By Karen Brode
It was so hot that the summer day shimmered in front of Winnie’s eyes. She wiped sweat out of her eyes over and over, but it kept coming back. She bent to pick a perfect cotton boll near the ground. Her hoe handle was beginning to get rough from so much use, and she would have to wrap some duct tape around it to keep from getting splinters.
She stood up to stretch her back and she saw Hazel farther down on the next row. Hazel was so thin. Winnie feared that she might be pregnant again. Her sister-in-law wasn’t a strong person and she worried that she might not be able to carry another baby. Besides, no baby could be as perfect and wonderful as dear sweet little Kenneth. Winnie smiled just thinking of him back at her mother’s house playing with his little cars and trucks in the sand. Effie had felt like going outside in the shade and watching him so that Winnie, her daddy, and Albert and Hazel could pick cotton and make some extra money. Winnie was always ready to make a little extra money. She worked hard all year and she didn’t slow down in the summer. Hard work was what kept people going through all the trials of life.
As these thoughts played through her mind, she looked up to see that Hazel had dropped back so that she was across from Winnie.
“That river sure looks inviting this afternoon.” Hazel said. Winnie nodded and dropped her hoe. Nothing would feel better than getting in the river and cooling off.
She and Hazel both wore long dresses and bonnets which would seem to make them hotter, but actually helped them keep cool. The dresses were calico prints they had bought when they went shopping in Bonham. A lot of their house dresses were made from flour sacks, but these were made of fabric from a store. Albert and his dad were almost to the other end of the cotton field, so the ladies walked toward the river by themselves.
The river was calm and when Winnie stuck her foot in, she could feel the relaxation take over. Hazel followed her into the river and soon they were splashing each other with water and wading farther out. They were about waist deep when suddenly Winnie disappeared. Hazel screamed and looked all around for Winnie. Hazel couldn’t swim, but she went in the direction that she last saw Winnie, and suddenly, she too, went underwater.
When Winnie felt Hazel beside her, she pushed her further down and came up to the surface of the water.
“Help!” She screamed when she could gather her breath. “Daddy! Albert! Help us now!” But then she was back under, and Hazel was crawling up Winnie to get to the surface.
Hazel put her arms on Winnie’s shoulders, pushing her down. She came up to the surface. “Albert! Albert!”
Albert and John Hawk were already at the river’s edge and they saw two bonnets floating in the middle of the river.
“Oh Lordy, son, we’ve got to get them out! You get Winnie Fay and I’ll get Hazel.”
Albert dove into the water and went straight to Winnie and began to pull her out but Winnie was beginning to drown. She hit Albert and wouldn’t let him get hold of her. In her mind, Albert had come to finish her off, to push her farther down into the deep, dark river where she would never see the light of day again.
Finally, Albert turned Winnie around so that he could grab her from the back and he began to swim toward the bank. The water was only deep in the middle of the river. Albert was able to walk after only a few feet of swimming. He dragged Winnie up onto the bank and began to do the chest compressions that he had learned as a firefighter. Soon, Winnie spit up a lot of river water, and began to breathe again.
Albert then turned his attention to Hazel. He saw her lying on the bank but his dad was standing in the river up to his chest. Albert ran to Hazel, and she was breathing but very, very tired and shaken, so he ran back to Winnie who seemed to have gotten the worst of it.
Albert looked down at Winnie and said, “You know you owe me now. I saved your life!” Even though Winnie was still unable to do anything but breathe she smiled. She turned over on her side, and felt like going to sleep right there on the river bank. She would never want to go swimming again.
Albert went back to Hazel, and saw that she was sitting up now. “Good grief, Hazel, what were y’all thinking?”
“We just wanted to cool off and dip our feet in the water,” Hazel answered.
Albert looked at his father standing chest deep out in the river.
“Come on, Dad. Let’s get these girls home!”
“Son, you take them home and I’ll just stay here awhile.”
“What’s wrong with you, Dad?” Albert asked in frustration.
His father looked down the river before responding. “She ripped my overalls right off me, and I don’t have anything on underneath. The last I saw of my overalls they were headed toward Bonham!”
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.