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Jenny the flying fish

April 15, 2011

Aunt Jenny thought she was a fish. Almost really.

From her first water-winged days in a neighbor’s pool she moved like an eel, undulating through and under the water with her eyes wide open. The diving board was the greatest discovery of her third summer. From the edge of the pool and across the concrete deck there was an arced path of water she shed after she jumped off of the board, undulated her way through the pool to the steps leading up and out, and then with bare feet slapping, made her way back to the board over and over again.

She knew that in addition to having an adult present, the rule of the pool was that she must wear water wings, and the rule of Grandpa John’s boats and near the lake shore at Grandma Beanie’s and Grandpa John’s cottage was that she must wear a life jacket. She was delighted to comply. She loved her life jacket, and had once gone to bed wearing it and holding her pink Barbie fishing rod and reel. Lying in bed, she was casting and reeling, her little arms and hands the only busy parts of her sleeping body. What a wonderful dream she must have been having.

All of the kids loved going for rides on the 24 foot pontoon boat that Grandpa John had affectionately christened Beanie’s Barge. He would hold each child in turn on his lap and allow them to steer with his strong hands guiding their own. Some of the best trips on Beanie’s Barge from Lake Jimmerson to Lake James were on the Fourth of July holiday, when boats began congregating just past the channel in anticipation of a beautiful fireworks display. There was a great flotilla every year. When Aunt Cindy and her family were visiting, Beanie’s Barge would be carrying about 20 people to the festivities. Dozens of boats were tied together and some people would boat hop (we stayed put), visiting each other. When the professional fireworks display began on the island at the mouth of the channel between the two lakes, all eyes turned to the sky in awe. The best fireworks displays I have ever seen in person were launched from the tiny island on Lake James.

Being on a boat and near a pool were a large part of your dad’s and Jenny’s lives, and with many adults watching at all times, there seemed to be minimal danger. But there is always something a child can do that is completely unexpected.

A bunch of us were out on Beanie’s Barge one nice July day, cruising slowly around the lake and enjoying the motion of the boat and each other’s company. Grandma Beanie, Aunt Linda and I were seated at the back of the boat in the booth with the table in between the seats, Grandpa John had your dad on his lap steering the mighty barge, and Grandpa Frank, Uncle Tom, and the others were at the front of the boat.

Jenny was walking back and forth from front to back, visiting everyone. I was holding a can of grape pop for her, and she came back to take a drink. I helped her take a sip from the can and turned to place it in a cup holder. Before I could get the can settled, Jenny was up and over the back rail of the boat, and I was up and away from the table, grasping her ankle as she hung upside down over the back of the boat.

It’s still an unreal scene in my mind. It happened so quickly that no one knew precisely what had happened. I can’t tell you how I got up, or knew to get up. None of us will ever know what possessed a 3-year-old Jenny to take a flying leap off of the back of a moving pontoon boat directly above the terrifying blades of the motor. I was frozen, terrified, holding her upside-down over the churning motor blades, by one ankle.

Grandpa Frank and Uncle Tom were next to me very quickly after I grabbed Jenny and pulled her up and over the edge. Jenny was the only person on the boat who was not upset by what happened and couldn’t understand the fuss. She was wearing her life jacket, after all.

One can never be too diligent when it comes to the safety of a child. They are unpredictable. I thank my lucky stars that Jenny limited her future leaps to jumping from a dock or diving board. Ask her about it some time. It’s a great conversation starter.

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