The Day I Almost Went Over Niagara Falls

Niagara

Dear (un-named deity), how did I ever survive childhood, to become the Grumpy Old Dude that I am today??

Early in the 1960s, my Father took our family to Niagara Falls. We rented a little cabin in the village of Chippewa, 5 miles above the Falls. I don’t know what it’s like there now, but back then you could stroll along the Canadian-side bank of the river, like a continuous park. Having been told of a picturesque picnic area, one day we set off downstream to take advantage of it.

If I was 6 or 7 years old, my brother was 3 or 4, and my Mother was busy holding or carrying him. Dad was laden with a box, full of food and drink, and I wandered along behind them. About halfway to our destination, there was a gnarly tree, growing out of the bank at a 45 degree angle, out over the river.

Someone had tied a rope to a branch, and a group of 13/14 year old boys were using it to swing out, and splash into the river. One lad would climb/walk up into the tree, and flick the end of the rope up to his compatriots. One by one they’d launch themselves, swim back, and one of them would take the spot in the tree.

I had a tree at home. It had a rope in it. I liked trees. I liked ropes. I liked swinging. 😯 When all had plunged into the river, I asked the kid in the tree if I could swing from the rope. Sure! And he flicked the end up to me.

I launched myself off the 8-foot high bank, and enjoyed a magnificent swing. I didn’t learn to swim until I was 14. When I reached the extent of the outward swing, I realized that I couldn’t let go – a little late! Holding on for dear life I swung back in, but the arc of the inward swing is never as long as the outward one, and it was nowhere near long enough to put me back up on that bank.

Actually, the point nearest the bank would have been the best time to let go. I’d have smacked into the clay and rock, and would have been able to scramble up the bank, dry and safe, but my Grade 1 brain was busy trying to figure out the physics of this whole thing.

Back out I swung. These guys wanted their rope back, and were shouting, “Let go! Let go!” Once more I swung back inward, this time again the arc becoming much shorter. As I reached the inner apogee – right or wrong – I let go…. and splashed down three feet from dry land.

I was used to a well-mannered Lake Huron, where you could walk out 100 feet before it got chest deep. In this river, three feet out put me in chin-deep water. Still, I scrambled out, and rejoined my family. If either parent noticed that my shoes, shorts and tee-shirt were drenched, neither of them mentioned it. Only later did I realize that I could have climbed up the rope, and down the tree, safely. At the time, I was a bit too busy to think of that. What do you think?? A young fool became an old one??  😕

Flash Fiction #42

Barbecue

 

 

 

 

© Copyright – Rachel Bjerke

Thinking Outside The Box

Fountain, where are all the people?

I don’t know, Barbecue.  We used to be the center of entertainment.  They cooked meat and roasted corn on you, and splashed fingers and sailed little boats on me.  They had picnics.  They enjoyed the sunshine and fresh air.  They laughed, and talked, and joked, and played out here.

Now, the few times I see a person, they carry something in their hand that glows.  I hear them complain, “There’s no bars out here!”

I fear we’ve been abandoned.  Now they’re trapped inside, not merely the house but their heads also.  It’s not healthy!

 

Go to Rochelle’s Addicted to Purple site and use her Wednesday photo as a prompt to write a complete 100 word story.

Boys’ Club

When I entered Grade 7, I was still only ten years old.  My 11th birthday didn’t occur till the end of September.  There was a boy in my class who was more than a year older than me, because, back then, they failed students who did not achieve scholastically.  Early in November, as we were both hanging our coats up, he dug into his pocket, and showed me something.  It was a bright, brass, expended .22 caliber shell.  Gun nut that I was, it was as if he’d showed me the Holy Grail.  Where had he got it?

It seemed that there was a group of boys who got together every Tuesday night, to fire 10 target practice shots, but you had to be 12 years old!  The range was in the basement of a business on the main street.  It had been a lumber supply and woodworking shop, and the range was in the concrete-lined trough where the saw and planer shavings had been dumped.  With no external lighting, it was accessed from a dark alley which ran behind the stores, not the kind of place you’d want 12/14 year old boys to be today, especially in bigger cities.

I told the men running the show that I was “almost 12”, conveniently ignoring the missing 10 months.  In a school class of 15+ boys, I was usually the third shortest.  Still, there was a boy a year older, who was even shorter.  He and I had to stand on a block of wood to get up to the firing window, where we shot standing up.  After about a year, the building changed owners, and we moved to the basement gym of the now-unused high school.  This was accessed through a rear entrance with no lights until an adult with a key came to unlock a door, invisible in the darkness.  Not much of an improvement.

I didn’t think about it at the time, but there was a lot of time and energy volunteered by a succession of adult men.  The local Game Warden’s wife couldn’t have children, so we were his surrogates for years.  The president of the men’s handgun club, as well as the vice-president and the secretary, at different times, and a police chief, and later a constable, all gave of their time.

Wooden boxes with quilt pads were provided for prone shooting, and a new target holder/bullet catcher was built.  Every meeting night started off with a lecture on firearm handling and safety.  In seven years with the club, I amassed almost 350 hours of gun responsibility training.

As social awareness and political correctness began to flower in the mid-fifties, someone must have decided that there needed to be more to our little group, than just a bunch of boys firing target rifles.  Behind the high school was a city-block sized small lake.  The town had created a pathway around it, with a couple of bridges over incoming creeks, and a couple of lookout/picnic areas, but didn’t have the finances to maintain it.  It was decided that our little club would adopt it, care for it and improve it.

We mowed the grass, raked the path, cut back weeds and branches, and helped our menfolk to mend the bridges.  We put on tag-days in the summers, when the town was full of wealthy tourists, and solicited donations from local businesses.  The shoreline moved in and out because the level of the lake varied with the seasons.  We got a concrete contractor to install, at greatly reduced charge, a small dam with a controllable spillway on the drainage stream.

We cleaned out and expanded one lookout/picnic area, and got a stone supply company to build a wishing-well, with a little spray fountain.  The coins from the fountain went for further improvements.  We bought a bunch of birds to put into the lake, including a pair of swans, four farm-type geese, and some Muscovy ducks, to attract coin-tossers to our little park.

The first summer, we lost a few birds, and some of the rest lost a foot or leg.  There were lots of scenic little mud turtles in the lake, but apparently there were also some snapping turtles with a taste for fowl.  No wonder there had been no floating natives.  Someone designed and built a snapper-trapper from heavy wire and chicken screen.  I and another lad, whose father was a commercial fisherman, were given a rowboat, and the responsibility to check the traps daily.  Turtles caught were shot by the constable and sold to a Chinese restaurant which made them into turtle soup.  We finally caught the old Grand-daddy, which was as big as a washtub.  We cleared the lake and ensured safety for our birds.

The birds’ wings were clipped so that they wouldn’t fly away, although, with daily feedings, they probably wouldn’t have strayed.  During the winters, we rented space in a farmer’s barn at the edge of town.  Pairs of us were allocated two-week periods when we stopped in daily to feed and water our feathered charges.  Fisher-boy and I would get off the school bus, do our farm chores and walk home afterwards.

A couple of years after I left home to get a job, the club dissolved.  There was just not the interest from the younger lads in town anymore, and the adults had more responsibilities and less free time.  The town took back responsibility for the lake, and replaces aging waterfowl.  They have even added a floating spray fountain a hundred feet off-shore.

This was an enjoyable part of my life, when I learned co-operation and pay-it-forward type social responsibility.  I look back on it with great fondness and pride.  I helped make a difference.