It was Summer back home in the Appalachia. My sisters, cousin, their spouses, and all of our children were visiting Bowen Hill, or as we called it, Hell Hill. It was home to us despite the life long dysfunction of our hillbilly kin that all too often ended up in misunderstandings, quarrels, and sometimes disastrous results.
We had lounged around on the farm most of the day sipping cold Ale-8’s and joking on one another and story telling. We were lazily trying to decide if we really wanted to go hike the gorge in the sweltering sticky heat. Just the thought of navigating the trails out to bald boulders and cliff faces made us miserable although it was our childhood playground. The kids clamored, “let’s go swimming!” Sounded good to us.
My eyes caught him trying to swim to something. I searched for what it was; it was my youngest son face down in the water twitching while the creek took him downstream.
Dad fetched the tractor and hooked up the hay trailer while we donned our swimsuits, lathered coconut oil on our faces and shoulders, and gathered towels. After climbing on the trailer and strategically placing the youngins to keep them on, we were pulled down to Cat Creek through the soybean fields.
The bank was muddy from a recent rain and the water was cool. This was a perfect way to spend the day. Some of the older boys took to spear fishing with the bamboo spears they whittled. The younger kids were not keen on swimming once they saw the watering hole and decided to stay on the muddy bank and make pies. My cousin just wanted to sunbathe while her husband kept up with their newly adopted baby.
I tried to get my youngest son to come in the water with me so he would not be afraid, but he wanted nothing to do with it; only desired to play with his other-half-of-the-pea-pod cousin who was likewise not interested in the creek. My dad volunteered to watch them both while the rest of us helped the other children climb up the other side of the creek and jump in to the deepest part.
It felt refreshing to be in that creek, laughing, and playing like a big ole kid. My sisters and I reminisced about our days as kids spent in the creek doing the same; jumping in from the rocky bank. I cheered my son and daughter as they took running starts off and heaved them back up over the muddy slope to the rock and grass.
A scream came from my dad; a sound I never knew could come out of him. I turned to look where I last saw him on the bank. Only my little niece, cousin, and her family stood there. I spanned across the creek because there was nothing beyond but the soybean fields. My eyes caught him trying to swim to something. I searched for what it was; it was my youngest son face down in the water twitching while the creek took him downstream.
I swam hard to him. Prayer was all that came to mind while a navigated around branches that resided in the creek. God help my son. Don’t take him from me. Dad picked him out of the water and flipped him up to his face.
“Flip him over!”I yelled, while stroking my arms against the water in long arcs. I wanted to move faster to touch him but, the water had become as thick as the mud on the banks. The green overgrown trees suffocated by the kudzu vine casted a shadow down the length of the creek. Dad turned him face down and a waterfall of creek came out of my small four year old son. Just as I finally reached him, my son coughed. He kept coughing hard. He was breathing! I took him in my arms thinking that if he was not going to come out of this, at least I would get to hold him when he left. He began to talk.
“I don’t like the water. I saw Memaw. She’s pretty,” he rasped. He had never known my mom; she had passed nearly eight years prior. I sat in the shallow water talking to him to test his cognitive skills. He recited Al Fatiha in Arabic perfectly, “Bismillahi Rahmani Raheem. Alhamdu Lillahi Rabbi Alameen. Ar Rahma Ar Raheem. Maliki Yawmi Deen. Iyyaka Na’Budu Wa Iyyaki Nasta’een. Ihdinas Siratul Musta’qeem. Siratal Latheena An’amta Alayhim. Gharyl Maghdhoobi Alayhim Wa La Dhalleen.”
It was a sobering ride back to the house. What happened at the creek numbed the misery of the weather. Everyone was quiet and life just seemed more colorful, more real, more serene. I spent the rest of the day holding my son and he was just annoyed by the smothering of affection. He just wanted to play with his cousin.
(*note: at the time, I did not know about dry drowning. The next day I took my son to the hospital to get checked out and thankfully he was fine. However, many children and even adults have near drownings, think all is well, go home and die many hours later; sometimes up to 72 hours later. If you, friends, or children have a near drowning experience, get them to the hospital immediately to be checked out.)