Gut Rumbles

January 25, 2008

Pole vaulting

Originally published December 15, 2003

When I was a kid, one of the things my friends and I liked to do was pole-vault across the big drainage ditch at the end of the road. We trapped crawfish and gigged bullfrogs down there and vaulting from one side of the bank to the other was a nice trick, performed using your 10-foot gig-pole.

We all became very good at vaulting across the ditch, so we looked for greater challenges. I found one.

We were deep in the woods, almost all the way to the Gun Club Lake when I saw a spot in the canal that never had been vaulted. It was wide and steep, but I thought I could make it. I took a shot at it and barely cleared the opposite bank. Finn Moffett came right after me, and he made it, too. Art Salter went next and we had to grab him to keep his ass out of the canal. He almost didn't make it.

Michael Moffett tried, too. Michael was Finn's younger brother and he was afraid of nothing. He'd try anything once. He probably weighed about 60 pounds at the time and when he took a good run-and-go to vault the canal, his pole stuck in the mud and he didn't have enough ass to push it to the other side. He ended up hanging onto his pole, which stood straight up, stuck in the mud, as he found himself marooned in the middle of the canal.

"Help!" he yelled.

"Mike! Just start rocking the pole. If you can make it lean this way, we'll grab you!" I suggested. Finn, Art and I lined up on the bank to grab him.

Michael started rocking the pole. He was doing good at first, but the more he rocked, the deeper the pole went into the mud and the lower his hands slipped on the pole. When his feet were touching the water and the pole was stuck as if a pile-driver had laid it in there, he said, "I don't think I'm gonna make it."

"You can make it! Keep trying!" we yelled from the bank.

We watched as the inevitable happened. Michael couldn't rock the pole anymore. He couldn't hold on anymore. He was ankle-deep in the canal and fading fast. This happened in January on a very cold day. Ice was floating on the water when we first arrived that morning. You really didn't want to end up in that water.

But Michael did. He turned loose of the pole and fell flat on his back into the canal. We stuck a pole out for him to latch onto so that we could drag him out, but the damage was done. He was as wet as a drowned duck and shaking from the cold. "We need to get you back home," I said.

"He can't go home like that," Finn replied. "Mama will kill both of us. We're not supposed to be playing in the canal." I understood where Finn was coming from. I wasn't supposed to be playing there either. I could see a disaster in the making. If we took Michael home, his mama would kill both of her sons, then call MY mama, and my mama would kill ME.

Nope. We couldn't allow that scenario to occur. That one was way too unpleasant for everyone involved. "Just stay here," I said. "I'll be right back."

I vaulted back across the canal, hopped on my bicycle and rode home. I sneaked in the back door and stole a book of matches from my parents's cigarette drawer. Then, I headed right back to the woods and we built a fire to dry Michael out. That process took several hours and a lot of pine straw and wood, but we got the job done. He was okay before the sun went down.

"Walk down to the drainpipe and cross the canal there," I said, when I figured that Michael was fit to return home. "I'll get your gig for you, but you're not jumping this canal again. And don't tell ANYBODY about what happened today."

He never did, we got away with it, and now I am the one letting that cat out of the bag 30 years later.

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