(A short-short story from a collection of memories from the author’s childhood)
The summer of 1943, my family became the proud owners of a “newer” icebox; the old one became rusty with the tiny leaks that allowed water to escape. A block of ice bought from the regular Saturday trip to town wrapped in burlap kept to ice cool all week, by Saturday morning the burlap wrap, which southerners called a “toe sack” lay in a lump of water. My grandpa and the one old mule we owned pulled the old rusty icebox to a sinkhole in the pasture. The ever-sinking hole was round as big as a house, the walls slanted toward a bottom that provided an ever-ending change throughout the year.
As children, my sister Billie Wayne and I knew not to go near the sinkhole, that it may sink into the earth and we would never be seen again. Of course neither of us we afraid of it! It was also the summer that my ten-year-old sister convinced me that she had a new place for me to play; excited I ran with her into the pasture and jumped right into the sinkhole. My only sibling always played her never-ending spiteful tricks on me; with the promise of playing “train”, she the conductor and me the passenger, she shoved me into the old icebox and shut the door. I could hear her laughter as she ran out of the sinkhole.
One would have thought that my grandfather would have turned the old icebox face down, but he dumped it, watched it slide into the hole and rode away; it landed on its back with door exposed. He was my daddy’s’ father, the one who ran off leaving him and his mother when he was just a boy. It was our mother who forced my daddy to have him come see us, she taught my sister to call him Papa, in time I would only refer to him as Mr. Johnson.
I do not want say that my sister shut me in the icebox on purpose, but as the years went by I did wonder if her constant tricks, comments and bossiness was in wanting to be an only child had anything to do with it? Of course, my mother wanted her to be the only child as well. As a family, we had established our pattern for family life…my mother would always have Billie with her and tell me to run along with my daddy while she and Billie planned their day. Daddy tried to remember how long I had been gone, he begin to calling my name, even getting the old dog “Buster” to look for me.
Mother tried to reassure him that I was out in the woods somewhere; Billie Wayne continued cutting cookie dough without saying anything. My grandfather got on the old mule and headed into the nearby sugar cane field knowing that I sometimes stole a bit of sugar cane to suck on. Yes, at barely four years old I would play in the fields and woods, a wild child so to speak.
The grandpa was moving slowly hoping I would hear them calling my name when he thought of the old icebox. It never entered his mind that he might kill that old mule by running him so fast in the hot Alabama sun, but he jumped off his back, sliding down into the sinkhole. When he jerked open the door that I was blue, he hollered for my daddy while blowing into my mouth; now who would have known that he knew CPR. He didn’t he just wanted to get air into my lungs.
Daddy saw grandpa riding across the pasture toward the sink hole; he knew instantly that something was wrong he had never seen the old mule move so fast. Daddy rode across the pasture on Red, the big roan quarter horse hooves pounding the earth, Buster barked, it would seem even the animals knew that a threatening cloud had settled over the old Hamilton Place, the farm my daddy worked.
Daddy jumped into the sinkhole pulling me from my granddaddy’s arms, he climbed back upon Red leaving grandpa behind, and he rode to the gully where we went for water. Coming out of a big boulder was a stream of cold water, almost as if it had been frozen and was melting; it flowed into a rock where time had formed a bowl before it lapped into a small creek.
Daddy ran tossing me into the ice-cold water, there is no explanation for what he did but the cold water shocked me into breathing. I would like to think that both God and Nature had a hand in keeping me alive that day through the hands of my daddy.
When daddy carried me into the house the first question my mother asks had I been swimming in the Pool’s catfish pond again. Daddy told her what happen, while daddy placed me on the bed my sister and I shared; mother continued to chastise me for playing in the sinkhole.
“You have got to stop running the woods and pastures, you should try to be a lady; more like your sister” She looked toward my sister with a pride.
I raised my head off the pillow long enough to see Billie Wayne smiling and when no one was looking she stuck her tongue out at me!
Billie Wayne passed away in 2009 at the age of seventy-six years old; we had become sisters and friends only the last thirteen years of her life. I maintained the relationship until she stops speaking in 2006; it took be those thirteen years to find out that she had never changed.