Sunday, December 03, 2006

Baptism by Water and Fire

December 3rd has rolled around again. This one marks the twentieth anniversary of my father's sudden death. I wrote about that last December.

One of my favorite memories of childhood was gathering with a sister or two or three in Daddy's little outbuilding study/office in our backyard at 333 South Ninth Street in Griffin, Ga. and listening as Daddy told tales of his youth. Especially the story of the harrowing day when he (above, left) and younger brother James (above, right) went skinny-dipping in the Yellow River. (Daddy, like all great storytellers, never let inconvenient facts interfere with a good story. Apples don't fall far from the tree.)

Daddy Shaw had taken the boys down to the river before. And he had given his sons stern instructions to never come there on their own.

But this day was hot. And the call of friends and cool water was too enticing to ignore. So Bud and Jim found themselves following the tracks toward the river just to check things out.

And there came the Dinky.

The narrow gauge rail line that served Callaway Mills and its little mill community, Milstead, was aptly named. It only traveled the three miles to and from Conyers. It traveled narrow rails. And it had a little engine. It may have been the inspiration for the Little Engine That Could. It was a dinky lil' train. But it hauled huge loads of cotton to the mill and huge loads of finished cloth away to waiting bigger engines in Conyers.

That day Hub Doyle (the elder Hub) was at the engine. Seeing Grady's boys headed toward the river he hollered that he would tell their Daddy what they were up to. Folks looked out for each other's kids in that close knit little town and everybody knew the barber with the mischievous boys (eventually five of them). Bud and Jim were caught.

Grady Shaw at his barber shop, much later (early 60s)

James sized up the situation quickly. They might as well have a swim, he announced, since they were gonna be in trouble anyway. Charles soon agreed and they slid down the embankment toward the swimming hole. Each found a tree for an undressing spot, left their garments in two heaps and were soon swinging wildly over the pool on the rope swing attached high in a sycamore and cannonballing a dozen peers in the muddy waters of the Yellow River. As the afternoon splashed by, the revelling boys hardly noticed the darkening skies, faraway thunders, and gradually rising and hurrying currents. They were surprised to eventually find themselves all alone in the swirling pool.

"We better head home!" shouted Bud as he slipped and struggled by sycamore root up the muddy red clay bank in the now pelting rain. Hearing no reply he looked back to see his little brother stuggling against the current and getting nowhere in a hurry. Charles dove back into the swift water, grabbed Jim by the neck, and awkwardly dog-paddled toward the bank. He and the sputtering Jim managed to hoist themselves up the bank, race to their respective trees, and climb into their overalls just as a blitzkrieg of lightning split a tulip poplar that crashed with additional thunder directly between the two boys.

Scrambling through the tangled branches Jim grabbed his brother's hand and they scurried home, happy to be alive and willing to accept whatever punishment awaited them.

The boys had had their share of well-deserved whalings. But this time Daddy Shaw perceived that a lesson had been learned and took a pass on any further discipline. Jim and Bud wouldn't soon chance an illegal dip in the Yellow River. That particular sin had been washed away by a baptism of water and fire that they would never forget.

James with their youngest brother, Jack, near the scene of the crime.

1 comment:

  1. Ruth Shaw11:08 PM

    Thanks Terry for sharing that wonderful story! Your Dad would love you telling this story on his 94th birthday! You have your Daddy Shaw (as well as your Dad's) gift for story teling...