Ricky Bobby

Ricky Bobby
If you ain't first you're last

Monday, August 2, 2010

High Tide

The rushing of water through my ears settled, and the millions of bubbles all around me were slowly fading away...drifting back to the surface. I could feel the mucky bottom oozing up between my toes and some of the sea grass wrapped itself up around my feet. Like so many times before, the water found its way into my mouth....salty and bathwater warm. I was close enough to the surface I could see the rim of the sun sliding into the gulf straight ahead. It was awfully quiet and peaceful; not even a minnow stirred 'round. Only nine more days left of summer break, we'd soon be going back to school. What a great day it had been....and... where was Roy anyway?


Sleep was fitful , as it always is with a bad sunburn. Lying there in a half slumber, I could hear the thunder in the distance as...I slowly waft into wakefulness, I realize the thunder is actually fishing boats starting up in the canal just outside the open window. The raw skin of my back is prickling up under the heavy force of the fan running next to the bed. The sheets are stuck to me in places where the small blisters on my skin have popped overnight. Oh, yeah....Dekle Beach... ten days of summer vacation left. My cousin Roy was in the bed next to mine. Looking over, I could see he was already awake. Roy's family usually came to Dekle Beach for a month and then my family would come for a month. It worked out for us, because we then ended up staying with each other and getting the whole summer at the beach. We had been coming to Dekle Beach for the summer as long as I could remember.

We both climbed out of bed and watched the boats for a while out the window. The rest of the house was still quiet, so we pulled on shorts and shirts ...never mind shoes, and slipped on out toward the canal. I was feeling better, still a bit sore from the spill I had taken the week before. Riding my bike over crab creek bridge, my bike tire had gotten caught between two of the planks on that old wooden bridge and I went right over the edge face first. It was about a ten foot drop into the barnacles below. Fortunately, some lady was driving up at the time and had seen me go over. Guess she didn't have any trouble hauling a skinny 11 year old boy out of the water. I didn't remember a thing after seeing the tire get wedged. That happened on Sunday Morning, next thing I remember it was Monday Afternoon. But kids were made of tougher stuff those days, and it didn't keep me down. Anyway, the fishermen were all climbing in their boats talking back and forth. Our boat was sitting on down the bank a ways....I briefly wondered if we'd get to go out later....that's what my Dad usually said....later. The boats were all idling out the canal now, pushing up muddy water behind them. The tide had just turned on it's way in and should be full late in the day. Roy and I were standing in the black ooze that lined the water all down the canal edge. Back then, who knew the consequences of all the open septic tanks dumping into the water. I just knew the canal was STINKY at low tide. We contented ourselves chasing fiddler crabs for a while and soon found ourselves staring across the main canal toward Jug Island. About that time Roy Taylor (not my cousin) came putt-putting up the canal in his little boat. He was always quiet....I don't ever remember him saying more than three or four words to me. Just small and quiet...and brown....That boy was dark as the inside of a cow. I don't know how young he was when he got that boat, but I don't remember a time when he didn't have it. He was only my age but had his own boat which just turned the ole green eyed envy monster loose in me. As he passed, by and waved, our eyes again came right across Jug Island. Roy (cousin Roy)was just beginning to say "let's go over there" when I heard the screech right behind me. "Young Mr. Gutshall, what are you boys up to" I didn't have to turn around to know it was Janie Hamilton, who along with her husband "Hamp" had founded Dekle Beach. They also own the general store "on the railing of which she was presently screeching from" as well as the rental houses most of us were staying in. Well, there wasn't much that didn't catch ole Janie's eye. Her voice was like a rusty nail being pulled through a tin roof. Ole Hamp never bothered nobody. As a matter of fact, most of us kids enjoyed hopping into the back of his old pickup for a trip to the dump, or back to the woods to feed his hound dogs. Anyway, I shouted back "nothin" to Janie and Roy and I drifted on back toward the house. She retorted with a "I got my eye on you two" and disappeared through the back store room door. Come on, Roy lets go....

A little envy goes a long way. The knowledge that Roy Taylor was kin ( I think Grandson) to Janie Hamilton, was not lost to me. The night before while we were following the mosquito spray truck on our bicycles, I had remembered seeing a dead possum near the end of the road. Roy and I scooted back to the house and in the door. Mom was up and getting breakfast ready and told us to give her ten minutes and she would have something for us to eat. As soon as her back was turned, I snatched a paper bag from under the counter, and we were out the back door. Five minutes later, that dead possum had been neatly "delivered" into Mrs. Janie Hamilton's mailbox. We were back to the breakfast table before Mom ever missed us.

With a full stomach we were soon back behind the store and swimming the canal toward Jug Island. The swim across was easy enough, but once we were across, Jug Island looked a lot further away. The water over to the island was only a couple feet deep, but man was that hard traveling. After a half hour or so, we gave up and headed back. Our path back brought us out farther down the canal and the swim across found us near the mid way steps of the boardwalk. By then we were close enough to see the "girls from Live Oak" were heading out the dock and they settled down for sunning right next to the steps. Roy and I were nothing if not shy in those days, so there was nothing for us to do but turn toward the beach and slog on through the water. We eventually made it back and climbed the steps next to the store and on up to the store balcony. Mrs. Janie was waiting on us, and screeched through the screen door...."Mr. Gutshall, I saw you swimming that canal and I've already told your mother"...that old bat! I shrugged, and Roy asked her if the mail had come yet...She frowned and said, "I don't know, why do you ask"? "Oh no reason", Roy said, and we walked on past her into the store. The old screen door slammed behind her as she followed us in..."I've got my eye on you two"... her voice made my skin prickle up again. We didn't have any money, so we got a deck of cards out and began to play. Polly Ferrell and Lee Ann Hardee were at the other end of the room with a couple other girls from town. We knew who they were, but like I said before.... we were painfully SHY. Sometimes when Lorrie Parker was with them we might offer a quiet hello. After all, Lorrie was mine and Roy's cousin...that made it some easier. Anyway, the "new store" as we called it was much better. If you dropped money on the floor, it stayed on the floor. I remembered the old store, you could see the water through the cracks of the floor. If you dropped a dime, well, you lost a dime. We soon had enough of the cards, and started out the door. Janie had gone home by then and Mrs Mullinax was at the register. She was such a nice lady...she called me and Roy over to her as we got to the door. She handed us each a fudge cicle and dropped a couple of quarters into the register....like I said, sweet lady.

As we made our way back out the door, the "Girls from Live Oak" passed by, so we took the opportunity to go down the dock. We always took the time to find "our board" on the dock. Everybody carved their name in the dock somewhere, sometime. I don't know what had ever posessed me, but at one point I spent three days carving..."DON GUTSHALL SR.80 "If I don't fail". It took up almost a whole length of one of the old cypress boards. Anyhoo, we were about halfway down the dock again, and decided to swim / walk to crab creek....so there nothing to do but hit the water. Off we go back down the mid way steps and into the water.. It's a hard walk across the water and mud, but about an hour later we walked out of the water behind Doctor Parker's house and onto the rock road leading around to crab creek. A few minutes later we were standing in front of the "Spook House" Well, we never made it to crab creek that day. We spent the rest of the afternoon crawling through the shell of that ole house over the water. It was fun to "haunt it" and make scary sounds when the girls walked by.

Somewhere around seven o'clock or so we realized we hadn't eaten since breakfast and let our empty bellies lead us home. Walking back up the rock road, we passed by the "Live Oak House" and could hear the squeals and laughter coming from inside. We made up a million reasons why we couldn't go to the door and speak to them....just shy I guess....Painfully Shy. We met Polly and Lee Ann coming up the road the other way and pretended we didn't see them. I guess they didn't see us either cause no one spoke. Shy I guess....Painfully Shy. There was this story I heard about Lee Ann and Roy Taylor taking a bath together when they were tots....guess they just weren't so shy at that age...

Mom had been over to Jabo and brought home fish for us to eat from Howards. Janie Hamilton was storming out of the house when we came up. She was so torqued up, I don't even think she saw us. Dad was sitting on the front porch as we came in (I think the was fairly torqued up himself) and I asked if he would take us out in the boat real quick.....later, he said. We scarfed our dinner down and headed for the store before anybody started asking questions. On the way we passed the Moody boys who were pulling a giant Jew Fish onto the back of a pickup truck at the boat ramp. They had been out spearfishing all day. We admired the fish a while and headed on to the store. No one was inside yet when we got there, so we kept going right on out the dock. We walked quietly absorbed in the thoughts of preteen boys. Every now and then one of us would stub a toe, or step on a sharp crack in a board. The day was nearly done and the sun was just about to touch the horizon as we walked directly into it. We were halfway between the mid steps, and the end of the dock. No words were spoken between us, but suddenly we were sprinting for the end....we always did that. Just see who could be there first. I was always a little faster than Roy and hit the end of the walk running as hard as I could go. The last step I jumped as hard and far as I could go out into the full tide...


My breath is spent and the water all around is still....the sound of a boat motor is drumming closer and louder now. Pushing off the bottom, my feet sink further into the mud. Reaching then for the surface my head clears then another wave hits me in the face, salty warm water...and the boat coming...louder and louder...I shake my head trying to clear the water from my eyes....warm salty sweat dripping down into my eyes. The mower vibrating under me and a retreating sun straight ahead sliding down the edge to the sky....The grass is neatly cut again. Daydreaming....I do that sometimes when I cut the grass. Just a memory, so rich I can feel it, so real I can still taste it. Life's like that, you know. You jump off the end of the dock, and when you come up for air, thirty-eight years have rolled by. I wonder where Roy is.........

I never did hear what happened when Janie opened her mailbox, but I knew it wasn't pretty. Mom knew everything I'm sure, but she never said a word (to me anyway)...Lee Ann Hardee's Mom told me once that Mom had told her that whole story back when they were nursing together. Dad didn't care either way I'm sure. There's so many more stories to tell about Dekle Beach. Like Vance Burford skiing by the ski ramp spraying the girls with water...getting closer and closer each pass until he got close enough he hit the side of the dock and broke his leg....yeah I remember. Days when me and Roy stood under the store spying on (I won't call his name but his initials are Wes Blue) smooching with his girlfriend on the bench after dark. Lee Ann Hardee and Polly Ferrell were so helpful in sparking many of my memories of those days. Thank you guys so much. Most of these memories are probably collective to all who grew up there.

Think I'll go shower now before Tilena gets home. If she catches me sitting here so dirty and smelly I'll be in for it. Besides....I think I've got a little seaweed wrapped around my ankle...


Hybrid said...

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Pam said...

Hello, didn't know you were a writer; I'm thinking of starting a blog myself, just to rattle one.

Anonymous said...

Great story Daddy! I wish my childhood memories were as clear! Mine are foggy - I think the meanness camouflaged a lot of them. LOL!


Anonymous said...

This was great Don! Love reading your stories.

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Anonymous said...

That about covers a day at the beach cuz. It's great to look back again. I wish life was that simple again. Love Ya Man, Roy