Remembering the rocks in the river

Sunday, July 21, 2002

In Robert Louis Stevenson's poem, "The Lamplighter," he says, "For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door, and Lerry stops to light it as he lights so many more."

I venture to make a parody: For we were very lucky to have a river flowing by, with rocks and gravel and reflections of the sky.

It was the St. Francis River that was flowing by, less than a quarter of a mile from our back door, and much closer during flood times.

After each flood, when the water was running clear again at the shallow fords, there would be a new supply of pretty little rocks for me to examine, admire and choose for my collection. I had cigar boxes full of them.

However, there were two large boulders anchored in the river bed. Neither could be seen, for they were hidden by the water. Everyone in the community knew where they were, especially our family, for we had to ford the river every time we went to town (Elvins), and to church and extra school activities (Loughboro). If we didn't skirt this rock and a buggy wheel got caught on it, it took a lot of maneuvering by the driver and horse to get free of it.

One day Daddy and I, returning from a 10-mile journey to town, found that a sudden cloudburst upstream had the river at near flood stage. Daddy thought he could make it across and drove into the rising, swirling water. The horse was the first to know that it was a mistake. He couldn't get a firm foothold. The buggy began to drift sideways and downstream. There was no such thing as "open the door and walk out" as I wrote about in last week's column. There are no such doors on a buggy. There is a step on which one can descend to the ground. If the horse was having trouble finding solid footing, who were we to venture? The water would have been over my head.

Daddy, realizing his mistake, went to work, trying to get a wheel of the buggy on the unseen big rock we had always been so careful to avoid. The horse didn't understand it, but, after he was prompted to go a few feet in one direction, then another and another, the buggy suddenly was still. The horse got a good foothold, and there we sat, thoroughly soaked, until the floodwaters went down.

"Thank God for that rock," Daddy said.

"Amen," I agreed.

The comfort of getting home, into dry clothes and served a good supper tempered the ordeal exceedingly.

The second embedded big boulder was about a mile downstream at the YMCA camp and swimming hole. Everyone knew where that rock was, too. Staking a warning sign was of no use. It always got washed away. Putting a tad of extra energy into a dive and you could hit that rock, smack on the head. I did.

Fighting to get back on the water's surface, I saw that blood was running down my face. Others saw it too and came to my rescue.

I was a freshman in high school then. At such an age, one wants to have sympathetic attention. We used to wear leather wristbands from time to time, not that anything was wrong with our wrists, but to snatch attention from others. Ah, me, such a deceitful stratagem of teen-agers.

I'm sure that old boulder is still there. I have a trace of fondness for it, remembering all the sincere care I got. Someone tore up her petticoat to bandage my wound, which was on my forehead. Others brought me their cold sodas, dried me off and put me back into my clothes. One boy had his car there. With about six other passengers he drove me home, which was the long way. I had walked the short way to the camp. They stayed to reassure my parents that I was all right. All right? I was eating it up in spite of a headache.


Jean Bell Mosley is an author and longtime resident of Cape Girardeau.

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