mind my brother — with his swollen head — as he ran around the fence. I remember thinking with a sinking heart that he just wasn’t going to make it, he is dead in the water. My brother is going to die and it is my fault.
But, just as he was even with me on the other side of the fence the Wilmington Police pulled up to him in their cruiser. I yelled out real loud and fast “That’smylittlebrotherandhegotstungand mymotherisNancyClarkandsheisgroceryshoppingatSte-vensMarket!!”
The police man put him in the back seat and drove away.
That is all I remember that day. I know my brother made it because he is still with us some 59 years later.
I also am so glad he made it because I know I would have felt guilty for the rest of my life.
I have looked back at this memory and often find myself feeling guilty that I did not handle things well. You know how it is. Some things get planted in your mind when you are little and you just can’t shake it. However, I had a counselor once who told me that she thought I was a great hero who saved my brother’s life. I was only seven and I did the best I could, and my brother is alive.
Oh, and this might seem weird or whatever but I had a dream one time. I am not sure if I was awake or asleep when I saw a picture in my mind of the policeman in the passenger seat of that cruiser and he looked just like Jesus as I picture him. Maybe somebody else was looking out for my little brother, too!
I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer. Sigh! It’s almost over.