While my friend Lydia and I were walking along the North Valley irrigation ditches the other day, we came across a narrow plank bridge. The path ended just beyond it, so we had to cross or turn back. As we got closer, it was evident that the bridge was wider than it looked from a distance, but after we crossed, I said to Lydia, “Go back to the other side again, and I’ll take your picture.”
She ran back and forth more than once, and I warned her, “Be careful! Keep doing that, and you might fall in!” There is such a thing as tempting fate. And I told her about a childhood incident when I tempted fate on a narrow plank one time too many
I thought I’d write that story, but I soon realized I had gaps in my memory. What I did remember was my heavy, pink wool coat with matching snow pants and a hat that tied under my chin. Could I find a picture of a similar ensemble?
I tried a Google search, and although I found some pictures of 1950s snowsuits and girls’ winter coats, none of them looked much like mine.
I didn’t think I had a picture of me wearing it, but a search of my photo files on Flickr hit the jackpot. There I was, posing with what I intended to be a fetching look. I see a contrived smile, and eyes looking up from my demurely bowed head. Was I already at that young age channeling Audrey Hepburn? I don’t think I’d yet heard of her.
My pink ensemble was more suitable for dressing-up than for sledding or skiing, but it was warm. The coat reached almost to my knees, and the heavy, lined pants kept my legs toasty. The hat, with its puffy crown and little brim, tied under my chin with a ribbon and was probably more decorative than practical.
Our father stands resolutely behind us with a hint of a smile, probably meant to please my mother behind the camera. His necktie is slightly askew behind his checked wool shirt, and his soft black beaver cap sits impressively on his head. My brother, holding sticks or a slingshot, looks decidedly unhappy at having to pose. His jacket is unbuttoned, and our father is not wearing an overcoat, so despite the snow on the ground, it must have been quite warm, much like the early spring day of my story.
But there is one more bit of background before I can tell the tale. The southeastern section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has many artesian wells. When a pipe taps into an underground aquifer, water flows freely to the surface. In some cases, the water pressure is enough that the water can shoot fifty feet into the air. A little research reveals that the area between Naubinway and Engadine (a distance of perhaps ten miles) has the highest incidence of these wells on the entire peninsula.
My parents were taking a Sunday afternoon drive in their two-toned green Chevy sometime in the early nineteen fifties. My guess is that it was March or early April, with temperatures moderating, but snow still on the ground. My friend Danny and I sat in the back seat, but I don’t remember if my brother John was with us, and he doesn’t either. We were traveling along that stretch of U.S. 2 between Naubinway and Engadine, and I begged to stop to get a drink at a very large flowing well where water bubbled into the air before falling into a pond surrounded by a swampy stand of trees.
Danny and I jumped through the wet spring snow until we reached a green, slime-covered wooden plank that stretched across the pond to the pipe from which the water poured. What fun it was taking turns running back and forth on that slippery plank to sip the water from the pipe. We did it again and again while my parents waited impatiently.
“Get back in the car before you fall in!” my mother finally called, making the running even more fun.
“One more time!” I called.
Then, dressed in my heavy wool snowsuit, I slipped and went head over heels into the icy, cold, slimy green water. The wool absorbed the water, weighing me down, but I struggled to my feet like a creature from the black lagoon and, with the help of my mother, who ran to save me, managed to climb onto solid ground. Green slime covered me and my pink outfit. Danny laughed hysterically as my mother poured the water out of my boots, stripped off my wet clothes, and wrung them out as best she could, leaving me dressed in only my underwear. She dropped the sodden clothes into the trunk of the car and wrapped me in a blanket. Danny and I snuggled under the blanket in the back seat and laughed all the way home. I suppose the snowsuit went to the cleaners. Or maybe I never wore it again.
Danny and I remained friends until his death, a year after our fifty-year class reunion. I’m sorry I won’t see him again this summer to laugh once more and share our memories of that day.