Thursday, February 19, 2009

Falling Through The Ice: Johnson City 1969

When we moved to east Tennessee, we first lived in the little town of Jonesborough. A year after that we moved to the little city of Johnson City--except we didn't really move into the city, but rather had a place just outside of it along Antioch Road. We lived in a housing development on a semi-steep hill. The houses were newish and behind us was a farmer's field with the obligatory rough-gray-wooden-falling-down tobacco-drying shed. Our street ran downhill to the main road--which was Antioch Road, more like a rural highway, really--and then on the other side of that main road were woods and fields and blank housing lots (and a few new houses) and a creek. THE Creek, as it became known.
The Creek wound its way down out of cow pastures and barbed fences and stony landscapes to flatten and widen and pass beneath a little bridge--the street that was our street on the other side of Antioch--and where we played all year round when we had the time. It would take a lot of words to sum up The Creek and what we--my brothers and sister, neighborhood kids and myself--did there. But I'm just thinking of one small episode one winter.
Winters in northeast Tennessee were not long, were not brutal, though to us--after having lived west of the Cascades in Washington state (I hate having to say "state")--it seemed like a long cold passage of time. I mean, it would snow and the creek would freeze over. And so, this one winter there had been a big snow and I went to The Creek alone to play.
I loved being out there alone as much as I did with the others. I had an elaborate Saturday Morning cartoon show that I ran in my head like a movie (the show--which had my name prominently in its title--had both live action sketches and then a series of different cartoons, usually action cartoons or super hero cartoons, one of which was Element Man) and so I was out there going through an episode of Element Man. And in this episode, Element Man had transformed himself into ice--because the water was frozen over. And so, out I went on The Creek, playing out the cartoon plot and fantasy and at one point I jumped up and came back down and I crashed through the ice. Yes, in reality, I crashed through The Creek's thin ice.
My immediate reaction was to panic. How many movies or shows or comics had I seen where kids crash through the ice and are in peril of dying? Many. Many. And so here I was, ripped out of the cartoon fantasy of my mind into a literally cold reality of smashing into winter's water. I was very scared and prepared myself for a life and death struggle. That is, until I realized I was standing. That The Creek--just like in the summer--was only maybe two feet deep and its treacherous swirling icy waters only reached up to my knees. And all I did was step up and back onto the ice--maybe I even broke more--and walked to the snowy bank and walked home with wet shoes and pant legs.
Oh well.

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