It was a hot day, hot and humid, as only Little Rock can be in August. Jerry, Chuck, Danny and I were all headed to Fireman’s lake at least that is what we called it. It was actually an old clay quarry for the brickworks that had been there once upon a time. I didn’t swim so I really didn’t have any intention of getting wet but there was supposed to be a boat on the lake that we could use and we were all looking forward to a day in the woods at the lake.

We didn’t take the road to get there, we followed the train tracks starting at the spur that serviced the grain mill near my house, joining up about a quarter mile off Asher Avenue with the main train line. We walked along the tracks two of us on either side until we came to a railroad bridge where we had to actually walk on the tracks themselves. We were afraid to walk too fast across the bridge, looking down between the cross ties we could see the muddy water below. While we were afraid to go too fast, going slow was not an option either as we were afraid of being caught in the middle of the bridge by a freight train.

Looking back, the bridge was probably no more than 30 or 40 feet long and no one had ever in our memory seen a train on those tracks during the day time. We were kids and kids with vivid imaginations to boot, so the threat of trains barreling down the tracks was a very real possibility to us. The train tracks took us all the way up almost to the gravel pits where we had to get off the tracks and head out beyond the gravel pit.

There was a shaded lane that led off into the woods and towards Fireman’s Lake, one that 4 wheel drive enthusiasts would use to go exploring off road. We followed this lane about half a mile until we came to Fireman’s Lake. It wasn’t really what I had envisioned as it was truly a pit with sheer walls and no easy access to the water other than a rope that hung from a massive oak tree near the edge. As advertised there was a “boat” in the lake. It was a homemade contraption made from galvanized sheet metal; it was square and had a drain in the bottom.

Looking down at the boat, I was hanging onto the rope to keep my balance. It seems there had been others there that morning since the area around the rope was wet. The wet clay was slippery and I swung out over the boat with the rope as I lost my footing. Then I lost my handing evidently as I went head over heels into the boat. My right leg hit the edge of the boat squarely and cut a gash into my shin, my head hit the bottom and I blacked out.

I never really knew what happened topside but Jerry was the first down to the boat with Danny right behind, evidently they thought I was dead. Chuck was busy trying to help us back up the steep clay bank that was slippery from getting wet. This task was not made easier by the boat wanting to float back out onto the lake. Chuck finally had to lay flat on the ground to reach Danny and it was by main force that we managed to climb out of the lake and we were able to assess the extent of my injuries.

I had a splitting headache from hitting my head and my leg was bleeding profusely where the boat cut a gash into the shin. Nothing seemed to be too bad, but we all realized we had about a three mile walk in the hot August afternoon before us so we started out. This being in the days before cell phones, I had no way to call for help or a ride. It was going to be a long walk.

I don’t remember much of that walk, but I do remember looking down at my leg where it was still oozing blood and seeing a sight that nearly made me ill. The entire gash was covered with mosquitos all feeding on the free lunch I was providing. The rest of the walk home is pretty much a blur in my memory but I will never forget the sight of those mosquitos engorging themselves on my blood. But more than that, I will never forget the actions of my friends that day as they all pitched in to help me out of the boat and let me lean on them on the way home.

That was the day I learned what friendship truly is.
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Dec 9, 2012