The following incident happened in the early 1940s on our family’s Pappinbarra Junction farm in New South Wales, Australia. I wrote this script in 1972 as an assignment for a Mike Jones writing class at Andrews University (Michigan, USA), and reproduce it here with its jarring Americanisms still in place, masking its Australian provenance. A few editorial additions are included in brackets. This, and the following two posts, are meant to illustrate the need for Adventists to become aware of the way that their worldview may condition how they interpret and narrate their personal stories.
Brown grass crackled under bare feet as Alice and Ivy raced toward the squat farmhouse at the edge of the cool forest. The morning chores were done. Contented cows, already grouped in pools of shade under wattle and eucalypt trees, munched their cuds, eyes half closed and tails switching at persistent flies.
Hungrier animals hunted among tussocks of flax for any grass which had survived raspy tongues and fierce sun. A pair of bucket-fed calves still tried to suck each other’s ears. But the rest sprawled in the warm shade.
“Let’s go swimming,” Alice shouted as she and Ivy burst in the open door. Joe and Art, with windows and doors wide open, were munching big chunks of watermelon. They answered only with their eyes.
“What a beauty, “ Ivy exclaimed, her eyes feasting on the two melon quarters in the middle of the table. January melons, the first of the season, would be delicious. As the girls placed the big pieces on two plates and paused, spoons in hand, for grace, Alice determined to enjoy every mouthful. Next month at school the melons would be scarce and the slices small.
Joe poked the white ashes through the grate of the wood stove. The oak coals were glowing enough to make toast. It tasted great.
“Hunger is the best sauce,” Joe grinned as Ivy pulled her second piece off the sooty, three-pronged fork he held toward her. The family needed no appetizers. A few hours of chores before breakfast made them ravenous.
The soot-blackened kettle stopped its wheezy song as Ivy lifted it off the stove and poured water into a wide, tin basin. Alice cleared away the melon rind, eaten down to the white. But Don and Trixy would enjoy it even so.
“Come and we’ll make a raft,” Joe invited Art. He laid hammer and saw on the earth floor of the porch while the two collected a pocketful of nails. The lumber pile was in the woods behind the chicken house. As Joe rummaged through it, a hungry jackass bird (kookaburra) swooped down from his perch in the apple gum. The wood beetles scurried faster, but not all of them got away.
Joe was making quick work on the raft. “He’s a man already,” (Art thought of his sixteen-year-old brother). The Australian hardwood planks bent so many nails that Art dashed across the kikuyu grass lawn to hunt out a fresh supply. The raft was six-by-four feet. Perspiration dripping from his black eyebrows, Joe was sawing the last planks as the girls rode up on Don and Trixy, leading Creamy.
“You harness Creamy while I get the slide.” Joe was anxious to try the raft. The heavy slide was made from planks nailed across a forked tree. Joe pulled it near the raft. While the girls backed Creamy into place, he slid the raft on to the slide.
Summer air would do the work of towels, and old clothes felt cooler when wet. So swim suits were neither owned nor needed. With a sharp, “Get up, boy,” Joe picked up the reins as Ivy scrambled aboard with him. Creamy ambled down the rough grass track toward the creek.
Art’s skinny legs smarted where Don’s salty sweat burned at wild raspberry scratches. But the creek was only ten minutes away. Trixy pranced and tossed her head, champing the bit as Alice reined her in behind the slide.
Joe steadied Creamy as he neared the smooth boulders of the crossing. In the deep pool that reached under huge willows and upstream to the bridge, the water was lazy, motionless. Here it rippled, then gurgled among smooth rocks glazed with green slime.
Creamy launched the raft as he splashed forward slide and all until the cool water reached his belly as he sucked up great gulps of water. Joe shoved the raft off the slide into deeper water and sat on it. Roars of laughter from the younger three echoed up the creek-bed as Joe sank until only his head showed above the surface. Gum and tallowood are about as heavy as water. Almost useless as a raft.
“Let’s get the Paddle Wheel Steamer,” Ivy called. With the horses tied under the willows, the four scurried across the bridge. The gravel road burned tough soles keeping the steps brisk. Joe led the way down the steep bank to where a large, softwood log was baking on an outcrop of slate rock near the bridge. The water level had fallen since it was beached. A couple of stout sticks made good levers, and in a moment the log splashed into the water.
“Look out for the wasps,” Art shrilled. A dozen feet up, the log which held up the shady side of the bridge was caked with hundreds of palm-sized paper nests. A few wasps stirred to challenge the intruders, but they kept close to the shade of the bridge.
“All aboard.” Joe held the log while the other three scrambled on. The round log had less curve than Creamy’s back.
“We’re like roosters on a clothes line in wind.” Ivy remembered the bantams bobbing one way and then the other as they tried to keep their balance. The secret was to keep the Paddle Wheel Steamer balanced with six arms stretched sideways. The other pair of arms inched it forward. They were the paddles.
Art was glad Joe was near as they teetered over the black pool. The clean water was so deep here that it looked dark and frightening even outside the shade of the willows. But the water felt good. Finally, with the Paddle Wheel Steamer beached, it was the horses’ turn.
Trixy pawed the water as Alice dug naked heels into her ribs. Don insisted on lying down and rolling in the delicious relief of the cool water. Art remembered how he had done the same thing in a patch of knee-deep mud, saddle and all. Creamy took a quick breath as his feet left the gravel bed of the creek, and he started to swim. He always seemed half frightened of deep water.
Alice clung to Trixy’s mane as she turned her under the willows. Long leafy fingers tickled the clean face of the creek. Red roots reached out into the water. Trixy swept Alice through the veil of willow braches and curved back to the shallow water at the crossing.
“I’ll go and get dinner ready,” Ivy volunteered.
“And I’ll put the horses away.” Joe hitched Creamy to the empty slide. “Don’t drown yourselves and come home soon,” he called to Alice and Art, never dreaming what would happen next.
The thudding of hooves on the unused road was dying away as Alice had an exciting idea. The raft was bobbing against the boulders at the crossing. It was easy work pushing it upstream into the deeper water. One of the boards, held by a bent nail, had already come loose at one end. It floated at right angles from where it was meant to be. Art watched as Alice laid her hands on the raft and pushed off into the black pool.
“See, it’ll hold me up,” Alice chortled, as she drifted upstream toward the middle of the bridge.
“Artie, how can I get back?” She was frightened now. Down where her feet dangled the water seemed cold. Eels and catfish were happy there. It was safe for them. But Alice couldn’t swim. Suddenly her arms felt weak. To climb onto the raft was to risk going under. There wasn’t much to cling to, either. Would her fingers lose their grip in her fright?
“I’ll get you, Sis.” (seven-year-old) Art hurried toward the bridge near the left bank, beside the fallen tree which for years had been half-buried in the creek bed. The chest-deep water covered fine gravel which sloped away sharply. Out in the deep water Alice’s aching fingers clutched at the cracks between the boards of the raft.
“Wish I could swim.” There was a tremble in Art’s shrill voice. “But I think I can reach that loose board.” Toes digging deep into the yielding gravel, Art stretched toward the raft. The water was chin deep as he reached helplessly for the half-loose plank four feet away.
“Help!” The fine gravel on the deepening creek bed pulled Art’s feet toward the blacker depths. He jerked his chin upwards. All the pool seemed to be cramming into his open mouth as he gurgled for help. Terror flashed from his eyes and then the water blotted out willows and sunshine.
Suddenly Art found himself back in the chest-deep water by the smooth, slimy log. Alice’s finger nails still bit at the hardwood raft. Her face was white with fear for herself and Art. Now he was safe, but her lips were still tight and her throat dry from shouting for help. Her cries had echoed up the valley. Would they never be heard?
Art was still shaking, his eyes riveted on the weakening Alice, when Joe splashed with long strides into the shallow water at the crossing. He swam with a few thrashing strokes out to the raft. Grasping it with his left hand he tugged it-and Alice-back to safety.
Weak and relieved the trio headed for home and lunch. Ivy had tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, milk, and a bowl of lumpy salt on the table. She brought a big bowl of cream from the cupboard in the porch. Glad for more than thick cream on homemade bread, Joe thanked God for his care.
And the angel’s push? Years later Art found the Bible verse which he thinks tells how God saved his life at that terrifying moment when he was drinking water and didn’t mean to. He believes the strong hand of his guardian angel rescued him with a quick shove to safety. “For the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence him” (Psalm 34:6, Living Bible).
Arthur Patrick, 21 January 2013