As a young Boy Scout I loved my subscription to Boy’s Life magazine. Here, I would read the adventures of scouts from across the nation as they climbed mountain trails, canoed down wilderness streams and sat around warming campfires, telling ghost stories.
By far, my favorite articles told of Boy Scouts who used their scout training to perform acts of bravery.
I often envisioned myself in such a role, but to date my only life-saving act involved removing a frightened kitten perched too high in a neighbor’s tree.
Still, the dream persisted, and in time, my opportunity presented itself.
It was a cold, November afternoon. I was baby-sitting my three-year-old brother, Tom, as I helped my dad rake leaves in the yard.
Little Tom, bundled in a canvas snowsuit, entertained himself by running through and scattering the leaves we had worked so hard to rake into piles.
Dad suggested that I stop raking and take care of Tom instead.
Tom ran to the old, wooden rowboat my older brother and I kept secured on the bank of Indian River Creek and begged to go for a ride in the boat.
Indian River Creek was a small salt-water inlet populated by scattered small islands, where cattails and sea grass provided sanctuary for nests where wild ducks raised their chicks.
Little Tom loved nothing more than to sit on the back seat of the old rowboat as I paddled around the individual islands. Here, he would point out and call to flocks of ducks as they appeared, often causing them to take flight.
Once Dad agreed, I carefully placed Tom on the back seat and slowly pushed the boat into the water. Tom applauded excitedly and grinned all over.
As I took the middle seat, facing Tom, I began slowly rowing between the islands. Tom occupied himself by reaching over the back of the boat, plucking colorful leaves from the surface of the water.
I turned to negotiate the narrow gap between two of the small islands and then looked back at Tom only to find he was no longer on the seat.
I ran to the stern of the boat to see a steady flow of bubbles rising to the surface. Without hesitation, I jumped into the frigid water and tried desperately to find Tom through the murky seawater.
I found him at the creek bottom and pushed him to the surface. He was crying but breathing. I called to Dad and began kicking towards the shore. There could be no walking as the creek bottom consisted of a foot of thick mud.
After what seemed an eternity, I reached the sea wall where I handed soaking-wet Tom to Dad, who rushed Tom into the warmth of our house.
I stood in five feet of frigid water, too exhausted to climb over the wall to the shore. Leaning wearily on the wall, I had visions of the mayor welcoming me to the stage and awarding me the city metal for heroism. This ceremony would be followed by a parade, interviews by national newspapers and appearances on television.
It was going to be wonderful!
I snapped out of my vision to find Dad kneeling and offering a hand to help me over the sea wall.
Once on dry land I was prepared for the first of my hero praises to begin. I had, however, badly miscalculated.
Tom had been born very late in Dad’s life and Dad loved him more than anything on this earth, and now he stood face to face with the careless teenager who almost let Tom drown!
Dad was furious! There would be no hero medal, no parade, no interviews on TV or newspaper stories. There would a terrible price to pay.
Much later my mom told me how badly Dad felt about punishing me for this unavoidable, nearly tragic accident. While I didn’t understand at the time, as a parent, I do now.
We love our children far too much for reason to overcome our emotion.
My medals will just have to wait.