by Terry Hargrove
Before it was dredged and cleared for flood control, Rock Creek cut a pristine path through the heart of Lewisburg. Well, maybe pristine isn’t the proper adjective for a flowing body of sludge that had a more scatological name than the one the maps gave it, but it was close enough to the Park for us to consider it our personal creek. There were crawdads aplenty down there, and frogs and turtles and large blackish things that might have been rats. Rock Creek was also prone to washing away the occasional carnival from the empty lot on Second Avenue, giving rise to infrequent sightings of gigantic pythons and rogue clowns, but we considered this a small price to pay for being able to fish two blocks from home.
And so it was one Friday morning in May, when summer was so close we could smell the green vacation vapors, (and we were supposed to be in school), that my brother Glenn, his friend Wayne, our neighbor Johnny Miles and I grabbed our rods and scurried through back lots until we reached the muddy banks of Rock Creek at 7:45 in the morning.
Sadly, none of us knew that much about fishing. It wasn’t uncommon for me to tie on a spinner and weigh it down with five split-shot sinkers so that it sat near the bottom and fluttered uselessly in the current. But what did that matter. I was fishing and I wasn’t in school. To me, that was what being a kid was all about.
Whenever my brother and I went fishing together, we followed a standard protocol. I picked a spot first, and he went far away from me. This was a procedure that pleased us both, since I was prone to tossing rocks toward his float, and he liked to lob larger stones at my feet. Not in the direction of my feet, no, no, I mean at my feet. So when we arrived, I picked a lazy pool whose water was just green enough for me not to be able to see the bottom. He moved downstream and out of my sight. Wayne and Johnny wandered upstream and disappeared around a bend.
After two hours of not catching anything, I began to suspect that there was something wrong with my spinner. Maybe I needed some proper live bait, so I began an earnest inspection of the undersides of several nearby rocks, when I noticed that Glenn was on the opposite bank.
“How did you get over there?” I asked. “They aren’t biting on this side.”
“There’s a shallow place just beyond that tree,” he said. “But don’t try to come over here because… I see what you’re doing, and I said don’t… you better cast right back where you were because…if you take one more step in that direction, I’ll… look see this rock? I will smash your big toe with this rock if you…”
Talk, talk, talk. I was going over there and he wasn’t going to stop me. The tree Glenn mentioned had fallen into the water, so I stood on it and jumped to the other side.
A funny thing happened when I landed. There was this board, and when my foot hit the board, it went kind of numb. Then when I tried to pick my foot up, the board came up with it. I had jumped onto a nail.
Glenn came crashing across the water, but his anger melted when he saw what I had done to myself. He yelled for Johnny and Wayne who joined us in seconds. They held my shoulders while Glenn gave the board a stiff pull. It came free with a popping sound, and the nail was as long as my middle finger. Then Glenn attempted to remove my shoe, but when he did, a flood of red gushed out of the sides. After a hasty consultation, they decided to take me to Dr. Phelps’ office on second Avenue.
We must have been quite a sight, Glenn on my right side and Wayne on my left, supporting me for the short walk to the doctor’s office, as Johnny followed burdened with four rods and tackle boxes. The funny thing was that I didn’t feel any pain. Then in a panic, I began to suspect that I was bleeding to death. Maybe I was too close to the other side to feel physical pain. The idea made me a little crazy.
“Glenn, Glenn,” I mumbled. “I’m sorry for all the times I tried to get on your nerves. Please forgive me.”
“You act like you’re dying,” he said. “Shut up and let us help you.”
“And I’m sorry about the time I tried to get Dad’s Dad’s dogs to attack you. That wasn’t right.”
“You need to shut up now,” he said calmly. “You’re going to be just fine.”
“And the thing I’m most sorry for is that I’ll be up in Heaven, while mom and dad will probably take a switch to you for going fishing at the creek they told us never to go to, instead of going to school. And it was all my idea. I’m so sorry.”
“Jeez, look at that snake!” said Wayne, who dropped me to get a better look. It was quite a serpent. 10 feet long at least.
When we staggered into the hospital, Glenn asked the nurse if he could use her phone. He called mom’s work number, and for my sake maintained a remarkable composure. But when mom was on the line, his façade shattered.
“Mama! Mama! Come to Dr. Phelps quick,” screamed Glenn. “Terry has stepped on something and cut his foot clean off! Hurry!”
Fifteen minutes later, as I reclined on the edge of the hospital cot and looked for that light they always talk about, I heard the screeching tires, then the rapid footsteps, looked up to see the faces of my mom and dad, so concerned, so fearful. I held Glenn’s hand as the doctor removed my shoe. The red mud made wet slapping sounds as it fell in clumps to the floor. The doctor removed my sock, then washed off my entire foot with warm water. And what he saw… what he saw…
What he saw was nothing. Not even a scratch. Mom and dad dropped their heads and sighed. Two seconds later, they raised two openly hostile faces toward my brother. He released my hand and stood before them in silence for a full ten seconds, before he said:
“You would not believe the snake we saw on the way down here. Ten feet long it was.”
They didn’t do anything to him. Well, nothing they didn’t do to me as well. The important thing was that on that day, beside the muddy banks of Sh.. I mean, Rock Creek,
Glenn got his chance, and he played it very well. Sometimes, you have to wait for years before you can prove you are worthy to be the Big Brother.
And it really was quite a snake. I’ll vouch for that.