The Backwater

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

A memory from my youth

The Backwater

 

© 2020 by Jim Shipp

 

In the late 1950s, it was a real treat when dad piled us boys into the back of his old pickup truck and drove us to the backwater of the Tennessee River between Priceville and Decatur, Alabama.

The backwater was a broad, placid inlet that had escaped the river’s current, where carp, drum, and buffalo fish abounded, together with highly edible bream, catfish, and crappie. It was deep in places, but marshy in others, so it also served as a stopover point for migrating ducks and geese.

We parked in the shade of the nearby hardwoods and made our way down the earthen boat ramp to the water’s edge. Dad, always a strong swimmer, generally struck out across the channel until he was almost indistinguishable in the distance, leaving us nonswimming brothers to frolic in the shallows with our inner tubes. I was ten, Roy was eight, and Tom was six.

One fateful day, I let my inner tube drift a little too far from shore and decided to see how deep the water was, so I pushed it away from me. I immediately ascertained that I was about two feet too short.

After some initial frantic thrashing, I somehow regained my composure and simply let myself sink to the bottom, the thick mud closing in over my ankles. I then sprang upward with all my might, my face barely breaking the surface. Behind me, Roy and Tom had scrambled onto the riverbank and were raising the alarm. Before me, dad was churning through the water like a windmill. Each time I came up for air, he was a little bit closer.

I made a dozen or so of these curiously calm lifesaving breaches before dad reached me. He hustled me out of the water, grabbed up a convenient hickory branch, and wailed the tar out of me. Then he sent me to retrieve my runaway inner tube, which was by then bobbing along the stone causeway that supported the adjacent road and bridge.

It took me years to realize that this whipping was born of fear, not anger. Dad had almost seen his eldest son drown before his very eyes.


Submitted: December 15, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Jim Shipp. All rights reserved.

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