I have decided that I either live a very interesting life or I just find everything that happens in my life very interesting. Sometimes when I start to relay a life experience I am pretty sure that people must be thinking I make these things up because I have had so many bizarre things happen. Part of this is due to my dad. Or at least I will blame him because that is what our generation is all about…blaming the parents right? My dad is a story teller. He grew up in Copeland, Kansas and it doesn’t get any more boring than that. However, he can tell stories about things that happened there and the people that lived in the community that would make you think he had grown up in one of the most fascinating areas of the world. But his stories have proven to be factual and he has witnesses to back them up. We begged him to write this stuff down and eventually he got it done. This was a good thing since I am never good at repeating stories and I would have had wrong names and places that would have gone from bad to worse. All that being said, I am going to leave a legacy for my kids and get their mom’s stories out there in my blogs before dementia settles in….which for me is most certainly going to happen.
“I fell off a dam”. These words came out of my mouth a while back when some friends had taken me for a hike around a reservoir. Of course, they wanted to know how that happened and I began going way back in my mind’s archives to remember the order of events that led up to one of my most memorable experiences I have ever had.
I was seven years old and my parents, brother and I had gone to Mead County lake in Kansas to fish. My brother wandered off to a little pond nearby and my parents sat down on the dam slope and began fishing there. Several people were sitting around enjoying the day and I was walking along the edge getting closer to the water. No concern to me was the fact that there was moss all the way up to the dry concrete. With one slip of my foot I shot off like a bobsled right into the middle of the lake! Now my mother had taught swimming lessons and I was not her most cooperative student. She worked with a guy who thought the best way to overcome fear of water is to toss people in the deep end and almost drown them and then they will feel better about getting in themselves. I will testify that this approach does not work!
Anyway, there I was in the middle of the lake and all I could remember was my mother had told me that you should never panic when you are in the water or you will drown. So, I decided to stay calm and somehow it seemed that something held me up. I don’t know if I was treading water or somebody else was doing it for me but I managed to stay afloat. Meanwhile my parents, having watched in horror, threw their poles and dove off the dam to retrieve me. They swam out to me and all three of us were able to make our way back to the concrete slope. That was when things got difficult. Every time we tried to climb out we slipped on the moss and found ourselves back in the middle of the lake again. I can remember people sitting there watching us as if we were having a good time with this exhausting situation and seeming to be very slow in understanding that we were in deep trouble!
After several attempts to pull ourselves out only to slide right back into the lake again, my dad who was holding on to us told my mother “I am too tired, I can’t save you both!” She hollered back “save Shelli because I know how to swim”! She got close again to the concrete and found a hole that she was able to stick her finger in and latch on. Finally, someone grabbed her wrist and pulled her out. Meanwhile as my father struggled to hold me up a man with a fishing pole ran to the edge of the water and handed it out for us to grab as he tried to pull us in. It had about 3 extensions to it and each one pulled out and floated away every time we grabbed on to it. Sadly, this idea wasn’t going to work. With no other options, the man laid on his belly, putting his feet in the water and told some others to hold his arms while dad grabbed his feet. With that accomplished, the others then drug the man with us attached up the side of the dam. Finally we were saved!
We were exhausted and soaked to the core and after seeing that we were alright our rescuer had gone on. Eventually we regrouped, found my brother who had missed the entire drama and loaded up our soggy selves to head home. Wanting to make sure that our hero knew how grateful we were we headed to the area where he was fishing. When we found him to thank him one more time we learned why he had been the only one who truly understood the danger we were in.
He told us that the year before he had been at the lake with his friends. Their little boy had fallen into this same area as well. Everyone knew that he could swim and so they just waited and watched for him to swim back to the side. The only thing they didn’t count on was how strong the current near the dam was. The little boy never made it. The current was too strong and pulled him under. His family and friends helplessly watched as that child drown. This man knew that if he didn’t get us out, we could very well have had the same fate. Needless to say, we thanked him more than once.
I look back on this situation at times and wonder how I stayed afloat in that big lake until help got to me. How did I not get sucked under? What would have happened if that man hadn’t come to our aid? There are a lot of things that I don’t understand but I do believe that God protected us on that day. This experience had much impact on causing me to ponder life, death and eternity as young as I was. It was also a time of great racial unrest in our country. Every man on that dam was white. Except for one. The man who laid on his belly to be drug across the concrete for complete strangers… he was black.