This is a true story. A story told from the perspective of my own limited memory, and from my personal viewpoint as one of the participants in the drama as it unfolded. This story is dedicated to my very first Best Friend, Jeff, his older Sister Darlene, her Husband Keith, and Deelo (another close Friend during my childhood years).
School was out! It was a crisp and clear June morning on Mill Street, and all the little kiddies were making big plans for summer fun. Almost three whole months to dig in, dive down, run around, and explore, in our extraordinary hometown of Hope, in the biggest little state in the union, Rhode Island. Climbing the steps to Jeff’s house, I had no idea what was in store for us that day. That was the beauty of my childhood in our New England mill town; we never knew what sort of adventure we’d embark on until we were deep in the experience of the adventure itself. So, when my best friend Jeff said he could get us a fine truck tire innertube to take swimming that day, I got so excited I could almost hear the splashing and laughter of our awesome summertime float-trip. As I remember, it was Keith, the boyfriend of Jeff’s older sister Darlene who would loan us the inner tube. At twelve, I already had a great appreciation for Jeff’s big sister, in a puppy-love kind of way of course, seeing how she was at least five years older than me. Her boyfriend Keith was someone that I knew I should always respect, mostly because he always insisted on us respecting him. I had the feeling he tolerated me, and all of Jeff’s other friends, because he loved Darlene and would do anything for her. That meant being a big brother to Jeff, even if his friends were a bunch of little hooligans. So off we went, to procure our dream float, and get busy adventuring. Back in the day, any tractor trailer tube you could get your hands on was as good as gold, especially if it didn’t start deflating as soon as you put air in it, so when we got our grubby little hands on the tube and saw that it didn’t even have a single patch, well, you might say we were giddy in our enthusiasm. We were big time explorers, at least in our little boy minds! Deelo met us in front of Bob’s Variety Store, where Keith and Darlene were renting an apartment above the store. Being the oldest of our triad friendship, I’m sure I was the instigator of our proposed rapids adventure on the Pawtuxet River. We carried the tube on our shoulders for the half-mile walk to Falvey’s Linen in fear of popping Keith’s precious tube on shards of road-glass, but also because the tube was our great treasure for the day. We carried it down the road like a trophy, each taking turns and sharing the glory. Putting-in just below the old wooden dam behind Falvey’s, we were thrilled but also a little nervous about the cold temperature and heavy flow of the river on this early June post-melt morning. But the summer sun warmed the black rubber nicely, and in no time the three of us were navigating the runs and pools of the Pawtuxet, with our spirits soaring high. This part of the river was new to us, especially in terms of floating it. I’m sure we had been along the banks and wooded areas on both sides, but the river flow itself was virgin to our explorations. Before long, we were shivering, arguing, and clinging to the warm rubber tube for comfort. I can still remember clearly the wonderful smell of that heated rubber. I also remember waiting for the breaks in the overhead foliage to enjoy just a few blessed moments of sunbeams on my goose-fleshed skin. As the river steadily got deeper and flowed faster, we started looking for a place to paddle to shore for a rest. That was when we heard the low familiar rumble of water falling. Rounding a bend, we saw the water fall as soon as we heard its swollen whooshing sounds. We were in the middle of the flow with about forty feet to either shore, so there was no time to abandon ship and swim. I immediately took the role of Captain, ordering my men to batten the hatches and hold tight to the tube, we were going to “Ride this one out!” Just yards from the crest of the falls, my best friend Jeff and our first mate Deelo agreed upon silent mutiny. They chickened out! Leaping from the tube and leaving me to find balance just before the descent. As I rode over the edge and plunged into the tumbling waters three feet below, gripping that tube with life-or-death desperation, I wondered whether today was my day to die, or would I be spared, at least until Halloween, because Halloween was my favorite holiday. The tube went under on edge with me attached, but only for a second, and then I was being whisked off downstream. I turned back to see Jeff and Deelo riding off the crest of the fall on their backsides, fear and excitement on their little boy faces. Then they were gone. At first I thought they were playing a prank on me. I was sure that they would swim underwater and pop up next to me any second now. Three seconds passed, and blind panic drove me off the tube and sent me swimming frantically upstream with one arm and two legs, the other arm gripping tight to the tube. And that’s when I saw their fingertips splashing just at the surface of the frothy waters at the base of the falls. I struggled and thrashed, moving slowly upstream toward my disappeared friends. I can remember the slippery tops of rocks teasing the tips of my toes with false promises of sure footing, but it never came. I finally reached the base of the falls, and I could see the hair and fingertips of my drowning friends writhing just below the churning foam. I’m pretty sure I pulled Jeff out by his hand and Deelo by his hair. Somehow, I managed to attach the two of them to our life raft and swim us safely to shore. As we slogged our way onto the muddy shore, I’m certain we pledged never to float that wicked rotten river again. Of course, when you’re a kid, you make all kinds of silly pledges and promises. In fact, it was in our future to take another misguided adventure, on another stretch of that same river, years later. We were slow learners, I guess.
I’ve always felt a strong loyalty to Friends who have joined me along the path of this amazing journey. I never mean to let anyone down or leave them behind. Life doesn’t always allow me to keep my friendly promises, but I continue to honor every friendship to the best of my abilities.
And in case anyone is wondering, we returned Keith’s tube in excellent condition and the three of us survived this wild ride to go on many new adventures in that little town of Hope!