Butter Rum Cartoon

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

DROWNING

I didn’t learn to swim until I was high school age. Long before then, when I was five or six, I went to Birch Bay along with several people from our Methodist church in Blaine, Washington. While my parents visited with others on the beach, I had fun wading in the salt water. I managed to get a small log and lay sideways on it, kicking and pretending I was swimming. Suddenly the log rolled and I went forward and slid off head-first into the water, which was now over my head. A dog on the beach was the only witness.

Leota Jones
This big German Shepherd began barking and running back and forth along the beach. When he saw no one coming to help, he jumped in the water himself and began swimming towards me. I didn’t know this at the time. All I could see was green as I stared in fear and wonder beneath the water’s surface. People had noticed the dog by then, though, wondering why he was swimming out, and then they saw the lonely log and no Dale. Leota Jones ran into the water and beat the dog to me. She pulled me up and carried me to shore and back to my parents.

Dad was the minister of the Blaine Methodist church, and Leota Jones was the Sunday School superintendent and the church secretary, so they had to work together quite a bit. One winter day, when snow was on the ground, Dad had to go over to Leota’s house on business. When he was leaving, our Hudson wouldn’t start. It was after hours, so he couldn’t call a tow truck or mechanic, and since we lived just two blocks away, he left the car parked in front of her house and walked home. But in the small town of just over two thousand people, the rumor traveled fast that Reverend Lund was at Leota Jones’ place all night! This is the woman who saved my life (thanks to an alert and caring dog).

It was a strange experience being helplessly underwater. I remember being more confused than scared, although I was both. Not long before that, I had found a bird’s nest in a tree a couple blocks from our house. I climbed up and was excited to find baby birds in it! Pets! I suddenly had five, cute, little, peeping pets I could have fun taking care of and raising as my own! I carefully pulled the nest off the tree intact and went home with it, proudly showing it to my father. Dad, who had grown up on a farm, calmly took the nest from me, explaining that these baby birds wouldn’t survive and would suffer and starve to death. Then he filled the bathroom sink with water, put the nest in a paper bag, and held it underwater while I screamed in anger. He told me that drowning them would prevent their suffering. I didn’t believe it. But after rolling off the log into Birch Bay and feeling more confusion than fear and pain, perhaps Dad was right.

Bob giving son Tom a haircut
After moving to Allen, Washington, I went with my sister, Gloria, and her husband, Bob, to the Samish River which flowed on the other side of the strawberry field behind our house. I was about twelve. Where the river made a turn, there was a wide, deep part that we called the swimming hole. Bob had been in the water, then came out, dried off, lit a cigarette, and sat down on the bank beside Gloria. He tried coaxing me into swimming across the swimming hole and back. It wasn’t all that wide, about twenty-five feet, and by then I could swim the dead-man’s float. The trouble with the dead-man’s float is that my face lay down in the water while I kicked, and so I had to hold my breath the whole time. But I was pretty sure I could hold my breath for twenty-five feet, so I went for it.

What we didn’t know about this swimming hole is that the widening and turn of the river produced some pretty nasty whirlpools, and before getting halfway across, I hit one. Suddenly I was not only underwater, but standing on the river bottom, with the water’s surface about a foot above my head. Nothing I could do would get me to the surface. At first I struggled in a panic. That was the scary part. I was drowning! I was dying! I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, and finally my mouth opened. The fear left, and the confusion came. I gazed about in bewilderment. Yes, I was drowning, I was dying, but it was strangely interesting. I was accepting it, and it didn’t hurt, and I was no longer afraid.

All the while, my arms had been reaching up, and just when I began to lower them and die, I felt a hand firmly grasp my wrist. Bob pulled me up and carried me out of the river, and laid me down beside Gloria. I was weak and gasping for air. Bob was upset. He had just dried off and lit a cigarette and had to run back into the water, but he had saved my life…for the second time.

Years before, still in Blaine, when Bob and Gloria were dating and he didn’t know me that well, he was sitting across from me at the dinner table. We were eating lamb, and a bone stuck in my throat. I began to gag; I couldn’t breathe at all. My family did know me well--Dale, the mischievous kid, the practical joker--and they all thought I was kidding. But Bob stared at me, and when he saw me turning purple, he jumped up fast enough to knock over his chair, and ran around the table, and somehow held me upside-down by the ankle with one hand while reaching into my throat with the other. He pulled out the lamb bone and saved my life.

That I know of, I’ve had my life saved seven times--once from tracheobronchitis, once from choking, twice from drowning, twice from falling, and once from carbon monoxide poisoning--but drowning was the most intriguing, for it seems as though there’s a mercy involved in it. All my other confrontations with death seemed only cruel.


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