DAVID L. BARBER: Thin ice: Glad I could help

In hindsight, I should have had the foresight to realize I was crossing thin ice.

Sadly, and eventually painfully, I had no such insight to look down at what lay beneath my feet.

Instead I listened to the votes of confidence and challenge my friends were chanting. The ice was safe, Eric said. The ice was as thick enough to support a tractor, Bob teased.

“Besides, you’re the smallest one here,” Eric said. “Now, go out and get the football.”

As I looked out over the narrow, winding river, I could see nothing but a blanket of fresh snow, and ice. During any other season the water bubbled and churned at a slow pace along that portion of the Hersey River. It was shallow, to be sure.

And then and there, the river looked safely silent. And inviting. And sitting several yards away from what should have been the shoreline, was our football.

“Go get the football,” Eric said again.

A few minutes earlier the three of us were playing catch on a bridge that crosses the majestic Hersey River in Reed City, when I tossed the ball to Eric, but the ball sailed high over the railing of the bridge and landed on the snow and ice that covered the river.

“You threw the ball, you go get it,” Bob said.

That logic seemed fair to me. I was the culprit who had committed the crime, I was the one who had to suffer the consequences.

I knew that the river wasn’t very deep below the bridge. I also knew that my speed – and trust me, I was quite fleet-of-foot back then – would serve me well. Yes, I could run faster than the ice could break beneath me.

So, standing at the river’s edge, I took a deep breath, looked out at the football, and began my sprint across the ice.

I took three strides, maybe four, when I heard a cracking sound come from beneath my feet. After another stride, the cracking got louder.

And then, it happened.

I knew it had happened because my feet, ankles, shins, knees, legs and waist, all suddenly went cold. Ice cold.

I knew it had happened because the only direction my body was now going was down, and not forward or backward.

But mainly I knew what had happened because I could hear Eric and Bob laughing. And laughing. And laughing.

As I stood in the middle of the river with the edge of the ice tucked around my tummy, I screamed for help from Eric and Bob. Unfortunately, they misinterpreted my cries for help, for cries of joy – their joy.

Inch by inch, foot by foot, I used my hands and fists to hack my way back through the ice, to the safety of the shore where Eric and Bob were both kneeling, and of course, laughing. It’s funny, don’t you think, how your body’s extremities tend to “burn,” whenever they become wet and frozen?

The good thing was that I lived closer to the bridge than either Eric, or Bob, so my walk home should not have been that difficult.

But with every step, my body wept.

When I finally got home, rather than receive some much anticipated sympathy from my brothers and mother and father, I received humbling scorn. Oh, my brothers laughed, too, but they eventually joined in my mom and dad’s unending spew of challenges on how I could be so, well, “unsmart.”

And when it was pointed out I failed to come home without the football – my brothers’ football – my dad told me to change my clothes, put on his fishing waders, and to go back and get it.

Which, I did.

If nothing else let this little story remind you to be careful when out on the ice, my friends. And if your best friends tell you it’s safe to go out onto, they’re probably lying.

Glad I could help.

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He will be contributing columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.

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Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.

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