Rick and I scampered down the dirt road towards the beautiful Kings River. We spent many happy hours there, swimming and playing in the sand. It was a great way to spend a hot summer day. The sand was clean and white, with shiny flecks of fools gold scattered throughout. Huge old Oak trees lined both sides of the bank, plentiful enough to give the illusion of a forest to two small children with large imaginations.
Rick, a skinny, tow-headed, eight-year-old know it all, would try anything. He had never met fear except in the form of Dad. He did not mess with Dad. Ever. Other than that, he was fearless.
I was almost seven, a lone little girl with three brothers, of which Rick was the oldest. We were very lucky to live where we did, and considered the river our yard, our park, our fantasy world.
Rick and I swam and fished almost everyday, weather permitting. When we tired of that, we would leave the water to race across the burning sand toward the bank. I would run 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 of it already.
“It ain’t workin', Rick. It’s still hot!”
“Pick your feet up higher, Ree, the air will cool them off.”
“It don't either, and they're burnin!” I would hop from foot to foot in tears. Rick would finally convince me to get moving again by giving me a push.
We would reach the bottom of the bank eager to find a bit of shade and jumped onto any patch 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 that trailed along the ground under and in the grass. As we became older, we remembered to grab our shoes as we left the water.
“Walk like this, Ree; you'll miss the stickers.”
I tried tiptoeing through the sticker patches like Rick was doing, but I couldn't see the advantage. It was no picnic. The life of a country kid isn't all it's made out to be.
Once at the top of the bank, Rick and I would explore. We would imagine a time of long ago. Who walked here a hundred years before? 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 spider on it. Anything that got a yell out of me, got a laugh out of him. If he happened upon a gopher snake slithering under the weeds, he would pick it up on a stick and swing it toward me.
We knew which spiders were poisonous. Actually, 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 safe. But, I didn’t like snakes being swung at me, poisonous or not.
"Stop it, Rick! I’m gonna tell Mama!” I repeated these words over and over for years. He never stopped, and I never told Mama. We really did like each other.
After a bit of exploring and tree climbing, we would head back toward the water. Having learned a lesson, we searched for a shorter stretch of sand, one that had more dirt mixed in; dirt doesn’t get as hot as sand does.
One time, Rick decided to walk on down the dirt road to the bridge. My only thought was getting back to the water. Picking my way down the bank, again suffering the torture of the puncture vines, and a few more blisters from the sand, I ran full out, anticipating the coolness of the water on my burning feet.
“Hey. Look up here!”
I looked up toward the sound of his voice, ready to laugh at whatever antic he was up to now. 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, beating his chest and ah oo ah'ing.
I screamed at him, "Don't jump!"
He didn’t jump, but he did fall. He said it was my fault. He didn't have it in his mind to jump, he just wanted to walk the rail.
“You hollered and made me fall.”
He tried so very hard to laugh about it.
Years later, in the summer of 1997, we sat watching the rings caused by fish dimpling the glassy surface of Rick's pond. It was very near his front porch in his beloved Oklahoma, the land of his birth. As we reminisced about the dangerous and funny things we'd done as children, Rick still tried to laugh, and he said he still felt the pain.
The softness of sand is very shallow and misleading. Hidden directly under the surface is brick.
I no longer have Rick to reminisce with, but I have the next best thing--the memories of his humor that he never lost. I will slowly turn these memories into stories that are special to me.