Left to our own devises my brothers and I, on summer days while mother worked, cut hickory saplings half again as tall as we were and pole vaulted over the clothes line strung from the chicken house to the utility pole at the front fence line. We put an old mattress over a wash tub and jumped onto it from the upstairs window. We staggered across the yard on stilts made from 2X4s and sawed machine guns from "one by" board. My brother pocked the wooded hill behind the house with caves and trenches for games of war and adventure and survival and the smooth dirt beneath the back porch was a marvel of his architecture with carefully sculpted roads, cattle in the form of dried locust shells behind string fences held up by match sticks and "brick" homes with underground garages for tiny cars.
But what we really wanted was a pond. Or even a small lake!!
The creek behind the house, a rather pathetic trickle most of the year, often ran wide and gloriously frightful in the spring. That spring,an unusually dry one, we worked doggedly and with high hearts intent on creating our very own pond. But constantly the porous soil, in its miraculous fecundity, defeated us, absorbing and retaining every drop of moisture.
We had made a most wonderful find of a battered, lead-lined water heater that had been cut in half lengthwise. With visions of sea battle and long, (at least fifteen feet) voyages we sweated and shoved that old vessel, already endowed with seaworthiness in our minds, the quarter of a mile downhill to the gully through which the wondrous trickle of water ran. For three days we dug and shoveled and transported buckets of clay to block the trickle of water to form our great lake. Yes, it had become a Great Lake effort.
At the end of the third day, muddy, exhausted in the glorious exhaustion of an honorable defeat, we left the gully, still inhabited by its patient trickle of water, and after the nightly wash at the pump and a solemn supper at the crowded board of a family so large our solemnity went unnoticed, we wrapped ourselves in our quilts for a nights sleep in the sideyard. (We never slept inside in summer unless it rained.) Before sleep came we spent a few mumbling moments on plans for the next day. We would haul more clay...bring that big stump down closer to the east bank...etc..etc..and so we slept.
But life is often a tangle of miracles and minor tragedies and we were recipients of a miracle in that the rains came, and in the middle of the night we had to jump from our quilts, roll them up and dash to the house where we spent the rest of the night sleeping to the delicious murmur and roar of a Missouri summer rainstorm.
The next morning we knew we had our lake! Naked to the waist, in ragged underwear and knee-high rubber boots we raced to the gully and launched our leaden craft. My brother, Merle, held tight the end with the spigot hole while I jumped in. He, his long spindly white legs shining with mud, slipped over the metal edge of the truncated water heater.. and for at least 45 glorious seconds we floated!!
Navigation is a wonderful thing!!!