I prefaced my “Living-Breathing-Waterboarding Constitution” post with a paragraph about teaching kids water safety, and that hit home today with news that another former Boarding School Kid, a girl little older than me from a family we knew well, died in a kayaking accident up in Idaho. I stayed with her parents in Hyderabad during vacation in ’76 while traveling about with my friend Brad, visiting my childhood home in the North East. Brad died in a canoeing accident on the Potomac back in ’79.
As kids in the hot and humid South-Indian climate we had few chances for organized fun and had to make our own – and we did dangerous things. Families would ascend into the cool South Indian Mountains, to say-over and vacation in small cottages during the summer-session when it was terribly hot on the plains. Kids would come out of boarding to stay with their parents while school was still in session. The school year was inverted, and actual Vacation time to go home was Winter, when it was cooler. The house of our friends was at the base of a long jungle-covered hill, while ours was the last house on the hill, up at the top. Seniority among Missionaries had it’s rewards in the form of of less hiking/effort. It was a long hike up to the top for a 10-year old with short legs (me), but two houses below us, was a HUGE rope-swing that hung from a high branch in a very tall eucalyptus tree on the edge of the hill.
The rope was almost too thick for small hands to reach around, and the swing went way-out over a valley with an asphalt road at the bottom that meandered between more trees and houses, alongside a creek. In order to make the swing you had to climb a ladder past the kitchen window to the apex of the cottage-roof, holding the wispy ends of the rope’s-tail — like a horse’s-tail. The knotted piece of wood to sit-on was higher up than could be reached by young arms, and you had to climb-up with two strong pulls-up the rope-tail to get seated, at the same time as when you lept off the roof and were descending into the abyss. The swing out into space was exhilarating and a bit terrifying. It was a bit tricky, but once you conquered your fear and managed the pull-up onto the crossbar, it was eminently repeatable and both boys and girls enjoyed making the leap – although not all from the roof-peak.
The older kids (in High School or over about age fourteen) couldn’t achieve this trajectory because their greater weight would stretch the rope, and in descent they would hit the lip of the precipice and be dislodged quite uncomfortably, to tumble down a hillside covered in rushes and brambles. It happened to me once when I was too casual and failed in my grip, and the sticky residue from the rushes and brambles left a smear of white goop on my clothes that I couldn’t hide from my parents, and I was banned from the swing for a while. If one let go and jumped at the apex of the swing things would NOT end well at all and there would be memorial services.
Still we swung on that swing and we played in the creeks that fed the stream below. We hunted for tiny crabs in the cool water, and if you could find a deep-enough pool, luxuriated in the cool water on insufferably hot days. Adults also organized school-camping trips to a place where rocks were worn smooth by three-thousand years of rain, and had left a water-slide that delighted the kids of all ages. There were hikes to cliff-edges too – it was all dangerous, and on occasion there were memorial services. But water was something to be delighted-in. It washed away the hot days and sweaty hours in cool a sweet bath, and a water-slide was even better – except you were sliding on wet and slippery and unforgiving stone and naturally there were cuts and scrapes and bashed shins and stubbed-toes and moments that hurt deeply – as in Life.
I could say she should have known to wear a helmet, but maybe she did and so that would hardly be fair – she survived all that and more – Godspeed my Old Friend and Neighbor…