Rick and I had gone to the river again. We went as often as we could, to swim or play in the sand. It was a great way to spend a summer day. The sand was clean, except for an occasional broken bottle buried deep under the sand, or thrown into the water, hiding under the soft mud.
Rick was a skinny, tow-headed, eight year old, knows it all. He would try anything. Fear did not get close to him, except in the form of dad. He did not mess with dad. Ever. Other than that, he was fearless.
I was almost seven, the only girl in the family, with three brothers, of which Rick was the oldest. We were very lucky to live where we did. The river was our yard, our park, our fantasy world.
Rick and I swam and fished. We would leave the water to race across the burning sand toward the bank. The heat of the sand seemed close to 200 degrees. We didn't need a thermometer to know it was hot. I ran on my tip toes, drawing my feet up high, trying to step into Rick's footprints. We figured the sand would be cooler if I did that. Rick said he had knocked some of the heat out already.
"It ain't workin, Rick. Its still hot."
"Pick your feet up higher, Ree, the wind will cool them off."
"Yeah, but my other foot is still in the sand, and its burnin!"
We would reach the bank, finally, and jump on any piece of grass or weeds we could find. Invariably, there would be puncture vines. Stickers. Our blistered feet were further tormented by being unable to avoid the puncture vines. As we became older, we remembered to grab our shoes as we left the water.
"Ree, walk like this, then you will miss the stickers."
I tried, I placed my hands on the ground in front of me, and duck-walked across the sticker patches, just like Rick was doing. It was no picnic. The life of a country kid is not all it's made out to be. We would have to stretch from a grassy patch to a grassy patch, searching the ground, trying to avoid the stickers. It was an impossible task.
Once at the bank, Rick and I would explore. We would imagine a time of long ago. Who walked here a hundred years before? Look! Behind that tree! What was that? Rick surely encouraged my imagination. He also practiced refining his sense of humor on me. For instance, having me reach for something when he knew there was a monster of a spider on it. Anything that got a yell out of me, got a laugh out of him. If he happened upon a gopher snake slinking hurriedly out of his way, he would pick it up on a stick, swing it back and forth, and scare me half to death.
We knew the difference in spiders, we knew which were poisonous. Well, I didn't yet, but Rick said he did, and I trusted him. There were no poisonous snakes in our part of the world, so we were actually safe. But, again, I didn't like snakes being swung at me, poisonous or not.
"Eeeek! Stop it, Rick! I'm gonna tell mama!" I repeated these words over and over for years. He never stopped, and I never told. We really did like each other.
After a bit of exploring, and tree climbing, we would head back toward the bridge and the water. Having learned a lesson, we searched for a shorter stretch of sand, one that had more dirt mixed in it; dirt doesn't get as hot as sand does.
Once more suffering the torture of the puncture vines, and a few more blisters from the sand, I ran, anticipating the cool of the water on my burning feet. The water felt wonderful once I reached it. Rick went on to the bridge.
"Hey. Look up here!"
I looked up toward the sound of his voice, ready to laugh at whatever antic he was up to. The smile froze on my face when I saw him. I couldn't believe he would do such a thing. There he was, standing on the bridge railing, doing a Tarzan imitation. He was beating his chest and ah oo ah'ing.
I screamed at him, "Don't jump!"
He didn't jump, he fell. He said it was my fault.
"You hollered at me, and made me fall. You scared me."
He tried so very hard to laugh about it.
Today, fifty years later, as we reminisce about the stupid things we did as children, Rick still tries to laugh. He said he still feels the pain.
The softness of sand is very shallow and misleading. Hidden directly under the surface is the stuff bricks are made of.