SWIM OR DIE GANG
Youngsters now are not the only ones who dream up stupid tricks. Who among us did not dream up stupid tricks really cannot be answered? I have one answer.
Two foolish pre-teen girls, my self and a cousin, four teenage boys, my two brothers, a cousin, and a friend, decided to take a walk along the shore of Johnston City’s former water supply. You know, or do you, the lake between Pittsburg and J.C., Illinois? The town uses Rend Lake water now.
What a treasure the boys discovered—a loose boat with no one around! This would save time getting to the other side without walking around the dam. We didn’t know the property owner, but so? No one would care—the boat had only one end. It was a throw-away. Of course there were no paddles, but a nearby board would do.
Spotting a bucket on the lake bank, and an old can inside the boat, the boys plotted for us girls to ride in the boat, making sure to stay at the enclosed end since we were not really able to swim that many hundreds of yards across. The boys would hold onto the sides, we were assured, near the front to hold the unenclosed back end out of the water. It would be safe.
Besides, there’s a bucket to keep bailing, girls, so water won’t wash the other end under. Just paddle like mad. My cousin was oldest, so she took the “paddle.”
One boy, her brother, unable yet to swim, was instructed to hang on with one hand and paddle like crazy. The others would tow the boat with one arm.
I began to bail frantically, but it was too much. My cousin had to drop the paddle and help. The boat kept dipping down and threatening to sink at the open end. We girls were screaming all the way across the lake, “We’re gonna drown!”
The boys shouted “Shut up and keep bailin’!”
It was a miracle! We made it! But, we had to remove most of our clothing, leaving enough to be decent—after all, for goodness sake, it was the Forties—and the boys built a fire. Our clothes were hung on a limb over the fire to dry for the long walk home, this time around the lake.
It was a hoot! Everybody nervously laughed, but my oldest brother said we couldn’t try this again.
Years later, when I lived near the lake in my parents’ old home place, a young man drowned beside the dam, right where we had crossed. It took divers some time to find and retrieve his body. There was a very big hullabaloo of police, etc. It was reported that the lake was forty feet deep there.
I cried. Not only did I know his family, but I cried for the foolish kids who could have been on the bottom of that lake years before, bodies being searched for and three families grieving their hearts out.