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Just A Day At The Beach

Lucky Garvin
Lucky Garvin

It was not the sort of day you would expect Death to intrude, but if my instincts were true, He would have a go at it this morning. His target? A toddler; a little girl…

I was eighteen years old, and since just after sun-up, I had been sitting in my Adirondack chair dressed only in swimming trunks and a whistle. Yes, there was a chill in the air, but I knew it would be hot enough soon enough.

I was a life-guard at a modest vacation spot in the Catskill Mountains of New York. As the sun-bathers gathered, the swimming park took on a rhythm, a blended voice to which I paid a great deal of attention. Screaming, the type that panic engenders, is different than the happily shrieking patrons; you must, as a life-guard, appreciate that subtle distinction.

It was such a discordance which had sought me out my first day on the job. Mid-way between the raft and the roped ‘safe zone’, there was a splashing; this was not swimming, this was a desperate thrashing of the water. I raced out to the end on the pier, leveled a blast with my whistle that bought all activity to a stand-still. I pointed my arm out to the swimmer, and roared, “Are you okay!?”

Her panicked face answered me. I threw my whistle to my back and executed a ‘life savers’ dive’ which, while looking much like a stretched out belly flop, allowed me to never lose sight of the young woman in peril. Several strokes later, I had her by the elbow as I treaded water. I back floated her to safety. Does that sound like something heroic? In truth, it’s not; it’s what is expected of a lifeguard. Still, I guess not drowning did brighten her day some.

But this day, it was not the noise, but an event that began to rivet my attention. What concerned me was not that an event had happened, rather one I feared was about to happen. My boss, Don, came trudging across the sand with his habitual smile and a friendly greeting. I responded, but did not look at him. He noticed me ignoring him; of course; I apologized and said, “Don, I think we’re about to see the last thing we want to see.”

Don, immediately worried, scanned the lake. The far-flung raft, the area in between, the roped-in ‘safe-swim’ containment, now filled with happy vacationers all seemed fine to him. “Lucky…” I continued to walk with a watchful advance to the water’s edge. Suddenly, the thing I feared happened.

The previous summer, I had been hired as a soft drink delivery boy. Still too young to drive commercial, I was assigned to a middle aged man named ‘Tibbie.’ We worked fourteen hours a day delivering soda pop to various resorts scattered throughout the beautiful mountains of New York State.

We would pull up at one of our destinations; I would grab the clipboard which held the relevant invoices, and start pulling cases and flats onto a two-wheeled carrier, and sweat the load into the delivery site. Although I could never have predicted it, it was this summer which bought me to the morning in question. This modest resort had been one of our delivery stops, they needed a lifeguard for the coming season. They hired me.

I suddenly broke into a sprint towards the water’s edge.

“Lucky! What?” Don still hadn’t detected what had seized my attention. For several minutes, I’d been watching two young moms standing ankle-deep in the water. A toddler stood unsteadily about knee high in water behind them. What had attracted my attention was the little one’s frequent falls on her bottom. She would struggle to her feet, but legs are stronger than arms; what if she fell forward? Then, she did just that…

I had been moving towards her fearing this event. She lay struggling helplessly, face-down in the water, unable to arise as I neared her. The two women kept chatting, oblivious to the horror taking place so nearby. I imagined her parent would say, “I just turned my back for a second.”

I splashed into the water, and picked up the baby holding her face-down to drain the water from her nose and throat. The young mother turned, startled by my noisy approach, threw her hand to her mouth and shrieked. The child was now breathing, screaming and holding her arms out for her bewildered mother.

There were lots of congratulations showered on me as I moved back to my chair. I was too relieved to pay any mind. It would have been so easy, so forgivable to miss this micro-drama, and to end up with a dead child, or me feverishly doing mouth-to-mouth on the beach. Don slapped me on the back. “Good, job, Lucky! But how did you even notice that?! I didn’t see a thing!”

Good question. How had I even noticed that…?

I suspect Heaven lies somewhere in the answer.

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