If It Doesn’t Kill You, It Makes You Stronger!
But it still might hurt a bit.
The Sheyenne River that meanders through Lisbon was the source of untold adventures for me and my best friends as we stumbled through our early years.
Rafting, fishing, hiking, riverbank forts, ice fishing and skating in the winter and just a quiet spot to sit when a youngster needed to be alone.
The Sheyenne was all those things and more.
If memory served me well and my fingers could stand the strain, I know I could fill volumes with happenings I experienced along those muddy banks. However, since IT doesn’t and THEY can’t, I’ll report just one such story back when I was about six years old.
This was a time before Lisbon had a swimming pool. What we had was a swimming “hole” which could be just about anyplace along the river you wanted to take a dip.
There was that wide bend in the river in the city park that had what the city called a bath house, a short cement wall along the bank, some sand between the bath house and the cement wall and a raft on barrels anchored out in the river.
Very few of us liked to use this location except for the raft. I mean the so-called bath house smelled of…who knows what…and you felt dirtier when you came out of the white stucco structure that when you went in. The attempt at creating a “sandy beach area” just in front of the building was just that…an attempt. Every time it rained the beach disappeared and the mud bank returned.
At six, I could swim a bit. That means if I kicked like crazy and dog-paddled as fast as my little arms could pull through the water, I would make a little forward progress and not swallow too much river water.
Hey, you gotta start somewhere.
My big brother, Duane, could swim really well. He was eleven.
Duane and his buddies would walk the river road from the park to the North Bridge to swim. And, they would dive off the railing of the bridge on the west side. There were pilings just under the surface of the water on the east side and some kids had been hurt trying to dive on that side.
Duane and his buddies would climb up on the railing of the bridge and proceed to challenge each other to do some sort of strange, different or weird jump or dive during their 12 to 15 foot descent into the Sheyenne.
My buddies and I would populate the railing a few feet from the older and more experienced divers to watch in amazement their shenanigans while in flight over the water.
Awe….is not a strong enough word to describe our feelings as we witnessed these feats of daring.
On a particular summer Sunday I was straddling the railing of the North Bridge as my brother and his entourage flung themselves through the air while contorting their bodies as they plummeted to the cool waters below.
There was yelling and giggling and shouting by each of the bridge divers. The additional noise was to draw the attention of several 11 or 12 year old girls who were standing along the shore by the bridge to watch the entertainment.
I remained on the bridge straddling the railing as my brother’s turn in the rotation of dare-devil divers came to be.
With an air of confidence that Houdini would have applauded, he announced the intricacies of his upcoming dive. There would be twisting. Onlookers might watch for some arm flailing and…it would not be totally out of the question to witness a complete flip prior to his knife like entrance into the deep.
I couldn’t speak.
My buddies stood quietly on the sidewalk near the railing I was straddling in total shock.
Could my brother actually pull off this complicated maneuver prior to entering the water with the grace of an Olympian?
Some doubted him.
I sat nervously gripping the railing I sat upon. My brother was a true artisan of the dive, but never had I known him to attempt such a dive.
Even the girls standing along the river bank stopped giggling and stared intently at my brother who was now atop the bridge railing.
I think the birds in the trees actually stopped chirping at one point.
The silence was only periodically interrupted by the rumbling of a car or truck crossing the bridge.
But none of us who were about to document history with our eyes and pass along this to upcoming generations, noticed the background noises.
Two deep breaths.
He bends at the knees and then like the taught string of an archers bow his legs propel him into the air.
Everyone’s mouth opened. No one blinked.
He twisted, bent, spun and…as he predicted…moved into the “full gainer”…one complete revolution in mid air leading up to a head first entry into the water.
There apparently wasn’t enough air.
As Duane began to elongate his body to project himself head-long into the water, an error occurred.
The elongation portion of the dive was only half way complete when the water met his belly.
Think of the noise the crack of a bull whip makes…only a hundred times louder. If you are unfamiliar with a bull whip…try the sound a rolled up Life magazine makes on a bare behind when your Dad gave you a paddling.
You know what I mean. I’m not the only one.
I think the Gazette reported that people in Enderlin heard that belly-flop.
As Duane’s head came out of the water, so did a blood curdling scream of pain. I think there were also a few expletives uttered as he slowly swam to the shore where the girls had cowered together to giggle as Duane emerged from the water brandishing the brightest red belly since our neighbor lady fell asleep on a lawn chair in her bathing suit.
That was one ugly belly.
I couldn’t help it. I was in tears…laughing…as Duane approached me from behind on the sidewalk.
He paused at my side as I sat on the railing…holding his belly.
“Think that was funny…he asked of me as I wiped more tears of laughter from my eyes?
I replied to the positive by moving my head up and down since the laughter that was emanating from my mouth blocked any words.
“So is this”, Duane calmly commented as he pushed me from the railing to the dark water below.
I remember thinking. I’m six. I can’t swim more than four feet at a time and I’m headed into water that is about twelve feet deep. This can’t be good.
My cart wheels into the river didn’t last very long before I felt a rush of coolness come over me. This coolness wasn’t like…”hey man nice ducktail, that’s cool”. Nope this was river water being forced up my nostrils and shoving my eyelids back as I sank.
I remember kicking like crazy and hoping my kicks were propelling me upward and not toward the bottom of the river.
My head broke through the water. I spat river water from my nose and mouth and gasped for air. I was breathing.
Oh oh…I was also sinking again.
I sank, I kicked and I repeated the routine for what seemed like an eternity. Finally I touched the river bottom. The panic subsided…slightly…as I inched my way to the shore and up the bank onto the river road.
I looked back at the river that nearly took me away to see who might be in the water that was going to help save me.
There was no one.
I looked back up on the bridge and there on the railing stood my big brother. He was smiling. His belly was still red, but he was smiling.
He yelled to me…”I knew you could do it. But I was ready, just in case”.
My big brother was ready to save me if needed. And he announced that fact in front of his friends and mine.
Hey, that’s my brother.
He would help me if I was in trouble.
Did you all hear him say he was ready to help me if I needed help?
Wait a minute. Wasn’t it my big brother that threw me in the drink in the first place?
No matter. He was there for me.