In the 70’s, my mom and stepdad were best friends with a couple that somehow managed to get ownership of this big chunk of land east of Broken Arrow, OK. I know those folks didn’t have a lot of money, so how they pulled it off was a big mystery. (This parcel of land was located on the same road I have babbled about in other posts, specifically the tale of my near-death experience a few years later. But I digress.)
Anyway, however they managed the deed, they had it. Maybe they got a good deal, since it was a few years before Broken Arrow exploded into the fastest-growing school district in the state in the 80’s. And it wasn’t really prime property, being outside the city limits, and most of the spread consisted of scrubby “nothing worthwhile is going to grow here” patches, a few trees, and bulky rusted things left here and there that may or may not have been important in days gone by.
So, Barb and Larry (loved Barb, hated Larry, he was a total bastard) dragged in a mobile home and set up camp. One redeeming feature of this land was a pond just about smack in the middle of the property. As long as we weren’t in the middle of a drought (which happens every other day in Oklahoma), this pond proved to be an endless entertainment source for people who ain’t got no money.
Somebody wrangled a paddle boat from somewhere, and us kids would spend hours on that thing, going nowhere on the pond, just circles, but enjoying the journey anyway. When you’re twelve, your imagination is still strong. Everything is full of promise, and dreams. It’s only later, when reality and responsibility have beaten you down, that you forget how to live.
But the real prize, the jewel, was located at the far east end of the property. Back there, the property tumbled into an area that we called “the strip pits”. Another somebody, at some time, had surface-mined for something or other. Which resulted in these narrow (maybe 40-feet wide?) but very deep grooves in the earth. And these grooves were filled with water.
Perfect for swimming. Nirvana, in fact. No maintenance. Nature took care of it. The water was always there, inviting you in.
In current days, of course, we realize that swimming in such a thing is probably not in our best interest. Who knows what kind of metals or whatever were mined out of those trenches. Probably something we shouldn’t be in contact with if we expected to enjoy any admirable longevity with our lives. The water was always intriguingly murky, never clear, this constant shade of dirty green-brown.
And the fish? Yes, there were fish, so it wasn’t completely poisonous, but these were some fairly vicious fish, so there might have been some DNA-corruption at some point. They would swim up and nibble on you if you stayed still, so you learned to always be active. For a kid, this was not a problem. For the slower adults, there would often be cries of surprise and unintended spillage of high-octane beverages.
But those slower adults also built stairs down the side of the trench to water level, and they constructed a big-ass floating dock on the water for everyone to flop down on when they needed a break from splashing around in the water and escaping the carnivorous fish. I spent so many lazy afternoons on that creaking dock, dreaming of better and waiting for the chances to come.
And the piece de resistance? The adults hacked away all the overgrowth leading to the highest point on the cliffside, a spot that was powerful and scary and thrilling. From this vantage, you could leap forward, and then plummet 30 feet into the murky waters. It was terrifying the first time; you might even quietly wet yourself a little, not that it mattered since we were already dripping and no one would notice. But after that? Perfect, total, release. Run and jump and just let go of everything.
And that’s what’s missing in some of our lives today.
Where is the faith in the jump? Where is the trust in the jump? Where IS the jump?
We spend our childhoods slowly learning to be free, then too many of us spend our adulthoods forgetting that we can get away from the fish that nibble if we just keep moving…
Originally published in “Memory Remix” on 08/13/09. Modified somewhat for this post. Trivia: This was one of the last stories featured on “Our Big Gay Neighborhood”, a collaborative site where I had the joy of being a contributor before the site quietly shut down years ago…