dour summer day

The house I grew up in was at the end of a sharp bend in a long gravely lane scarred with potholes. Abundant trees, groves of magnolia, fir, spruce and maple, flanked and shaded the road that hosted three other brick ranch style homes.

My best friend lived two houses away and because none of the yards had fences our expansive lawns spilled into each others'. The houses themselves, all resting on a gentle slope, were far apart and hidden by colossal camellia hedges, bushy rhododendrons and firs.

One hot summer day, when I must have been fifteen, like most days I was out doing yard work. I was about to start mowing the “strip”—the long skinny piece of lawn at the top of our gravel driveway abutting our neighbor’s shrubs.

The echoes of my friend’s black and white collie, excitedly barking, rolled down the hill from their backyard deck and I could hear splashing in the oblong swimming pool. But there was another noise that I couldn’t identify—a surging howl. It didn’t sound human but then it didn’t sound completely animal either. What else could it be but another dog that had come to play?

I yanked the black rubber handle of the pull cord and revved the noisy engine of our heavy push-mower; the smell of gasoline filled my nostrils. Unaware as my father came up behind me, I flinched when he gently placed his large hand on my shoulder. Looking up at him, I saw his solemn face. I cut the engine. In an unusually mild voice—his warm hand still firmly touching me—he told me that there had been an accident at my friend’s house. Her two-year-old sister had fallen into the pool and nearly drowned. Her mother, my dad said, had pulled her out and resuscitated her but there was no way of knowing if she would recover or even survive.

It took a while for the strange and harrowing news to sink in. Slowly I pieced together what I could. The unusual animalistic sound I had heard, standing there in the stillness of the summer heat, was the sound of my friend’s mother having discovered her child motionless in the water. It was the sound of horror, of panic, of desperation, and it was completely foreign to me then.

Now, in my own grief for my afflicted son and for my loss, I cannot help but think often about the torment of my friend’s family so many years ago—when I was a youth—not knowing then the immense love that a mother has for her child. The girl survived to have children of her own. More so, her mother survived—strong, patient, faithful, superhuman—an amazing and beautiful mother to behold. I will never forget that mother, that moment, that hot dour summer day.

photo by Michael Kolster

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