The Runt and the River
A warm front pushed winter out of January for three beautiful days in 1969. Spring was in the air as temperatures soared around seventy-five degrees each day.
Keith, Billy, and Michael headed to the south fork of the Forked Deer River after school on Tuesday afternoon.
The river was swollen from recent rains. They had a long rope. Plans had already been hatched too swing across the narrow, muddy river.
Who would go first?
Billy had bragged about how brave he was. Nearing the river, he complained of a sudden stomach ache while holding his stomach and walking funny.
Michael was the runt. No one actually thought he would attempt a daring swing.
Keith climbed a long tree leaning over the river tying one end of the rope. As he got back to shore, Michael was ready to jump, and he did.
He landed like a rock in the middle of the river as the cold water took his breath.
Billy (his older brother) yelled, “Swim Michael! Swim!”
Keith realized that Michael was being taken downstream fast. Michael disappeared for a brief moment. He came up crying.
Keith doesn’t remember jumping, but he does remember reaching out and grabbing little Michael with his right hand. Michael fought out of fear for a moment, dragging them under water.
Keith reached with his left hand and caught a large limb hanging from the bank. It was like the arm of God extended to them. Billy was on the bank shouting, “Get him Keith! Save him!”
Keith’s feet suddenly felt the river bottom! He inched closer and closer to the bank. It took several minutes getting little Michael up the muddy bank.
Pushing Michael to the top, Billy grabbed his little brother into his arms. By now, Keith was winded, wet, and couldn’t move. Without enough strength to crawl the last few feet of the embankment, Keith listened as the two brothers left him. They went home.
Keith lay in the mud ten minutes before getting enough strength to climb up the river bank.
The next day at school, neither Billy nor Michael said anything close to a “Thank you.”
Keith never spoke of this event again until he met Billy thirty years later. Billy brought up the subject. Keith could smell liquor on Billy's breath.
Billy said, "I still remember how cold that water was! Boy, we almost drown that day."
Keith was about to speak his mind, when he stopped himself. He smiled and said,
"Sorry Billy, I've got to go."
Keith slowly turned and walked away.
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