Saturday, July 26, 2014

We All Come From Some Place

(This is a blatant plug for my book Return to Rocky Bottom. Enjoy!)

The cold, black Edisto River snakes through the town of Orangeburg, South Carolina where I grew up. A small cove called Rocky Bottom was floored with pebbles to provide a safe harbor for kids learning how to swim. I cut my teeth on those pocket-sized rocks and later when I was no longer a child, Rocky Bottom was the place to which I returned ... if only in my heart.
One of the local mothers had trained for the Summer Olympics when she was younger, so she kindly volunteered to be the town’s Red Cross Life Saving Instructor. It was a proud day when our own mothers sewed the coveted Red Cross Lifesaver patch onto our youthful bathing suits. We earned it by diving off a high platform and swimming against the strong Edisto River current without drowning. That patch represented a significant rite of passage.
I remember the day we were learning the Dead Man’s Float in the roped-off section of Rocky Bottom ~ the official dividing line between safety and peril. Beyond the division, deep water rumbled swiftly past on a fast track to the Atlantic Ocean.
My face was totally submerged when the shriek of a whistle jerked me up in time to watch our instructor plunge over the ropes and dive headfirst into deep water, slicing it with first one muscular arm and then the other.
She was clad in a Catalina swimsuit designed to make her look skinny and a black bathing cap. The spitting image of a loggerhead turtle, she cut through the water like the Gold Medalist to which she had once aspired.
She swam downriver to a young African American boy struggling to keep his head above water. When his limp hands disappeared for what could have been forever, she swam even faster in order to grab his little body before it was too late.
Just like she had taught the lifeguards, she placed the boy on the shore and began to resuscitate him. When enough water squirted out of his mouth to put out a grass fire, I let go of the breath I had been holding in.
Although it didn’t seem so at the time, the incident was over quickly. Even so, it has remained a permanent snapshot in my mind, a watershed moment. I was left with a formidable respect for the cold-hearted Edisto River when it proved itself to be a killer in disguise. On the other hand, I was fortunate enough to be there when our swim teacher fulfilled her destiny and established herself an unbiased heroine who did what she was born to do.
People like her nurtured and shaped me into the person I was born to be. Growing up in that small town meant that I experienced good times and bad, altogether creating the person I am today. My memories are what suckle me now and will do so all the days of my life. Rocky Bottom is the touchstone that takes me home again.
In writing these stories, I chose fictional characters Scrappy and Boo Sanford to be narrators. A few exploits might point to my own brother or me, but that’s for you to decide. If any of the book seems familiar, it’s only because Southern towns are almost always comprised of people in love with football, fried chicken, barbeque and ancestors.
That pretty much describes the folks of Greenburg, South Carolina, a town created for Scrappy and Boo and where they seem to always … Return to Rocky Bottom

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