I’m not quite sure when I realized that my childhood wasn’t normal. Of course we can debate what a normal childhood should look like, but somehow it occurred to me that cows sharing our swimming pool was not something most kids had to tolerate during their childhood.
Okay, so true confessions, we didn’t exactly have a real swimming pool. In fact what we really had was an old steel storage tank cut in half that held a couple hundred gallons of water. My dad was a welder who took a torch to the tank and cut it in half. He didn’t do this to give us a swimming pool, but rather to give our cattle a watering tank. Of course me and my siblings had other ideas.
The most memorable was the time my older brother decided to test his new snorkeling equipment. As a teenager, he was the more mature one compared to my single-digit age that shouted, “Help me button my shirt.” After all, he could drive a car while I was still saddled with training wheels on my bike.
It was the perfect summer evening as my brother donned his snorkel while we gathered on the fence outside the barnyard. The night was warm, the sun low, casting a golden glow on my brother’s work clothes. More importantly, my parents had just left us alone with the capable care of my mature brother. We watched in awe as my brother scaled the fence and then slowly slipped into the cattle water tank next to the fence.
Like a frogman he slipped below the surface of the watering tank. The cattle in the pen kept their distance, a couple dozen of them lined up watching with an annoyed look that said, “Why don’t you kids get your own tank?” We waited with wide eyes as we watched the breathing tube move around the surface of the water. The water in the tank was only about four feet deep, but it might as well have been the ocean to us.
When he finally emerged from the deep, our minds were racing as to what he might’ve seen in depths of that tank. Fish? Sharks? A sea monster? My brother stood a moment with his upper torso above the surface as he removed the snorkel mask. “What did you see?” We blurted out, anxiously awaiting his answer. “Not much of anything,” he replied with a smirk. “Nothing?” We asked. “Just a lot of moss and slime on the tank,” he replied.
We were disappointed at this news as we watched our deep sea explorer pull himself out of the tank. He climbed the fence and joined us on the other side, his pants and shirt dripping wet. At that moment he was a Navy Seal to us, his wet suit still dripping from his latest adventure. But that image was soon shattered by the sound of a car coming down the road. My brother quickly climbed the fence to see who was coming.
From the top of the fence he shouted an expletive related to cow manure and quickly jumped off the fence. “Dad and mom are coming back!” he announced to us. The admiral of our ship was returning and she was soon to discover her sailors had disobeyed orders by running a mission into forbidden waters. We had risked an international incident and the repercussions would be severe.
We watched as our brother quickly spun himself in circles, water spraying off his soaked clothes. I heard gravel crunch as a car pulled up our driveway by the house. “Go see what mom and dad are doing back so soon,” Carl instructed. “I’ll stay in the barn.
We greeted mom and dad at the house. “We forgot something,” mom said to us as she ran into the house. We nodded as dad sat in the car waiting for mom to return. “Where’s your brother?” Dad asked. “Oh, he’s in the barn finishing up chores,” my sister answered. “Good,” dad replied. A sigh of relief came from our lips as mom returned from the house with a bag. “You behave,” the admiral said as she climbed back into the car. “Yes mam!” We replied as we saluted. (We actually did not salute, but it seemed the appropriate thing to do as she boarded her boat to go to shore.) “Be back in a couple hours,” She shouted to us through the open window as they backed out.
Back in the barn we gave my brother the all clear. We had avoided the repercussions of our actions and an international incident. My brother was now able to exchange his wet suit for dry clothes. My parents would never know about our secret mission — except now my mom, the admiral, knows about it.
#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published January 22, 2020.
© 2020, Chris G. Thelen