HORSESHOE LAKE FIASCO
Most people remember Horseshoe Lake in the bottom of Southern Illinois if one grew up here, but some of the memories are scary. We got there from Marion on Route 51, or Route whatever on that side of the state of Illinois.
My family, in later years, had a cabin there because Dad was an avid bass fisherman and taught all of us eight kids how and where. Our fence on the farm near Pittsburg had a large mouth bass head on several posts. We enjoyed every fillet, plus the eggs found in the 10-12 pounders. In fact, we fought over who got to eat the bags of eggs.
But, as usual, I digress. What I really want to stress is snakes, gars, cypress trees, stupidity, etc. My brother just above me, you know, the one who became an Army Chaplain, was not very old, I’m thinking maybe ten and I could have been eight.
We decided to go fishing, just the two of us. Mom didn’t notice, she was busy with two out of the five born then. Dad took my older brother—the one who became a preacher in later life—to paddle while he did most of the fishing. They always pushed off from the dock at four or earlier—leaving Mom to cook and watch kids. My adventurous brother found this neat boat, maybe Dad rented it, I don’t recall. We left the dock and my brother pointed the way across the lake to the cypress trees on the other side. You know, where the snakes drop into the boat for a visit from the tree limbs, but no one dared dive overboard to escape.
I paddled all I could, but I was so skinny, my hide turned blue in the hot Summer time if a cool breeze stirred the hair on my arms. Maneuvering through the smooth-headed cypress stumps, we found a good spot, he said, so we decided to tie up there and fish.
As I reached for the stump, rope in hand, I fell head over heels into the lake! I couldn’t swim a lick. My brother panicked. His hair would never lie down anyway, and that day, it stood on end. He stood up. I saw him headed for my end of the boat to grab me by the hair if he could, I suppose, and pull me safely aboard, but!
He didn’t have to! When my feet touched that slick mud on bottom, an imaginary, slick, cottonmouth brushed by my legs, and I just knew an Alligator Gar must have been waiting to grab my skinny legs. I beat my brother to the rescue. I was back aboard and trembling. His face was all eyes. What would we tell Mom?
We didn’t linger, wondering. It took forever to paddle back across the lake and sneak up to the car. Didn’t make it—she caught us! The only clothes I had to wear at the lake were on my back—one of those “jump suits” so popular then, the ones you had to take off from the shoulders and pull down for necessaries. The suit was soaked–my hair was full of lake mud and green things. I remember now, on that particular day, we hadn’t used a cabin, just picnicked, so…..
If anyone remembers the old Nash automobile of those Forty days, the back seat laid down to make a bed from the trunk to the driver’s seat. Mom stripped me down to underwear and made me cover up in that bed until my clothes dried. It wasn’t quite Summer time, if I remember that well, and it took forever for my clothes to be ready to go out and play again. Needless to say, we were watched by the “hawk,” the red head that brought us into this world, for the rest of the day.
Of course, that wasn’t the only incident my mother dealt with the many times we went fishing and camping, but those are other stories, and I want to tell them all later.