The Fourth of July brings many annual traditions. Some families go to the town parade and watch the fireworks. Others go to baseball games and enjoy hotdogs and homeruns. For the past several years, my family has enjoyed camping at Indian Mary Park in Josephine County with our extended 'family' of close friends. It is located about 15 miles West (or downriver) from Grants Pass along the Rogue River.
Last years trek to the river was like any other year. As the afternoon heat became a little too unbearable, we all walked down to the river for a swim and to toss the little football around in the shallows. The river is different every year we come and we were surprised to discover that this year the area just around the bend from the boat launch was rather wide and shallow for some distance. This provided an area for children to play comfortably as the adults waded out a bit further for a swim.
Before I proceed, you need to know a little history. Our dear friend, Bef, was given this little 6" NFL football for Christmas several years ago by another friend of ours. Due to its small size, Bef has always packed it in his suitcase when he travels. His work requires him to travel overseas regularly so this little football has been to Korea, the Philippines, Hawaii several times (I have photographs of my daughter doing her end-zone dance in the surf on Moloa'a Beach in Kauai), Las Vegas, Disneyland, Colorado, North Carolina, Alaska, numerous road trips throughout Oregon, and of course Indian Mary.
The children were each engaged in their own endeavors, my daughter, nearly 4 years old at the time, was near the water's edge in the shallow area, assumably looking for small aquatic critters. My 17 month old son, was seated on shore with our friend Bar, stacking rocks and delighting in the rumble they would make as they fell. BuD (my husband), Bef, Kong, and I were standing in the river about knee deep tossing the football to one another.
On a whim, Kong thought it might be amusing to toss the ball over BuD's head just out of reach so that he would have to dive in order to successfully catch the ball. He passed on her attempt to goat him and we all watched as the ball floated over his head landing in the more swift moving water.
At that moment, I was several feet downstream and it appeared to me as though the ball was moving towards the bank as it gently floated along. I yelled out, "I can get it!" as I immediately ran out to retrieve the football. As I proceeded, I could hear my husband yell, "NO! DON'T! STOP!" But all I could think about was how special that little football was to all of us. I had to get it back.
Just before I could reach the ball, I miscalculated the depth and I discovered that I wasn't able to touch bottom. I lost my footing and started to drift down river. I continued to try to retrieve the ball for a brief moment and then realized that I was approaching a small rapid.
I immediately got my wits together, turned around with my legs extended and facing downriver. I spread my arms out to help guide me and to push away from any rocks I might approach. I've floated parts of the Rogue many times in my life-vest alone, but this was the first time I was without a floatation device.
When the water slowed down, I was able to swim to the bank and climb up the 12' steep embankment to the park. A man who had been up on the bank had seen me float by and had ran along the field to assist in some way. He arrived just as I reached the top and he helped me to my feet. He asked if I was okay and I assured him that I was shaken but otherwise fine. I then rejoined my friends and family and we returned to our campsite.
The silence was uncomfortable. Everyone had been so scared and were now so relieved. Nobody really knew what to say. This is when it hit me. When I realized how stupid my actions had been. I had risked everything for a silly football. Fortunately, I am a relatively strong swimmer and was able to stay calm.
When we returned to the river this year, it became apparent how many of us learned the importance of river safety. My daughter,now approaching 5 years, was very adamant about having her vest on, holding hands with an adult, and not venturing farther than her knees. She told her dad, "We don't want to float down like Mommy did last year." Smart girl.
Submitted to July Write-Away Contest on 10 July 2007.