As we melt and sweat amid the summer's heat, I thought of the summer of 1963 and of Chase Freeman.
Chase is my soft-spoken, humble, easy-going cousin whose only flaw is that he sometimes ends up on the wrong side of the law – and in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But one hot, summer day in 1963 Chase ended up in the right place at the right time.
We were out swimming that day at our favorite swimming hole, a place called Mud Creek that was on a dirt road off of the Whitesville Road.
Chase's uncle Gene Donaldson was in charge of the six or seven boys that day as we played and splashed the deep and muddy water of the creek for half a day. It was there in that creek that I learned to dog paddle and then, eventually, to swim for real. In 1963 I was in the early stages of dog-paddling and could usually get from one side of the creek to the other without passing out.
We'd swam for a long time, so Gene told us to get ready to go, that he was going up on the bridge to smoke. We weren't quite ready to go, because a good rain had come the night before, making the water deep and the current swift. We were having too much fun to follow orders the first time, so we ignored them as long as we could. After a couple of cigarettes, Gene hollered down again – this time with a tone I think he got from his navy experience – and said his beat-up blue car was leaving in two minutes, with or without us.
All the boys shrugged and mumbled but obeyed and started climbing out of the water, along with me. But once I got to the bank I thought I would take one last little dive before getting out for good.
One for the road.
I took my dive, and the next thing I remember is being stuck in the middle of that creek with the current running over my head and my dog paddling failing to move me an inch. I was hung there, just fighting the water. I still remember the images, just yellow water and bubbles. I don't remember being particularly scared, although I do remember getting a little choked up on the way home.
Being stuck just beneath the surface of that sun-aided yellow water is all that I remember. I had to depend on the other boys' eyewitness account for the rest of the details.They said that all you could see was my hair sticking out of the water. Chase, they said, saw me first and dived in to get me. Then Gene – when he heard all the carrying on below – came running and descended that steep sand-bagged embankment in two giant steps and followed Chase head first.
I vaguely remember them pulling me out of the water, but I distinctly remember everyone talking about how it was Chase that saved me. Gene came at the end to clean it up, but Chase was the hero. He'd seen me in the water, and put his own 11-year-old life on the line for his 7-year-old cousin.
Almost 50 years have passed, and I don't know how many good things Chase has done to add to his "good" list. It may be pretty short. But even though my own list sure isn't as long as it should be, anything on mine he can add to his, too. If not for Chase, I wouldn't have a list at all.
So today's story is for Chase Freeman. He has probably forgotten the whole thing, even though it's one of the best things he's done his whole life. At least, it was in MY book.
Steve Bowen is a Red Oak teacher and coach and a regular guest columnist for the Waxahachie Daily Light.