Sunday, June 27, 2021

Sink, Sank, Sunk

The other day I met up with my brother and cousins. It was our monthly lunch date over at my Aunt’s house. We got to reminiscing like we always do and pretty soon our tales took us back to the cabin when we were kids. We must have ranged in age from about 8 to 15.

It was the Summer of about 1971 or so and me and my youngest brother (my oldest brother was in the service at the time) and three of my cousins were all up at the cabin for a few days. Somehow, our Grandma and Grandpa had been left in charge of the 5 of us while our parents went back to the Cities to work for the rest of the week.They were expected back on the weekend. 

Our cabin was a one room cabin partitioned off with curtains for bedrooms. No running water, no indoor plumbing, a pot-bellied stove for heat from my great-grandma’s homestead and no phones.The cabin was near the little town of Grey Eagle on Swan Lake. It is where both my parents grew up.It was the farmstead where my mom and her siblings grew up and my Uncle Ed now owned and farmed. The shoreline had been divided into lake lots for cabins and there were a few cabins on the lake that some of the extended family owned. And even my Dad’s partner from the police force and his in-laws, Grandpa Louie and Grandma Clara had a place.The front of the cabin had the shoreline and the back was all alfalfa pasture for my uncle’s dairy cows. Oftentimes we would wake up to a cow staring at us through the window.

Between the waves hitting the rocky shoreline and the smell of fresh alfalfa and clover mixed with the sounds of cows mooing as they headed to the barn for milking, it was pretty close to heaven as far as I was concerned. With the exception of one thing...the dark, smelly, spider webbed outhouse out back. 

Our Grandma, although raised by water, had an incredible fear of the water. There had been a family drowning of a young child years before and that always stuck with her. She didn't like us kids in the lake, much less near the lake. She didn’t want anything happening to anyone...not on her watch. Looking after the five of us near water must have been her worst nightmare being she hated the water so much. But somewhere in her watching us, she let her guard down and let us take the boat out on the water. My 2 other cousins were up at their cabin and had their boat out.

We loaded up into our 12 foot aluminum boat. All of us were strapped into our life jackets, tighter than last year’s tennis shoes, courtesy of Grandma.We hopped into the boat with my brother, in the back running the motor, and two of my cousins in the middle seat. Me and my younger cousin in the front seat scrunched in tight with our life jackets snug touching each. I felt like 2 marshmallows on a stick getting roasted and puffing up sticking to each other..

Off we went out to the middle of the lake where the other boat and cousins  were waiting for us. We were headed for the sunken island on the lake about a mile from the cabin. Swan Lake is a long and wide lake about 2 miles long and a mile wide. Back in 1971 there were really only a few cabins on the entire lake and they were down from my Uncle Ed’s farm.

We went racing out with the other boat bouncing up and down with the waves from the wind and from my cousin’s boat that was doing circles around our boat. They had way more horsepower and easily were doing donuts around us. All the time the water was churning and  splashing in on me and my cousin in the front of the boat.We were about ankle deep in water. We were all laughing and having a great time, until it happened. Grandma’s worst nightmare was beginning to unfold right before our very eyes. 

Our motor decided to die a fast quick death, causing the water from the wake we were leaving behind us to enter the back of the boat. And as that happened the boat started to plane and level off in the front as it was slowing down. Water started washing in the front and the boat took on the character of a submarine ready to dive under. I looked at my younger cousin as she started to drift away from me into the lake. My other 2 cousins were also floating out away from the boat. My brother was making last ditch efforts to make sure the motor was securely attached to the boat as it went under. And then all 5 of us were in the lake floating next to the boat that was now floating upside down.

Within seconds of being out of the boat and in the water floating with the lifejacket that I was thankful was on tightly from Grandma, I felt myself going under water. I was struggling to come up for air. I felt the weight of my younger cousin climbing onto my shoulders and holding me by the hair. She was convinced that her lifejacket wouldn’t work, and there were leeches going to get her. She decided to hop on my back to stay afloat with my lifejacket. Fortunately my brother saw what was happening and pulled her off of me as she was screaming and kicking. I was thinking she maybe needed someone to slap her back to reality like you see on movies with people who get hysterical. To this day, I am not completely sure one of her sisters didn’t slap her upside her head, because she eventually did calm down and hung on to the edge of the tipped boat like she was told.

Meanwhile in the other boat my cousins were floating next to us in the water and laughing at what they had just seen. Here we were about a ½ mile from the nearest shore with our boat upside down and us clinging to the edge of it. We were in deep water and not even close to the sunken island where we maybe could have got in shallow water and righted the boat to get home.

Once the other cousins got done laughing at us in the water, we came up with a plan. Somehow we needed to all get back to shore and all at the same time so Grandma would see us all and not freak out that some were not in the boat and were MIA. We were afraid, with her intense fear of water, she may have a heart attack if she saw that. Since we couldn’t have 7 people in the boat at once, we’d have to take turns getting back to shore. So we hoisted my younger cousin into the boat, all the while screaming she was going to drown and then my other cousin was lifted in. Off they went to shore down by Uncle Ed’s pasture about a ¼ mile from the cabin. They were told to not go back to the cabin until they saw us coming back. We were to arrive all at the same time. Me,my brother and other cousin stayed behind and held on to the upturned boat and drifted further out into the middle of the lake. We watched as the other boat hurried off until we couldn’t see them anymore, but could only hear the hum of the boat as it got farther and farther away. What seemed like forever was probably more like about 30-45 minutes until we could hear the boat getting closer coming back for us. But there’s something creepy about hanging onto the boat and floating farther away. A feeling like you may be forgotten out there.

Eventually they came back to pick us up. One by one we climbed and they pulled and we hoisted ourselves into the boat. Finally we were all in and on our way back to the cabin. As we headed back we could see the cousins on shore running through the cow pasture trying to get back to the cabin at the same time. just as we had planned. The cousins were rounding the corner of the cabin and we were in front of the cabin in the boat when Grandma saw us coming. She saw that it wasn't the right boat or the right people in the boat and clasped her hands to her chest. Even from the boat we could see her face pale and she grabbed for the railing to steady herself. We all started yelling we were fine and to look by the cabin where my two cousins appeared. We got dropped off on the dock and continued to yell and point to the two on shore already. Within seconds they had reached her and were wrapping themselves around her and we were running up to her saying we were fine. It took several seconds for the color to come back into her face.

We all felt pretty guilty putting Grandma through that ordeal. She never said a word to us about how we had scared her half to death. She pretty much didn't say much to our folks about it either when they arrived at the cabin. None of us got in trouble. As my cousin said the other day when I wondered why she never outed us to the parents, she said because then she would have outed herself for letting us go out on the lake. Maybe...but I think more so she was wise to let us each come to our own conclusions regarding that day.

The fishing tackle from the tipped boat remains at the bottom of the lake to this day 50 years later, the boat with the motor secured to it was recovered and cleaned up and had many more outings. Through the years, many a conversation has been had regarding the sinking of the boat and the Summer we almost killed our grandma. Never did she scold us for going out there that day. She was a wise woman, she let us feel our own guilt for putting her through the fear of losing her grandkids. And that was our consequence... feeling our own stuff. 

She was quite the lady with so much wisdom. I can only hope to have even half the wisdom she had as a grandma with my own grandkids. Hopefully they will benefit from Grandma’s wisdom too.

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