Diving Under the Influence Raymond Conklin

Late in the season, late in the day, but early in my life, I experienced what I still think of as heaven on earth.  High tide had swollen the creek to its limits.  This was before it had been dredged arrow-straight and uniformly deep to accommodate a few large boats docked behind the houses that semi-circled its basin.  Little Creek used to meander like a freshwater stream, young in geological time, with deep spots carved into its curved banks and sandbars elsewhere.  The cleanest, smoothest, deepest blue saltwater stood still at slack tide against a background of the greenest marsh, bluest sky, and whitest sand beach anywhere.

At first there was a core group of four boys, two cousins and two unrelated brothers, all city kids, eagerly transplanted for the summer.  With time, the group grew absorbing, as if by phagocytosis, a new trio of brothers, two cousins, and a younger brother of the original members.  Our fair skin had become tanned and we felt superficially stronger from six weeks of outdoor play.  Unencumbered by the rigors of, school and unburdened by the never-ending lessons, instruction, and organized activity that our counterparts today endure, we were happy, tired and fulfilled.

There were two months to live and we made the most of them.  Our days were filled with swimming, baseball, biking, boating, and exploring the woods.  We had often ridden our bikes on dirt farm roads through fields of corn, potatoes, melons, cabbage, and brussel sprouts.  Also, there were longer, more adventurous rides to the small general store on the main road that had a potbelly stove right in the middle.  A nice old lady patiently filled our orders for penny candies like Squirrel Nutties, Mary Janes, and Fireballs.  Years earlier, this same store had served as the local post office where neighbors, Albert Einstein among them, picked up and dropped off mail including a letter to FDR informing him of progress being made toward the creation of an atomic bomb.

Daily we were fascinated by box turtles, rabbits, crabs, clams, blowfish, and baitfish.  On rainy days, we were driven to a larger village nearby with a wooden-floored general store filled with the great rubbery smell of inflatable tubes, rafts, swim fins and masks, snorkels, and thongs which were worn on the feet.  At night, we played cards, checkers, Pickup Stix, Sorry, Life, and then read comic books until we fell asleep, ignoring a TV which managed to pull in only two fuzzy channels.  Like most kids, we were very interested in our phones.  They were located in the booth outside the barber shop in town.  Unfortunately, they wouldn’t accept the coins we had enlarged and flattened by placing them on the LIRR tracks to be distorted by the intense pressure of the passing cars.  These cars continued on to the railroad’s eastern terminus drawing our attention with their eye-catching logos of “the dashing commuter.”

Occasionally there was a carnival, a drive in movie, or a round of miniature golf, each with a distinctive set of sights, smells, and sounds that contributed to an otherworldy atmosphere similar to the bowling alleys and movie theaters in the city.  In the morning there were breakfasts of cereal and toast enjoyed while “Swap and Shop” played continuously on my aunt’s radio.  She listened to that program, with interest, for over twenty summers without ever buying or selling a single item.

Earlier in the season, we had managed to drag the remains of a damaged, driftwood dock onto the bog above one of the deep spots at a bend in the creek.  We referred to it from that point on as “the diving spot.”  The wood gave us a solid platform about two feet above the water’s surface.  From this structure we attempted, in order of increasing difficulty, cannonballs, can openers, back dives, front flips, back flips, and hand stands into dives.  From all this running, jumping, diving, swimming, and climbing, we were filled with feelings of well being from endorphins long before we had even heard the word.  From what I understand now, ozone also contributed to these feelings of well being, though we didn’t know it formed a layer and a hole was being poked in it somewhere over Antarctica by hairspray and deodorants.

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